Friday, May 4, 2012

The Avengers @ War

Americans are incredibly savvy as informed viewers of films, making it difficult for film makers to exceed our expectations and live up to the hype publicity departments necessarily generate to get audiences to the theaters regardless of a film's quality. Joss Whedon's The Avengers, opening today and potentially setting the new record for biggest opening ever (currently held by last year's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2) has managed to accomplish--and surpass--all my hopes and expectations, and that's what makes a great director. (This post contains spoilers, so please see the film before reading!).
SYNOPSIS: S.H.I.E.L.D. has been trying to harness the power of the Tesseract to develop new weapons to prevent earth from an outer space attack by Asgardians like Thor (Chris Hemsworth), or worse. Loki (Tom Hiddelston) has made a deal with his people to overtake the earth, give them the Tesseract and unleash total chaos. Loki successfully "turns" Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) to his side using the power of the Tesseract while SHIELD is destroyed. Gathering Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson), Captain America (Chris Evans) Dr. Bruce Banner (who is a master in gamma rays and is hoping to track down where the Tesseract is being hidden, Mark Ruffalo) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.),  Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tries to stem off the end of the world as best as possible.
Why does Nick Fury have only one eye? When Tony Stark enters the SHIELD ship and goes around looking at their technology, he asks how Fury can see the screens with just one eye and Marie Hill says, "He turns." Doesn't seem very profound, however, having a weakness--only one eye--makes him "capitalize" on his strengths, and being able to turn, knowing you are not going to see everything, makes you more perceptive in what you can see. As Fury himself says, the Council was counting on the Tesseract weapons to defend the world, but he was counting on something riskier, the Avengers themselves, because Fury is half-blind, he can see twice as deeply, and that includes within the hearts of super heroes (hence why he takes the trading cards of Coulson's and shows them to the Avengers). Wisdom, then, is Fury's "super hero quality" that he brings to the fight. Towards the end of the film the Council overrides Nick Fury and decides to launch an atomic bomb against New York (because it makes better sense) and for the (more than) 60% of Americans who don't want Obama-care, the legislation is rather like the Congress over-riding us and deciding it makes sense, too.
Thor comes down to bring his (adopted) erring brother to justice and help save the earth and mistakenly gets into a fight with both Iron Man and Captain America. Bruce Banner is under terrible stress not to turn into "the other guy," (the Hulk) but Loki's plan of dividing and conquering them works until he finally harnesses the strength of the monster, the Hulk to break the protection layer of the Tesseract so Loki can unleash its power. After a massive battle and the launching of a nuke warhead on Manhattan where the fighting takes place, the Avengers have saved themselves (with one exception) and the earth.
Captain America, Steve Rogers, (Chris Evans) realizing he's missed decades while asleep. In my post on Captain America, I made the point that the leadership assumed by America in World War II lead us to becoming a world power and the leadership role Captain America's "waking up" symbolizes is meant to fill the empty captain's chair on the ship he was manning. His leadership role becomes an issue in The Avengers as well, and one needing to be addressed. For my complete post, please see Captain America: A Movie Of Movies.
For Iron Man and Iron Man 2, I haven't posted, but there is an important trait Tony Stark reveals in Iron Man 2: he doesn't like to be handed things. Why? Tony Stark was "handed" Stark industries, he was "handed" over a billion dollars, he was "handed" an MIT education, he was "handed" the world on a silver platter, but Obadiah "handed" Tony over to the terrorists to be killed and then (what Tony did on his own by creating Iron Man) Tony was told to "hand over" to the government. It's a simple trait but one effectively deepening our understanding of Tony especially since he would represent the 1% Occupy Wall Street demonstrates against (those with the most money in America) and Tony not liking to be handed things reveals the inner-conflict of inherited wealth, responsibility and self-realization through individual achievement we wouldn't see otherwise.
Two times the upper-class' effect on the economy is referenced through Tony Stark: first, when the "ship of state" is going down (the SHIELD ship), it's Tony who has to go into the engine, fix it, then use his strength to push it to get it started back up (likewise, it's the middle-class hero Captain America who has to be there to help him get out). Secondly, at the end, a nuclear warhead has been fired at Manhattan and Tony uses himself as a rocket to guide the warhead into space where it not only destroys the mother ship of the aliens attacking New York, but doesn't hurt New York (the financial capital of the world). This clearly illustrates for us the role of the upper classes using their resources to guide the country/the economy and danger; granted, it would be idiotic to say that all do that, which is a personal lacking on their part, but those who have the most also want to protect it. After the portal has been closed, and Iron Man falls and is saved by the Hulk (the voters in America, please see below) Steve says, "Son of a gun," and he's right, because Tony's dad was Howard Stark who created the military industry for Stark enterprises, so Steve is saying that Stark has not only created weapons for the country's military (like in Iron Man) but has become a part of the military Stark weapons aides.
This carries over into The Avengers when Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) appears at Stark Tower and wants to hand something to Tony and he won't take it unless Pepper hands it to him. Tony doesn't want to be "handed" a spot on the Avengers team, he wants to earn it (that's why he reads the whole file) it's also why he's willing to take it from Pepper but not from Coulson: Pepper loves him, but she also knows all his faults, Tony fears Coulson, however, only sees the billionaire Iron Man and not Tony as a person. How do we know this? When Coulson enters, Pepper says, "Hi Phil," and Tony says, "His first name isn't Phil, it's Agent," because dehumanization from someone else is on Tony's mind, that's what he does to Coulson before Coulson can do it to him (more on this below).
There is a part when a Steve gives two cops orders about saving some civilians and the cop asks him, "Why should I be taking orders from you?" After a sudden attack of alien soldiers that Steve successfully puts down, the cop immediately does what Steve told him to do. Why does this happen? There is a crisis of leadership in the country: because of corruption and a lack of justice for those who participate in shady deals, we no longer recognize leaders when they come along because we can't trust anyone, hence, even Captain America has to prove himself.
This insecurity makes Tony very competitive whereas Steve's confidence comes from knowing everything he has has been earned (even the formula given to him to become the super soldier still had to be earned). This inner conflict between Steve and Tony is highlighted when we remember why Steve became Captain America: his heart. Tony's heart had large chunks of debris floating around in it (symbolizing his ego and insecurities) whereas Steve's heart would lead him to sacrifice himself for others and his country. The Avengers skillfully but subtly draws this conflict for us so it can resolve it.
When Fury explains what happens to Hawkeye and Selvig being turned over to Loki's side, Fury says, "Loki has turned them into his flying monkeys," and Steve responds, "I get that, I understand that," because it comes from The Wizard of Oz, released in 1939, which Steve would have seen before he went under for 70 years. Why is this important? Again, Captain America symbolizes that leadership, super-power status America acquired during World War II which was prophesied in The Wizard of Oz (please see A Call To Arms: The Wizard Of Oz & World War II for more). Steve understands the importance of what has happened to them because he saw what happened to Nazi collaborators, what it did to them personally and all the people who died because of them.
In this scene, Tony and Loki are in Stark Tower; what's most important about this scene is what Tony doesn't say: anything about himself. He talks about the masterfulness of the others and the power of the Hulk, but refrains from laying out his impressive array of powers:
In this clip, Tony will then say, "There's one other person you managed to piss off. His name is Phil!" and Tony refrains again from mentioning himself because he's thinking about Agent Coulson dying and avenging Coulson is more important to Tony now than his own self. This is the real moment when Tony does become a hero because he's not only putting the others before himself and exhibiting true humility, but invoking Phil Coulson's death at Loki's hand establishes that team quality that Tony has lacked since the beginning of Iron Man. Why is this important? Because Tony, again, is that 1% vilified by Occupy Wall Street which Hollywood is rescuing (and we will probably see the same thing with Bruce Wayne in the upcoming Batman).
"Be careful," Black Widow tells Captain America before he goes and fights Loki for the first time, "he's a demi-god." "Ma'am," Steve replies, "there's only one God and He doesn't dress like that." Steve's right, in more ways than one, and even though Loki insists throughout the film that he is a god (rather like some members of the press treating Obama like he''s the Messiah) Loki is a long ways from being a god and he dress reveals to us why. When he's in Hamburg, subjugating people there, he wears a scarf with a leopard print which means he's being yoked by his animal appetites (the neck symbolizes what we are led by, as an ox is yoked or an animals has a collar about its neck). Loki making his first public appearance in Germany, the land of Adolf Hitler (and I know all who disliked my reviews on The Hunger Games will dislike this also, but I didn't make either film) not only links Loki to Hitler--which Steve himself says after saving an old German man who was probably alive during the War--but also that Loki is being identified with Hitler by the film, including (as all my Liberal readers will dread to hear) Socialism.  Loki's speech about Americans naturally "not wanting to be free," that we will be more free when we realize we are not, is exactly what many Republicans have against Socialism: whereas some people are willing to sacrifice and let the government control their lives--as Loki proposes--many of us, no, most of us, are abhorred by such a concept, as are the Avengers (if they weren't, they would try to negotiate with Loki). When Thor takes Loki back to Asgard, Loki's mouth is "imprisoned" with a muzzle, like an animal, not only suggesting his appetites have been "stopped up," but not allowing him to speak so he can lead more people astray.
This is one of the times it's helpful to remember other films a film maker has been involved with, because just prior to The Avengers being released, The Cabin In the Woods was released for which Avengers director Joss Whedon was a writer. In The Cabin In the Woods, there is a painting which Holden discovers of a goat being devoured by dogs, and that goat's horns remarkably resemble the horns on Loki's outfit. Why is this important? The goat horns are a symbolism of Satan, meaning, Loki is a really bad guy (we're building this up here). In the clip below, Loki talks about a mindless beast still pretending to be a man, the Hulk, and Loki intends on using the Hulk to jump start the Tesseract's power (similar to Dracula using Frankenstein in Van Helsing) but it's Loki who wears horns (i.e., parts of an animal) making him the beast, not the Hulk:
In this conversation, at least for Republicans, imagine that Loki is really President Obama and Nick Fury is desperate because the cage" is the Constitution, that which was meant to hold the general population in order (a social contract) so the country could be stable, but now, the Constitution has to try and hold Loki/Obama in power. Why is it that Thor falls in this cage? Thor is a king, and as a monarch, he doesn't recognize in the same way the rights people have or the boundaries rulers have according to the Constitution so it nearly becomes a death trap for him. At one point, it's the billionaire ego-maniac Tony Stark who makes the comment about Loki that he's a "Full-blown diva" that he wants parades and statues which is what many of us think about Obama: he enjoys the publicity of being president, but not the work. Why am I taking time to discuss this? With big publicity dinners hosted by George Clooney for Obama, the Liberal press would have Americans believe that all Hollywood supports the current government, but a film such as The Avengers clearly undermines what the Liberal press is constantly trying to convince the populace of: not everyone loves Obama.
When Loki is locked up in the cage and Thor tries to stop him, Loki uses his duplicity trick to lock Thor in the cage and says, "When will you stop falling for that trick?" then tries sending Thor to his death. Does this illustrate for us that Thor is dumb? No, it illustrates how wicked Loki is. Because Thor is sincere and genuine--if sometimes rash--he doesn't think his brother capable of doing something duplicitous like that, so it's not that Thor keeps falling for the trick--as evil Loki suggests--rather, that Thor keeps forgiving Loki in hopes that they can be reconciled and Loki only keeps proving how unworthy he is of his brother's goodness and generosity.
Bruce Banner tells Tony Stark that his secret is "I'm always angry" then he explodes and it's the Hulk who ends up beating Loki to within an inch of his life, not Thor nor Iron Man, or Hawkeye (who wants revenge) or Black Widow who wants to erase the red in her ledger (because of all the bad things she had done before she became a SHIELD agent). When a relationship has been constructed such as this--between the Hulk who is both the power supply for Loki and the one who brings Loki down--it helps to examine the similarities so as to find the differences.
There's an important trait about Dr. Banner: the eyeglasses. Glasses symbolize the qualities of eyesight (wisdom, those who are wise can see more than those who are not) but Banner is constantly taking off and putting back on his glasses,which lets us know that sometimes he is being blind (unlike Fury who is always in a state of half-blindness) and this taking off and putting on of his glasses suggests that Banner isn't really as determined to keep the Hulk within as he suggests to everyone and, like Tony's suggestion that Banner could do more to control the Hulk, Banner just isn't doing it. In this scene, Banner tries using gamma rays to locate where the Tesseract might be hidden--ironically, it's the top of Stark Tower which is the only clean energy business in the world and the same energy (the arc reactor) that is being used to "fuel" Loki's agenda. How does The Avengers play this into Obama's clean energy plan?  Having the power to power America puts that power of control in the government's hands and takes it out of the hands of Americans. If, for example, Stark Industries were to abuse the power of power, the government would be there to correct Stark and employ fair measures; but if the government is abusing the power of power (Loki) who is going to stop the government, short of a revolution? No one could, that's why this definite reference is being made to Obama's energy policy and why it's blinding people, like Dr. Selvig.
There's a part where Hulk has started tearing up the ship and Thor comes after the Hulk to save Black Widow. The Hulk ends up "falling out of the sky," and through an old building, being found by an old man, and Banner is completely naked. There is an interesting difference, because Thor falls into a field, a natural area and has to make the decision to pick up his hammer again and continue the fight. What does it mean? The Hulk falling into the abandoned factory symbolizes Americans being "stripped of power" (the Hulk) and the industrialized part of the economy being wasted and abandoned. The old man, asking if Banner is an alien, is really asking, "Don't you live here (you're not a foreign alien, are you)? Isn't this your country, or is it his to rule as he pleases?" The work clothes are the plain clothes of the plain American who insured all Americans would have the power to rule the country and not one person (and Thor being in the field is the agriculture aspect of America that stupid laws like fuel rationing, air pollution during harvest times and children living on the farm not being allowed to work until age 18, is the part of America we need to hold onto and fight for as well).
When Loki's army arrives, the first targets they take out are... the cars. This might be a reference to the roller coaster gas prices Americans have had to deal with since 2008 and possibly the Obama administration's pushing of the Chevy Volt which it has sponsored but has not "caught on" with the American public. It's in this place that Tony asks Loki if he would like a drink and Loki declines but, after he's defeated, he wants the drink then; why? Right now, Tony gives Loki a preview of what is to come and Loki not wanting the drink symbolizes how Loki doesn't want to "take in" or "drink up" the lesson Tony is preparing for him; at the end, when he does say he'll have the drink, he's ready to listen to that reason which would have saved a lot of lives, so no, it's not the same, like Loki hopes it will be, by taking the drink later rather than sooner.  This mirrors Thor who, in Thor, didn't learn his lessons early, but had to learn the hard way, so Loki's superiority complex over his brother has no foundation as The Avengers clearly shows us.
Fortunately, we don't have to go far: both the Hulk and Loki's main color is the same, green. Green (as in The Lorax) can either mean that something is rotten (as in mold and decay) or that there's a birth, a spring time and hope, as when everything starts growing again after winter. Whereas we wouldn't normally think of the Hulk as being in step with spring, the derogatory way in which Loki uses the Hulk to gain power, then is totally destroyed by the Hulk makes us ask if we can see a pattern in power dynamics in the real world which this might be reflecting.
Bruce Banner was trying to imitate the serum given to Steve Rogers (Captain America) to make himself a super soldier but Banner's experiment went wrong, very wrong. Whereas Steve's power--his physical strength and the natural strength of his heart's nobility--is used in the capacity of a soldier, hence, can be used whenever and wherever it's needed, Banner's is for a lay person and hence can only be used/accessed when a lay person gets angry about something... When the ship is breaking up, and Banner turns into the Hulk and goes after Black Widow, the ship going down symbolizes the "ship of state" collapsing (just as the dirt collapses in the beginning after Loki's attack on SHIELD and Coulson and Fury try getting away, the earth caving in right behind them, just as we have seen in the Dark Knight Rises trailers) so the collapsing ship make Banner reflect on what's going on, and that's what makes him mad. The Hulk turning on Black Widow is because she's the one who brought him to the ship to try and help but now, instead of being a help, Banner might bring everyone down with him because his fury at being used the way Loki is trying to use him.
The power structure we see between the Hulk and Loki seems to reflect the voter rage that now-President Obama harnessed for his own uses against the Republican Party in 2008 and is now, just like the Hulk beating the daylights out of Loki, like a gorilla with a rag doll, the same voter rage being turned against Obama himself.  Again, the green color connects the Hulk and Loki in ways that other characters are not connected, also because green is the color of "hope," (because of spring and re-birth) and "Hope and change" were the 2008 slogans of the Obama campaign, we can easily enjoy the catharsis of the hope the Hulk's rampage against Loki gives us as we sit back and cheer him on, preparing ourselves to do the same in November.
When we first see Hawkeye in the film, he's up in a corner looking and observing everything. He's the one making the observation that "the door's open from both sides," and, symbolically, Hawkeye is the voters who were blinded by the news of hope and change but, being hit on the head with cold hard evidence which revitalizes his cognitive powers, he regains himself and rejoins the fight. Because he's "hawk eye," he can see clearly, but his eyes being turned a different color means that he lost his ability to see, he was seeing blue (the color of the Democrats) which led him to stealing someone else's eye, the doctor in Hamburg, so he could carry out his mission for Loki.
There's another important clue which the film provides for us: Budapest. As Black Widow and Hawkeye fight alien soldiers, Black Widow says, "This is just like Budapest all over again," referring to the 2006 protests in Budapest, Hungary, during which the Socialist government leaked a speech that was supposed to be private, in which the prime minister confessed that his party had lied to win the election and they had done nothing worthy of note the last four years of being in power and knew there was nothing they could do to win the election again. Well, for Republicans, this very much reflects what we feel has happened in the United States with Obama's administration, microphone left on and all.
When Black Widow is doing the interrogation of the Russians, her right knee has a tear in the hose and there's a bit of blood. Even though Black Widow seems to have everything under control, since legs symbolize the will, we can deduce that she is afraid/weakening in this moment and that might be part of the reason she's reluctant to heed Coulson's call to come out of the interrogation; if she gets out, she won't want to go back in. Later, when she and Bruce Banner are together and the ship is being attacked, a large beam falls on her leg and she can't get out. The weakening of her will, again, isn't a fault in Black Widow, quite the opposite, we're being shown her human nature (fear) and her super hero resolution to overcome that fear, which empowers her other skills and talents. Whereas she's able to control her fear and anxiety, the Hulk releases his to a destructive end and nearly kills her in the process.
Even more seriously, Hawkeye says, "I don't think we're remembering Budapest the same," possibly referring to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 which was against the Soviets and not the Hungarians' own government (i.e., an alien government like what Loki wants to do). These two revolts against bad leadership draws necessary boundaries for understanding how many Americans are upset with the government today, however, neither Black Widow nor Clint Barton are old enough to have been in the 1956 revolts, so they must be referring to Heroes' Square in Budapest where those who contributed to Hungarian history are honored; the reason why Clint might be referencing this is at the end of the film, many Manhattanians are complaining about the mess of the battle, instead of being grateful for the Avengers saving them (heroes).(For more on Hawkeye and the importance his role plays in the film, please see my post Men In Black III & the Victory Of the Cold War: until I saw MIB III and the character of the "Griffin," I didn't understand how Hawkeye was being used in The Avengers, but this makes much greater sense of it!).
In the beginning of the film, Loki has come and Nick Fury listens to what he says and responds, "You say peace, but I think you mean the other thing," and it's legitimate to ask ourselves, in this election year, which is very much a war causing division in the country, if the powers in the government promised something they haven't delivered, or delivered something to us that we would never have wanted had they been straight forward? It's important to note that Loki is a master at shape-shifting and being able to duplicate himself; do we see that characteristic in government leadership today?
Why does Agent Coulson die? Coulson symbolizes that part in each person that is not a super hero, but is necessary for creating a super hero (it's his blood which spurs each of the heroes onto doing what they must to bring down Loki). What do we think of when we think of Coulson? Someone rather soft spoken, kind, diligent, devoted, patriotic, sincere, and these are all wonderful qualities, qualities which build up the soul (because Coulson dies believing in the Avengers and that they can save the world even if they aren't believing in themselves or having moments of doubt) and, likewise, each of us must cultivate the Coulson-like qualities so, like Captain America, we can have strong hearts, but we also have to unleash the Hulk in us to get angry about things we should be angry about so things can change for the better. That the "Coulson quality" is necessary to each of us being a "super hero" is reflected at the very last scene, when the heroes sit in the diner eating junk food: they can't be super heroes every moment of their lives, they have to rest and eat, but taking care of themselves means they can be ready for the next challenge (consider, if you will the film Hancock with Will Smith and his alcoholic super hero, even Chronicle and Andrew's mis-use of his powers).  Coulson dying with the Tesseract weapon--but not knowing really how to use it--is like the awkwardness of the heroes in the diner being uncomfortable just resting and not in action but both, again, are necessary (though extremes) of what it takes to be human.
At the end, when the news stations are showing the devastation of New York City, one woman says, "Captain America saved my life, and I would like to tell him thank you." It's not just that Steve did that, but the history of leadership in the world that he represents for America. Agent Coulson told Steve that he had helped with Captain America's uniform; Steve said, "Don't you think the stars and stripes are a little old-fashioned?" and Coulson replies, "I think we need a little old-fashioned right now," and Coulson was right, we need that patriotic energy, that bond, that genuine hope and faith that can only come from being an American. Is it right that Marvel Comics has made a film like this? Absolutely, because the comics symbolize the American imagination and creativity, and how we get things done here. There have been too many references in films lately to America being at war for us to not be at war, and that war is being fought with every second of film.