The Enemy Of The Surreal Is The Real

I finally caught up with The Avengers movie and Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Verdict?

I liked ‘em.

The Avengers is the best half hour Saturday morning superhero cartoon episode ever made, and while Captain America: The First Avenger remains the best superhero movie ever made, Captain America: Winter Soldier is a damn fine sequel, mega-entertaining, tons o’fun, and really well executed.

It’s also the death knell for the genre, but it’s going to take a while for the body to die so expect another couple of sequels before we’re all done.

The Avengers, as much fun as it was, failed to fully engage me the way Captain America: The First Avenger or the Iron Man movies did for this reason: With all the characters scheduled to appear in various mega-budget movie sequels and TV spinoffs and toy and apparel merchandising, there was no way any of these characters were ever in danger.

Not so much as a chipped nail or a stray hair. Nope, The Avengers were solid and they knew it and we knew it.

So there.

While there are a lot of fun-filled crowd pleasing moments in The Avengers[1] there was never a moment of suspense.

animated hulk smash

We all knew they were all going to come through unscathed, safe and sound with not one iota changed so they could appear in the next movie and the next movie and the next movie and the next movie and when you announce a slate of 14 – 15 – 16 big-big-big budget seasonal tent pole movies with McCrappy meal tie-ins maybe everybody knows you aren’t going to take any real chances or do anything that will put a hiccup in that master Marvel marketing plan and gosh-a-rooty, know where that leaves us?

It leaves us with a really, really good episode of a really, really well made 1980s Saturday morning superhero show.

But it really is really, really, really good.

Captain America: Winter Soldier brings a whole new set of problems to the genre because comic books and cartoons have one thing in common and that’s so long as you can draw it, you de facto make it believable, and while brightly colored naked people flying and fighting are absurd in reality,[2] they translate quite well to comic book panels and cartoon pixels.

Which is why trying to make a realistic superhero movie is self-defeating, the way making a giant monster movie any more serious than the original Godzilla or Gorgo[3] is self-defeating.

City stomping is fun but if you’re serious about your city stomping then you’re going to have a million and one personal tragedies playing out and all of a sudden…

…it ain’t fun any more.

Captain America: Winter Soldier has wild gunfights erupting on busy, crowded city streets in broad daylight using explosives and heavy caliber weapons with vehicles flying through the air engulfed in huge balls of fire…

…and no civilian casualties.

The target of all this mayhem is Nick Fury hizzowsef, and there’s where all plausibility flies out the window.

Imagine, if you would, that the head of the CIA is nearly assassinated in DC by a cadre of well armed / well trained combat personnel disguised as civilian police officers.

The city -- hell, the whole country! – would go apeshit and security would slam tight around Washington as US troops are moved in to secure the capital.

None of which happens in Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Oh, they talk about it as part of Hydra’s great plot to take over the world, but you’d think if that was their intent then maybe there should’ve been some nod in that direction.

Everything keeps meandering along until the baddies can put their Final Plan into motion.

That plan entails a huge duke out between (among?) three huge helicarriers, each of which costing into the trillions of dollars or so and all of them getting destroyed in a glorious spfx orgy.

C’mon, granted it’s a movie based on a comic book, nonetheless it tries to present itself realistically enough that one recognized Cappy & Co have just destroyed the economic wealth of the US by wiping out those three helicarriers.

Granted they were destroyed to prevent a horrible holocaust from happening, but the fact is their destruction just wiped the GNP clean and left America with nothing to show for it.

And this is not getting into the huge cost of collateral damage as the three helicarriers wreck a big hunk of DC before destroying themselves.

In a real world -- a world which the Marvel movies carefully try to evoke -- there would be trials and courts martials and an immediate deep and lasting mistrust of all superheroes.

But it just gets shrugged off in the movie.

Now, you can get away with that sorta stuff in a comic book because the very nature of the comic book medium -- like its cousin, the animated cartoon -- forces a certain suspension of disbelief. The very method used to tell the story -- the staging and pacing and the very strokes of the pen and brush used by the artist/s – force the reader to put aside thoughts of how reality works and accept the highly stylized worldview of comics.

And there’s nothing wrong with that; that’s what makes comics so much fun.

But eventually it’s going to undermine the genre. Right now there’s the thrill of seeing stuff done onscreen that we’d only seen in comics and cartoons before, but eventually that will wear off and audiences will find themselves strangely dissatisfied with films and characters that had delighted them a year earlier.

Marvel, with its thousands of characters, can roll with the punch for a while. When -- not if -- Iron Man and Hulk and Captain America and The Avengers grow tiresome, there are lots more to choose from.

But the genre itself is eventually going to burn out, and trying to make the movies more real -- “better” as it were -- is only going to hasten that moment.

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[1] The movie could have been just two hours of Hulk bitch slapping Loki and it would have made as much money.

[2] As are talking animals.

[3] Both of which are great examples of their genre and better than Pacific Rim or the recent Godzilla remake or the Godzilla remake before that or Cloverfield. Ghu, yes, better than Cloverfield

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