Sucker for a Superhero

Ever since I was a kid, I have had a weakness for superhero stories. It first started with television. The cheesy 60’s Batman

series starring Adam West and Burt Ward was rerun on weekday afternoons and was perfect for my 6 year old imagination. Coupled with the no-budget Spider-man cartoon  that I watched every weekday at home while I ate my lunch, I was a goner. I soon moved to more sophisticated stuff like Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno’s pairing as Dr. Banner/The Incredible Hulk.

I also remember watching the quickly canceled live action Spider-man TV program in the late 70’s. Even as an adult, in the early 90’s I found myself watching  the Flash TV series, Lois & Clark, the New Adventures of Superman (for the 1st few seasons before it got monumentally silly) and recording the Saturday morning Spider-man cartoon series.

I could go on (MTV’s Spider-man; Batman, the Animated series; The Batman, Teen Titans, Heroes before the writers stopped caring about the characters they created, etc.)

Then came Buffy the Vampire Slayer,

the show that raised the bar so high that it changed the way I watched TV forever. She’s a superhero; she’s flawed; she saved the world, a lot.

In my mind, there are several tiers of the 21 century superhero movies. The origin story is often the most powerful. If the hero is likable or relatable I find myself engaged by the trials and tribulations that result in a character with a higher calling. That calling is to save the world, repeatedly and hopefully in engaging ways. The hero cannot be too powerful. What would the challenge be? Top tier is occupied by the first 2 Spider-man films directed by Sam Raimi, Chris Nolan’s Batman films, the first Hellboy and the first Ironman film. The first 2 films of the X-men franchise straddle the fence and then there are the rest. In no particular order are both film adaptations of the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, the remaining X-men movies, the Blade films, Superman Returns. Then there are the unwatchable bores such as The Fantastic 4.

So what elevates such a genre film that is otherwise so easy to ridicule? The first thing I look for is a hero that I can relate to and it often helps if he/she has a secret identity because it adds to the loner relatability appeal. I want a good script with a plot that is not too complicated to follow, but not too predictable. Plot holes can be forgivable if they are not large enough to drive a truck through. Witty dialogue awards a film bonus points. I enjoy imaginative action sequences that do not seem endlessly repetitive. So with that said, Spider-man is still my guy, loveable underdog that he is with Wolverine second in line (how can one resist a surly Hugh Jackman with that ridiculous hairstyle and sideburns).

Honorable mention to Christian Bale’s portrayal of Batman but the fact that he plays a playboy billionaire is a minus in the relatability column.

So when I learned that Buffy’s creator, Joss Whedon, was writing and directing the Avengers movie. I knew I would be seeing it on the big screen. Honestly, there were very few Superhero movies that have been released in the last 10 years that I haven’t seen in the theatre. When I mean few, the following come to mind Ghost Rider, Green Lantern and the Green Hornet got such lame reviews that I took a pass. It helps somewhat that my husband enjoys these films as well and that our kids are old enough to join us for most of them. So on this beautifully bright, sunny and warm Saturday afternoon we sat in a dark theatre with our 3D glasses watching the Avengers.

I really wanted to love the Avengers, if only because of Joss Whedon’s efforts. He has proven time and time again that he can manage an ensemble cast. I liked the film but I did not love the film. I was familiar with most of the heroes assembled from their respective films (Ironman, Hulk, Thor, Captain America) and I was a fan of the actors playing the heroes who had not been in their own films (Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury). The plot involved a familiar villain, Loki, Thor’s evil brother who opened a portal to earth in order to unleash an army of vicious aliens who wanted to take over. Why, you ask? It is a comic book story, so the only answer is, why not? The first half of the movie involved assembling this team of troubled superheroes by Nick Fury’s peace keeping organization named S.H.I.E.L.D (Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division or Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate) because they’re the only ones that can stop the threat. The first part of the film with the globe-trotting and the recruiting was a bit slow and not very interesting. When the group was assembled and directly threatened, they figured it was time to put aside their differences and work together. That seemed a bit rushed but at least things got more interesting, and the climax was fun and action packed.

I enjoyed The Black Widow and her kick-butt scenes; she was not just another pretty face. There was some witty dialogue, especially out of Tony Stark’s/Ironman’s mouth, but not as much as I expected in a Joss Whedon film. The Hulk contributed to 2 laugh out loud moments in the film, which made watching in a theatre more fun. Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal as Dr. Banner and the Hulk was by far the best I had seen on the big screen. Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye was underutilized. Thor and Captain America, were there but I really couldn’t care less after their origin movies left me underwhelmed and that is really the crux of the problem with this film. The story, was ok, most of the characters I didn’t care much about before the film and there was nothing in the film to change that. I would have forgone the 3D experience but I was not willing to wait around for a later 2D showtime. My husband seemed to enjoy it as much as I did, my oldest daughter really liked it and my youngest tolerated it.

Maybe I am getting older and the superheroes have lost their appeal. I guess I will know better after the summer blockbusters are behind me. I am looking forward to the new Spider-man reboot and the 3rd installment in Chris Nolan’s Batman franchise. In the meantime, maybe I will try to get my daughters interested in Spider-man again and watch the 1994 animated series (the best TV version IMO) now that is available on Netflix streaming!

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