Tag Archives: adventure

Thrilling Heroics

Every boy has his favorite superhero. Doesn’t matter if they’ve never read a comic; pop cultural osmosis will take care of that. Growing up, my favorites were Batman and Iron Man. My brother was a Spider-Man fan. I’ve got a buddy who loved Green Lantern and another who liked Robin. But why is it that we love heroes (super or not)? Whether they’re named Tony Stark, Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, Buffy Summers, or Atticus Finch, we have our heroes. But why? Why do we love having heroes in fiction?

Barring the rare invincible abnormality like Superman (in which case you’d need emotional tension to… that’s another essay for another day), heroes have a risk of death. Sure, we’re sure (well, kinda sure if it’s written by Joss Whedon) they’ll survive, but there’s that potential. Towards the end of Mass Effect 3, Commander Shepard’s armor has been destroyed and half-melted, but still our hero presses on, blood dripping from his wounds, in a final desperate attempt to save the galaxy. This is Shepard: the living legend who defended the Citadel from Sovereign, halted a Collector invasion, and united the races of the galaxy for the first time in millennia of history. He’s been augmented with cybernetics and carries enough firepower to take on a small army. Yet even he bleeds. Great, a lot of heroes get the crap beaten our of them. So what?

It proves they’re human! We love the everyman, the hero we can relate to. When creating Uncharted, Naughty Dog chose to stray from the trend of super-soldiers and overconfident protagonists and give us a fairly ordinary man dressed in a simple shirt and jeans: Nathan Drake. He’s a wisecracking smartass who spends as much time stumbling and falling as he does fighting bad guys. Drake’s snarky and funny, amusing us as he fumbles (sorry, improvises) his way through his adventures. It doesn’t take much to see that his bravado and bluster is just him trying to build himself up: an a attempt to steel himself for the perils that await. But he feels fear, he feels desperation. When Drake sees his friends get hurt his courage falters and we see the man within, we see ourselves. We like him because we’re like him. Drake isn’t that much different from us: he’s who we hope we’d be if we were in his spot, albeit wittier.

Similarly, Peter Parker, more so than most other superheroes, is terribly ordinary. He’s a teenager in high school striving for good grades and trying to win the heart of his girl. And he’s got spider-like powers. Nonetheless, he’s every one of us back in high school. Marc Webb captured this so well in The Amazing Spider-Man by introducing us to Peter the boy first. We get to know him before his powers, with his powers, and then when he finally calls himself Spider-Man. We’re not following the story of Spider-Man the superhero, we’re following story of this kid named Peter Parker. Even when he’s ‘officially’ a superhero, he’s still not invulnerable. Multiple times Peter shows up after a night of crime fighting battered, bruised, and bloodied. He’s just a teenage boy trying to do what’s right.

That’s the crux of our heroes. We want to know they’re vulnerable, we like them human (or at least mostly), but we want to see them do what’s right. We want our heroes to get beaten up and choose to go on because we hope that were we in their spot we would have the strength to continue. As an audience, we’re normal, powerless in our situations. None of us would stand a chance against the Reapers, Zoran Lazerevic, or the Lizard. But then, neither would Shepard, Drake, or Spider-Man were it not for their circumstances. Maybe, and just maybe, that could be us.

Our heroes aren’t perfect and invincible. Underneath the Iron Man armor is a middle-aged man on the brink of death. Green Lantern is just a guy with a fancy ring. Captain America was an earnest runt given a once-in-a-lifetime chance. The only difference between us and our heroes are our positions.

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of,” said Joss Whedon once. In these heroes, super or not, we find our strength. We see our weaknesses and fallings mirrored, but more than that we see them overcome it for the sake of good. The exhausted Sam carries Frodo up the side of Mount Doom. Atticus Finch risks his standing in the community to do what’s right. Luke Skywalker refuses to strike down Darth Vader.

No matter how hurt or broken our heroes are, they choose to do the right thing, to carry on and fight again.

And we hope that we can too.

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Doth Mother Know You Weareth Her Drapes?

Yes, another entry about The Avengers. I’m fully aware it came out two weeks ago and I should probably stop going to watch it every so often, but, well, no. The movie is, simply put, great. It sets a new standard for comic book/superhero movies and, more than that, proves that a movie of this nature can be of the same caliber and quality of those dainty arthouse dramas. ‘cause yes, the script is exceptional, acting top notch, and direction impeccable. But, far and beyond everything else (including Scarlett Johansson), The Avengers is just plain fun.

The recent trend in ‘pulpy’ fiction (y’know, genres like action, scifi, fantasy, superheroes, etc; those ‘entertaining’ movies) has been to add copious amounts of grit to the formula. These days it’s not enough to just have a simple romantic adventure, you have to make it dark and amp up the edginess. A quick look brings up Nolan’s Batman movies and fare like District 9 or The Hunger Games. Not to say that these movies are necessarily bad (in fact, they’re pretty great), they’re just indicative of this current trend.

Joss Whedon and The Avengers merrily threw that to the wind.

This movie isn’t a character study, it’s not a depressing deconstruction of superheroes in real life nor is it some grandiose observation on how people would react to a world-conquering alien invasion. No, it’s an adventure! Start to finish, The Avengers is first and foremost an adventure. We’re talking an adventure like Star Wars or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid! An adventure like each of the Avengers’ own movies were, just taken up to eleven and then some. The Avengers is a pure adventure.

We can take Star Wars as an archetype of an adventure. There’s peril and plight aplenty, but it doesn’t leave us moping and brooding; every tragedy is a catalyst for the next course  of action. In The Avengers we have our tragic moments. But it doesn’t slow down the adventure, it gives our characters depth and a motivation to rise. Whereas in films like The Dark Knight  a character’s death sends out hero into deep self-inspection; a death in The Avengers spurs them on to, well, avenge it and save the day.

Why? You should know this; because it’s an adventure!

The movie is made of fun. It’s somewhat grounded in reality but doesn’t let that hinder the delight of the film. We get to watch a team of superheroes save the day with all the awesomeness and wisecracking it entails. If you’re me, you would have had a massive grin on your face throughout most of the movie (each time you’ve seen it) and every now and then muttering words like “frick yes!” or just cheering.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for the brooding hero. The Dark Knight firmly proved that, if done well, the dark and tortured hero can create a compelling and engaging story. And The Avengers proves that there’s still space for a movie that sets aside the grim solemnness for fun.

But here’s what’s so good: The Avengers pulls it off. There are movies out there, fare like Transformers: Dark of the Moon or, say, The Losers that are fun movies in their own right, but don’t quite leave you thinking “man, that movie was great”. See, as much as The Avengers runs on fun, it backs it up at every turn. Like I said in the beginning (and in previous entries), it’s well developed. Characters aren’t cardboard stand-ins and the plot isn’t just some vehicular shell. Without this foundation the fun would be unwarranted and shallow.

Sometimes, the current trend can be bucked and bucked well. In a day when big blockbuster fare tends to be epics like Avatar and Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, weird/creepy supernatural romances (Twilight) or mindless action films (Transformers, Fast Five, etc), it’s refreshing to see a proper adventure doing so well. But The Avengers surpasses other recent adventures (Ghost Protocol and John Carter come quickly to mind) in that it’s so consistent.

What’s my point? The Avengers is an adventure and it’s fun. Furthermore it’s a great example of summer movie fare that has depth and astounding quality without sacrificing thrills.

So I’m gonna go watch this movie for the fourth time in a few hours. This is a movie that bears watching over and over again because well, it’s so dang fun.

 

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