We are in an amazing place when it comes to the superhero and comic book genre onscreen. There’s nothing that cannot be realized through the magic of special effects and the imaginations being put in charge of the projects being pushed through production. Yes, we exist in a world of remakes, sequels, reboots, and marketing-fueled adaptations. But, if that’s the world that we exist in at least it is one that has the capacity to win us over.
Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is possibly the culmination of all that came before. Successes. Failures. Oddities. Classics that won’t be considered such for years. Massive hits that are massive shits. The Avengers is an excellent movie and one that defies the modern stigma of big summer movies that either numb us to death, dumb us to death, or lack the scope and spectacle to warrant the overused “tentpole” moniker.
How did we get here? What are the building blocks for this heyday in comic book and superhero movies? What “team” of movies, when banded together like Marvel’s litany of tough guys and gals when combined form the DNA of the modern superhero event film?
Here’s my perspective, a list of ten filled with good movies, bad movies, and surprisingly important movies paving the way for what now stands as the benchmark for the genre:
Day Three: Transformers
Day One: The Matrix / Day Two: The Fellowship of the Ring
Boom! Loud! Smash!
Michael Bay’s Transformers is a juggernaut in nearly every way except intellectually. It would be held back in third grade for mistaking an onion for its Social Studies book. But when it comes to taking cinema and punching it in the face and dragging it by its hair away from the ever-growing scope and quality of television towards something bigger, it’s hard to argue.
Getting asses in seats requires either a blindly loyal audience (Twilight, Tyler Perry), great marketing and buzz (Inception), or someone who was once funny pandering (Steve Martin, Adam Sandler, Martin Lawrence, Robin Williams, The Rock, Eddie Murphy). Or it requires something that puts the “event” in “event film”. Michael Bay has a penchant for that, and this was his crowning glory. Given a massive set of toys to play with, a massive set of toys to base a movie on, and a massive chip on his shoulder to outdo his peers, Bay did everything right. Yeah the film is dumb and your head hurts from some of the action, but it is kitchen sink filmmaking of the highest order. A lot of progress happened here, some by accident and some by forced evolution.
What it brought: Where some of the other films in this list brought nuance and subtle changes, Michael Bay shattered subtlety and actually took advantage of a cornucopia of toolboxes without fear. This film is a sizzle reel spread out to feature length and though there were leaps and bounds made in the effects work in the sequels, this really set the stage. The New York attack in The Avengers owes a debt to the work of Bay and Roland Emmerich just in terms of knowing which beats work and which don’t when it comes to destruction of a familiar city. But on top of that, there’s a very singular method at play here and though Bay is an ideal choice for a big dumb summer movie one can never say he’s ever holding back. There’s a lesson there.
Its legacy: Love it or hate it, it was a game changer in terms of the bang/buck ratio. Michael Bay’s sense of geography in an action scene has long been debated but there’s no denying the sheer amount of BIG onscreen. Every big, loud, epic blockbuster has a little Cybertron in their DNA.
Remnants in The Avengers: The scale of the destruction. The fetishistic love of tech. The marriage of geeky cool shots and impossible and brazen camerawork. A few moments that are so stylized and perfect they bump up to being offensively so, only to cut just before it becomes overindulgent.
Does it hold up today: No. Even in light of the vacant and ridiculously busy sequels (which have moments but the heart of an aphid), it’s no bargain.
Buy it from CHUD’s Amazon link: HERE.