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Sunday Survey: Marvel’s The Avengers (Film)

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Intro: What is the Sunday Survey?

I’ve explained all about Sunday Survey in my first ever Sunday Survey report. Click here to read the complete explanation. Basically it’s a book discussion I conduct on my Twitter account, @GeekInc18, that starts off with a basic book-related (or not so related) question such as “What’s your favorite book?” or “What do you think of book translations?” The result of our discussion goes up here to Bookerie.

SUNDAY SURVEY, 6 May 2012: Marvel’s The Avengers (Film)

This week’s Sunday Survey is especially dedicated to Marvel’s The Avengers, or Avengers Assemble, the superhero team movie that’s released this week in Indonesia (last week in the rest of the world–apparently, we’re following the US release date).

Some people may be asking why I chose this topic. I admit that it’s a risky choice for a Sunday Survey topic and perhaps not at all relevant to books. But when I first started the Sunday Survey discussion in my former bookstore’s Twitter account, I didn’t ALWAYS discuss about books with my followers. We discussed a variety of topics that were relevant to current affairs and recent trends. There are also plenty of comic book fans among the followers of that Twitter account who don’t even read novels or books regularly, so I didn’t want them to feel slighted. Therefore, occasionally, I would leave the topic of books alone and chose a general one or, the opposite, a genre-specific topic to appease the non-book reading audience.

The Avengers, though, is a hot topic these days. In Jakarta, a new commercial IMAX theater has just been opened and The Avengers is the first IMAX movie shown in the theater. Many cinemas here are using up the majority of theaters to show The Avengers. This movie is forcing some of our good quality local movies (like the hyped-up Modus Anomali) out of the theaters. Basically, 90% of the population of Indonesia’s major cities is watching The Avengers, making it a “current affairs” topic that I can discuss about with my friends.

That and I’m a really huge fan of the movie. It must be said.

However, we’re not JUST going to talk about The Avengers. This film, I have to say, is one of the best ensemble films I’ve seen in years. It’s a film that’s been adapted from a popular series of comic books (we’ll get to that later) and it’s a film that not only caters to the fans of the comics but also viewers who don’t read them. It combines characters from several films  previously released that were made and written by several different filmmakers with their own distinct styles.

I call The Avengers “a sequel with a purpose”. We all know how Hollywood these days are running out of ideas. The amount of movies produced from original scripts probably don’t even compare to the amount of movies adapted from existing materials, such as TV series, video games, comic books and, most importantly, books. We are also now familiar with words such as reboot, remakes, sequels, threequels, fourquels and franchises.

Newly published books get optioned for movies very quickly, too. Books who don’t yet have a strong fanbase are already receiving attention for having their rights acquired by movie studios. And when this happens, the fans of the books will get their hackles raised, saying, “THEY BETTER CAST THE RIGHT PERSON FOR THIS MOVIE OR ELSE!” And when the movie comes out, the fans do tend to say, “THIS MOVIE IS NOT LIKE THE BOOK!”

And that’s why I want to discuss The Avengers. Right now, it’s the only movie I know where the majority of fans don’t get riled by the result that director Joss Whedon displays on the big screens. Most of the reactions from critics are positive (with the exception of that one review from The New York Times that got a strong violent reaction from Samuel L. “Fury” himself) and everybody is basically happy. This, you should know, is a rarity.

Adaptations: (Real) Books vs Comic Books

I’ve been in several fandoms where I enjoyed both books and movies. Lord Of The Rings, for example.

I read the trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien books, plus The Hobbit, after I watched the first movie Fellowship Of The Ring and before The Two Towers film by Peter Jackson came out. By the time the second film came out, I was already intimately familiar with the characters. Needless to say, I was absolutely shocked when the Lorien elf Haldir showed up to help Aragorn and his friends during the Battle of Helm’s Deep in the movie. Every Tolkien purist in the world probably hyperventilated when the scene happened. (Peter Jackson & co. did mention they were conscious of offending the purists by adding that scene.) But did it work in the movies? Yes, it did.

The ending of the third movie, Return Of The King, was another point of discussion. The audience that didn’t read the books thought the ending was too long (I remember an anecdote from Elijah Wood, who played Frodo Baggins, saying that he met Jack Nicholson, who complained to him that he didn’t watch “all of the endings” because “it was too long, man”.) But for those did read the books, we all knew that the ending in the book was THAT long. Basically, Peter Jackson just couldn’t please anybody!

The Lord Of The Rings, however, was one of the most successful film trilogies of all time. As if the box-office earnings weren’t enough evidence, the third movie clean swept all 11 of the categories it was nominated, proving just how appreciative the Academy was of their cinematic achievements. But even to this day, I still find LOTR fans who tell me, “I don’t want to watch the movies. I know they’re well made, but they’re not how I want them to be.”

The same goes with Harry Potter. Someone – I can’t remember who – said that they refused to watch the movies because the movies weren’t how they pictured Harry and his world looked like in their head.

But I don’t see that attitude in general with The Avengers. Not now at least. Perhaps in a few months, I will hear something along those lines. There’s bound to be a fan or two who don’t agree with Whedon’s treatment of their favorite superheroes.

However, I find that it’s easier for me to accept comic book adaptations than book adaptations. As in, I don’t nitpick as much when it comes to comic books are being made into movies. I don’t feel compelled to say, “Hey, that’s not how it goes in the comics!” or criticize, “He’s not blonde! He’s supposed to be dark haired!”

There’s a reason for that. Comic books, unlike books, are ‘divided’ into so many series, especially in the US. (For the record, I am not talking about manga – the Japanese comic books are not published the way American comic books are.) There are so many versions and series for one title that, if you’re late coming into the game, you might get confused by the continuity and whatnot. Costume designs change, vehicles are remodeled, alternate universes can be created and dead characters get resurrected in comic books. We don’t ever lose our favorite heroes – they just live on forever and get embroiled in new drama after new drama in different series.

So, when last year X-Men was ‘rebooted’ in a way through X-Men: First Class that Matthew Vaughn directed, with some of the plot threads differing from the first X-Men film directed by Bryan Singer (which I loved), I wasn’t indignant or angry at all. I just said to myself, “Oh, well. Let’s just say they’re creating a new X-Men movie universe.” My reaction to it was completely different than, for example, Hollywood adapting Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I’d seen the Swedish film directed by Niels Arden Oplev and absolutely worshipped Swedish actress Noomi Rapace as the iconic Lisbeth Salander. When I heard David Fincher was making the English version, I went, “What the hell for?! That’s such a waste of film!”

This could be explained by the fact that I’ve been a book reader for almost all of my life and a comic book reader for only 3 years. I didn’t read comic books before handling the merchandising of it in my previous job. It was only when I got the job that I forced myself to start reading (the first comic book I read was Marvel’s crossover event Civil War, followed by Secret Invasion, both of which included The Avengers). So I am a novice. I still have a lot to learn about comic books. This is probably why I’m not overly bothered by the way comic books are adapted – anything is game on for me at this point.

The Avengers: Best Comic-Book Movie Ever?

I’ve now watched The Avengers three times (and I will watch it some more).

A little background on the movie: The Avengers is a culmination of the events in 5 previous movies, namely The Incredible Hulk (2008; directed by Louis Letterier), Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010; both directed by Jon Favreau), Thor (2011; directed by Kenneth Branagh) and Captain America (2011; directed by Joe Johnston). Of all 5, if you didn’t watch Thor, you will probably not understand some of the things mentioned in The Avengers. This is because the main villain of The Avengers comes from Thor’‘s universe (same as in the comic books). But the entire universe where all 5 movies exist is called the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Are you still with me so far?

In a way, mashing up all of the films into one giant cinematic universe is a novel idea for movies, although not so much for comic books. Marvel comic books have been doing it – writing, drawing, publishing crossover events – since 1963, with the publication of the first volume of The Avengers comic (DC Comics had done it earlier, too, with Justice League Of America). But for movies? It’s new and it’s complicated.

Joss Whedon was the man tasked with the job of bringing the heroes and characters from all 5 movies together in The Avengers. Whedon is a writer and director best known for his works in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. He is a filmmaker with cult status and enough following to make his own small town. Anything typical of Whedon’s storytelling style – the way he writes dialogues, for example – is called “Whedonesque” (which is basically like its own language.) And apparently, The Avengers contains a lot of it.

So. The Avengers = Marvel comics + Whedonesque style = MAXIMUM GEEKERY.

And we all know that geeky is the new black and that’s why everyone is in love with it.

My first impression when I watched The Avengers is that the visuals work the way a comic book does. The frames and the angles are similar to comic book paneling. Marvel is also known to be more ‘colorful’ between the two giants of comic publishing in the US and it shows in this movie. Whereas Christopher Nolan’s Batman series is as dark as the way most Batman comics are gloomy, Whedon’s The Avengers, like its 5 ‘prequels’, are flashy colors and sparkling acting scenes.

The narrative is admittedly more straightforward than the ones in the Marvel comic books I’ve read but Whedon makes up for it in showing the complex dynamics of the characters. He manages to give each character, even minor ones, “a moment”. Be it heroic, dramatic or downright sad, every character becomes useful and comes to life in Whedon’s hands. So, really, it’s just like in the comic books where everyone gets their own moment under the spotlight… but they work together as a team (or, at least, attempt to) and there’s no sense of “I’m more important than he/she is!” And the way the characters mesh well together in the movie emphasizes that feeling of “this is a crossover event in the same universe”.

If Kevin Feige’s, Marvel Studios’ president, aim is to bring comic books to life in a cinematic format, then yes, Whedon is his man who has done the job in an excellent manner. The Avengers is the definition of a true comic book movie, combining all of the elements that make comic books fun and well-beloved by the fans. That’s why The Avengers is important. It has created a new standard for how comic books can and should be adapted for movies.

Further Readings On The Avengers

If anyone is interested in the culture of comic books and The Avengers, I have a suggested list of further readings. (If anyone wants to read more about it, don’t hesitate to comment and I will add to that list.) I didn’t go too deep into it because I know my audience is not comic book fans (‘minor enthusiasts’ like me or ‘complete newbies’) and I aim only to provide a starting point in these references. I found these articles helpful, though, in terms of explaining who and what The Avengers and Marvel Comics really are.

Happy research!

Box Office Record

The Avengers reportedly broke the all-time weekend box office records by earning $200.3 million in the US this weekend. This broke Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 first weekend earnings of $169.2 million last year, the biggest before The Avengers came out. Added with the worldwide box office earnings, Box Office Mojo reports it has earned so far $641 million overall. Whether or not you agree that The Avengers is the new benchmark for superhero comic book movies, it has apparently proven itself to be the Earth’s mightiest.

Survey Results

My friends on Twitter showed me their thoughts on The Avengers movie. But first I want to give a shout-out to they who haven’t been able to watch it yet:

@aksamala #SundaySurvey I loved to gush about Chris Evans though I haven’t watch The Avengers and I might mute you tonight for spoilers. :p

@kepikbadut haven’t watched #TheAvengers.  I will watch it next Saturday with my friends, pressing my own ego to watch it now.

@inararirurero Aaak #SundaySurvey edisi ini topiknya The Avengers. Mateeek. Pasti bertebaran spoiler. Iri maksimal sama yg udah nonton. (>_<) *tutupmataaa

@inararirurero Tapi teutep tergoda buat ngintip dikit2. Gak gak gak kuwat. (>_<) #SundaySurvey

My advice, friends, is to get you to the cinema ASAP! But thank you for chipping in with your Tweets even though you’ve watched… and putting up with possible spoilers!

And here is my first question of where, when and how did everyone watch The Avengers and what they thought about it.

@Astrapios watched it yesterday in Plaza Senayan w/ my friend, she called Chris Evans pretty. #Ikindaagree

Right off the bat, there’s fangirl gushing for Chris Evans. I am quite happy with this as I have also become a fan of Chris Evans.

So let’s talk about him for a bit… Mr. Evans, a native Bostonian who’s apparently very close to his mother (so close in fact, according to Details magazine, that he talks to her about sex), has been a superhero movie fixture for a long time. He played Johnny Storm, a.k.a The Human Torch, in another Marvel comic book adaptation, Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: The Rise Of The Silver Surfer. When he was first cast as Steve Rogers in Captain America, I was highly skeptical of his ability to shed the irresponsible, carefree image of his previous comic book character. But as Captain America proves, Evans is not just a kick-ass superhero, he is also a fine actor. I admire the way this very young actor plays “the man out of time” in The Avengers. Everything Evans’ Rogers did and wore in the movie screamed “I’m not from this era”. And only a very skillful actor can do that… so kudos, Mr. Evans, for your interpretation of the Capsicle in The Avengers.

@angelikurniawan

I watched it yesterday and I liked it!! Its more like comedy for me and omg The Hulk, he’s so loveable!!!!

i actually never watched his previous films but after The Avengers i think i’m gonna watch it and Stark also as usual funny.

and not to forget the queue yesterday, havent seen such a long and crowded queue since Harry Potter but it was worth it.

All hail Bruce Banner! All hail The Hulk! And all hail Mark Ruffalo for FINALLY bringing justice to the most problematic character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With all due respect to the previous actors and filmmakers who made Hulk films, I have to say that they are nothing compared to what Ruffalo and Joss Whedon did to Bruce Banner and The Hulk. Ruffalo’s Banner and Hulk are pitch perfect – the most balanced combination of angry and sympathetic and very reminiscent Lou Ferrigno’s old hug… although so much better here and now. The Hulk!Smash is the best scene in the movie and it’s the reason I keep going back to the cinema to watch this film.

Also, it’s true that The Avengers‘ queue line at cinemas were epic. Some people couldn’t even get seats if they didn’t order tickets in advance.

@milazuliana

Last night at PIM with a bestfriend. We both wanted to hug and squeeze Hulk and Thor. Adorable.

We also laughed at Captain America because he looks idiotic with his suit in the middle of the street. (Chris Evans, tho, unf.)

Captain America’s costume is admittedly tacky… but since Agent Coulson had a design input, I’m absolutely in support of it. Plus, it has a face mask disguised as a hoodie at the nape and the tightness of the costume enhances the beauty that is Chris Evans’ superior physique.

@milazuliana

I didn’t mean I don’t like the costume; I do! It’s just, he’s so serious and oldschool and such a ~leader~ I found it hilarious.

Yeah, even the way he talks is oldschool. His hairstyle, his clothes. Haha awesome! Chris’ first appearance in the movie is hawt.

This proves my earlier point about the actor. But apparently, Mila’s favorite is Le Stark:

My favourite’s Tony Stark, because he’s a Stark. :p No, because he’s awesome. And Iron Man is super cool! Overall, I liked it.

Also, Thor is so medieval with his hammer, ♥ it! I love every Hulk scene, especially the one with the motorcycle. Mark Ruffalo. ♥

And again love for the Hulk! Not surprised…

@betteronholiday watched 2x already, 3D & 2D. Honestly main reason i wanna watch it was Tom Hiddleston (#TEAMLOKI!) but overall i loved the movie!

I have really nothing to add to this, other than pointing out that yes, I’m on Team Loki as well simply because Tom Hiddleston is, well, a god. Enough said. (And he is by far the most eloquent of The Avengers actor. Read his well-written essay on superhero movies on the Guardian Film Blog.)

@BrendaGracia

Joss Whedon did a @Marvel-ous job. Love Stan Lee’s cameo appearance. Not a news, huh? Anyway, I prefer Ruffalo’s Hulk than Norton

Well,maybe I prefer Ruffalo because I set a very low standard when he joined the cast,now he’s surprisingly good

First of all, Stan Lee’s cameo was more minor in this movie than in other Marvel movies! There’s nothing bad about this, but… well, I was expecting something more major.

But good point on Ruffalo. I didn’t enjoy the previous two Hulk movies and wasn’t terribly impressed by the actors who played the scientist and his green angry alter ego. So naturally when I heard Ruffalo got the part, I thought, “He might not be able to pull it off either.” But he did and I’m satisfied. Then again, low expectation or not, The Hulk was a showstealer.

@ndarow

The Avengers was nothing like I wanted it to be. It was BETTER. It EXCEEDED my expectations.

If you’re a Marvel geek/a sucker for superhero movies/ a fan of bulky guys with deep voice/ simply in for an adventure, GO WATCH IT.

Just finished watching th film three hours ago. I stayed in until the credit title ends. The feeling still lingers.

The battle scene was EPIC. It was breath-taking, every single second. My favorite scene? Every time Hulk SMASHES.

and, duh, need I repeat it again? Okay, EVERY TIME Loki is on screen, I want to stand up and SQUEAL. #LokiGaga

and I wore black-green-gold outfit :D I was so proud of myself!Simply because I saw no other person doing the same.

Another person who’s gone LOKILOCO! Welcome to the club… (Also, like me, she went for the FABULOKI dress code of wearing green-black-gold. Although, when I first saw the movie on IMAX last Wednesday, my costume was in honor of the Cap: red-white-blue.)

Speaking of staying put until the post-credits scene… I am continuously surprised that many people still don’t do it. They don’t wait for the extra scenes after the credits even though Marvel movies always put some! More than half of the theater in which I watched The Avengers was already empty by the time the first post-credits scene appeared.

And allow me to use this opportunity to express my disappointment that international audiences don’t get to watch the 2nd post-credit scene in the cinema. Here in Indonesia, The Avengers is released at the same time with the US. But the US gets the 2nd post-credit scene and we don’t. This is unfair, Marvel!

@capcay_santun

superb movie although Loki look one liner villain, but i understand that coz there so many character in it

Went with friends, 3 of us wore Loki-theme clothing at Grand Indonesia Blitz, and its was awesomesauce

Loki may only have a few lines, but he’s definitely evil. (You’re probably wondering why I love him even though he’s evil, but it’s because he’s properly mischievous and unrepentant that I admire him and his audacity.) And Team Loki reigns supreme as people do the FABULOKI look at screenings!

I also asked my friends whether they thought comic books are easier to adapt than novels in movies. Here are their insights into the topic.

@capcay_santun

i would say both are difficult. Novel is difficult because you should interpret people imagination but each person’s imagination

are different, how you make every person satisfy and agree with your interpretation. While comic already have their own character

and reference, the hard thing is how to make all of it look good, and accepted by every viewer, since movie viewer not always

comicbook fans, so you cannot take 100% reference from comic to movie.

So far i enjoyed comicbook adaptation, like superhero one. Some novel adaptation aren’t right, especially the character

These are pretty much my thoughts. As I have said earlier in this entry, I’ve always found it easier to enjoy comic book superhero movies better than based-on-book films.

@milazuliana

I find comic adaptations more satisfying, but I think it’s because I don’t read those comic books. ^^’

BUT! Novel adaptations feel more amazing because it’s as if they build new worlds from zero.

Again, this is also what I feel because, since I’m not a regular comic book reader or a hardcore fan, I don’t really have as high an expectation as I do towards books. But, if novel adaptations are good, then they can be even more amazing because the filmmakers have to build visuals out of words, whereas in comic book movies, they already have the drawings as a point of visual reference.

Our discussion went further as I said that I usually expect my movie adaptations to be somewhat close to my own imagination. Mila added:

Well, I don’t really expect novel adaps to be perfect. I know they won’t be, so I’d just fill the weakness with my imagination.

I guess I have a ‘I’ll take what I get’ attitude. I’m just grateful they make it into a film. ^^

To be fair, she’s a lot kinder toward filmmakers than I do… (laughs). But of course I know how to separate the movies and the books they are based on. It’s not a matter of not knowing how to see them as two different media, but it’s a matter of satisfying the visual pleasures of a true fan of the book.

@rumfrost

I think comic adapt would be easier to translate on film as it’s already visual. From novel? I rarely satistied w/ the results.

still I do think both adaptations are work of art & I respect the efforts and guts (risk of getting assasinated by angry fans)

In the end, yes, we must appreciate what the filmmakers do. Although sometimes I feel as if Hollywood studios adapt books just for the sake of acquiring fanbase and securing easy money on the box office, I do appreciate the effort they put into making the films. There are filmmakers who do adapt books into movies because they love the source material and want to put a visual form of the words from the books and I thank them for adapting my favorite books on the big screen.

My last question for my friends during this Sunday Survey was: can The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man match or surpass The Avengers as a comic book/superhero movie?

Even though I realize my question may come across as courting controversy (there’s already enough wank in fandom over TDKR and The Avengers based on mere trailers) but it’s a valid question that we should all think about if we’re interested in the world of superhero movies that are based on comic book series.

Personally, I think Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker won’t bring anything new to the comic book superhero movies. He has done that with Batman Begins. All he has left now is the conclusion to the saga he began 7 years ago. Movie-wise, Nolan has his own distinct style and it’s already well-known and no one is going to dispute his reputation as a filmmaker.

Meanwhile, I’m generally just doubtful that The Amazing Spider-man will be able to impress me. Marc Webb is largely untested as a comic book superhero director so I don’t have an opinion on him yet, but Spider-man has been made before and this current reboot mostly just rubs me the wrong way. The jury is still out on it but I don’t think Spidey will be able to kick The Avengers‘ reign as the Earth’s mightiest comic book movie.

Here are my friends’ thoughts on it:

@milazuliana I don’t think so. The Avengers is like, a cracky crossover fanfiction, you can’t beat that! XD

And there it is: the CROSSOVER part is the one that’s hard to beat. No matter how you look at it, Spider-man and Batman are both one hero in one movie series. The Avengers, on the other hand, is 7 heroes (plus 1 villain) from 5 movies. If Justice League America comes out as a movie, tell me. Then we’ll do another comparison.

It still doesn’t erase the fact, however, that:

@kepikbadut I’m really sure that Nolan has a plan for Bruce. The trailer and the poster said so. Can’t wait for #TheDarkKnightRises!

This.

Batman and Bruce Wayne are up for some dark, depressing times in TDKR. That alone should build up the same hype among the fans the way The Avengers had in this summer superhero movie season.

And lastly:

@karynakirana 

to be honest, I think the Avengers is the best superhero movie I’ve ever watched. But, it just feels wrong to compare TA with TDK

because I feel like they’re in different genres. TA is so well-executed that the fun doesn’t feel like it’s forced, whereas–

TDK is serious and thought-provoking, so, yeah, I think they’re both great in their own ways.

Personally I love TA more than other superhero movie tho :p

Both different, both great. I agree with this assessment.

In the end, the way I see it is: after you watch The Dark Knight Rises, go back and watch The Avengers again. I think we’ll all need The Avengers‘ tongue-in-cheek humor and light, fun action to counter TDKR‘s intense and brooding atmosphere and sense of foreboding destruction.

Also, in the end, comic book movies win because the top movies people will be talking about the most are these superhero adventures.

That’s all for now and stay tuned again for the next session of Sunday Survey.

About mavieenlair18

Writer. Journalist. Blogger. Reader. Fan.

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