The Avengers


The Avengers (2012) is an epic superhero film written and directed by Joss Whedon. It is an origins story, following the events of S.H.I.E.L.D to develop The Avengers Initiative, which leads to the coming together of The Avengers. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and is the third-highest-grossing film, over $1 billion.

The expectations for the film were nothing shy of brilliant once Joss Whedon was announced as director for The Avengers. An avid comic book fan and an amazing writer, the coming together of multiple superheroes into one film was in very good hands. Whedon has commented on The Avengers as a group, saying: “These people shouldn’t be in the same room let alone on the same team—and that is the definition of family.” He delves deeply into that sentiment in the film, exploring the conflicts between strong personalities and haughty egos. Whedon is well-known for fleshing out characters, and that’s the most interesting part of this film. He makes the joining forces of these various superheroes feel real and believable. Most of the film is set up as scenes with pairs of characters, which gives the actors a chance to perform with different personalities as well as the audience the chance to see the characters interact with everyone. Examples of this include: 1) when Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) meeting with Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in India to convince him to answer S.H.I.E.L.D’s call for help or 2) when Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fight each other to (try to) show their dominance over the other. These scenes are incredible because they show a side to the characters that aren’t seen very often in these characters’ solo films. Tony Stark is always in charge in his films, but now he has to work together with others. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is the ultimate soldier but has to come to terms with the fact that everybody he’s ever known or cared for is dead and learn to interact with people “of the future”. The way Whedon creates these scenes is insightful, as it deconstructs the illusion that groups of superheroes, like The Avengers or the Justice League, would automatically come together in selflessness for the greater good. Egos must be thrown aside (in Stark’s case) and personal conflicts must be embraced (in Banner’s case) in order to work together. The basic goal for these scenes is for Whedon to show the journey for the characters to build trust, for trust will be the most important force linking their chain together.

Another classic Whedonism found in The Avengers is the witty banter and clever writing. The film’s popularity and high praise has a lot to do with the writing, elevating the “superhero genre” up to match various other genres in terms of quality and artistry.
On the topic of classic Whedonisms, Black Widow’s character must be discussed. Whedon has created a myriad of strong female characters, including Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Echo in Dollhouse (Eliza Dushku), and Zoe Washburn from Firefly (Gina Torres). He promotes and advocates for strong women in media, and he delivers yet again with Black Widow. Her introduction scene has her tied to a chair, being interrogated by Russian criminals. She appears to be in a weak and helpless position, as if she were captured and at their mercy. Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) calls the Russian criminals and asks to speak to Romanoff. She talks to him like he’s interrupting her interrogation, not that she’s helpless and in need of saving. He urges her to come in, saying it’s urgent, and she consents. Then, she shows the audience that she was always in control of the situation. She begins a fight, disables the Russian criminals, and walks out calmly, after picking up her heels. This is classic Joss Whedon, who sets up scenes with a particular female stereotype and destroys it right then and there. A classic example is the pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A high school boy is taking what appears to be a timid high school girl somewhere private after school hours. She’s hesitant and timid. Whedon sets up that scene as the high school blonde girl who gets herself in a powerless situation, but the high school girl turns out to be Darla (Julie Benz), a vampire who was in fact seducing the high school boy. Black Widow and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are incredibly strong women who are perfectly capable and in control of their situations. Hill does follow orders from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), but she basically runs the organization and makes things happen. Romanoff, like Darla in Buffy, plays around with female stereotypes in an incredible scene with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the film’s big bad and adopted brother to Thor. She’s speaking with Loki, and he begins to simmer in his masculine intimidation, picking apart her intentions as she buckles under the harshness of his words. In his hubris, he lets slip his next move. Immediately, Romanoff resumes her strong posture and stoic face and we realize that she was playing him the entire time. Whedon keeps destroying female stereotypes. With so many modern reboots in popular franchises, there are attempts to modernize female characters who were previously stuck in antiquated female stereotypes, like Uhura in Star Trek. In J.J. Abrams reboot in 2009, the entire cast got a jumpstart, including Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), who at times was the catalyst for the plot continuing forward. Unfortunately, half way through the film, Uhura was tossed aside as merely a romantic interest for Spock (Zachary Quinto). While there are teases and hints at something between Romanoff and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) in The Avengers, Romanoff’s character place in the group is never diminished or looked down upon. As Johansson has said about her role in The Avengers, she always felt like one of the guys, not the only woman in a group of guys.
Whedon’s vision for The Avengers is a masterful balance of character development and excitement. He blends together a modern realization of his characters with clever writing and a smooth and realistic filming style. He succeeded in bringing together a group of ultra-strong personalities, both in character and in person, while also elevating the “superhero genre” up to challenge other “respected” genres. The sequel, which is will be released in 2015, will no doubt be just as exciting and successful.

Noah


Noah (2014) is a biblically inspired epic fantasy film (emphasis on the fantasy) written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, score by Clint Mansell. Although inspired by the biblical story of Noah, it is a fantasy film separate from that cannon, ultimately attempting to develop the character of Noah — who is quite well known from the Bible while being insufficiently written about or described.

I can still remember seeing rumors about Aronofsky’s next film on Twitter, cocking my head to the side as it was revealed to be a film about Noah. It didn’t seem particularly characteristic for Aronofsky, but after I got over my perplexed shock, I put my trust in him. I’ve enjoyed his films, and I believed that he would be able to pull it off. Over the months, after hearing casting decisions and production news, my curiosity and excitement rose. I really had no idea what to expect. There have been a plethora of articles and reviews about the film, which piqued my interest and curiosity even more. Now it is time for me to pass my judgment on the film. And it is good. For the most part.

The first thing to understand about this film is that it’s inspired by the biblical story — it does not set out to be a literal representation of the tale in the Bible. Aronofsky was fascinated by Noah since he was a kid. Because Noah as a person was not widely discussed in the Bible, he set out to create this film to address the man, the character of Noah. Something that both Aronofsky and Russell Crowe had to tackle was discovering Noah’s character. In the Bible, God chooses Noah and his family to repopulate the Earth, so it is widely believed that Noah was a kind and benevolent man. Aronofsky’s take on Noah is a man who has the strength and will to complete God’s task — to let countless men, women, and children die. This version of Noah is hard, unwavering, yet just. Though, the fundamental difference between the Bible’s Noah and Aronofsky’s Noah is that The Creator (he’s never addressed as God in the film) does not explicitly communicate with or give instructions to Noah. In the Bible, God gives Noah very specific instructions, but in the film, Noah has to deduce what The Creator wants from him. This leads to what I felt to be the awkward part of the film, where Noah sincerely believes that The Creator does not want him or his family to repopulate the Earth after the floods are cleared away. Because of this, he doesn’t obtain wives for Ham or Japheth, and he sets out to kill his previously-barren-turned-furtile adopted daughter’s newborns — all to appease The Creator’s wishes. However awkward it feels to watch it, the narrative gives Noah some depth as a character, a pious man who has to realize and accept that there is good in humanity despite the debauchery and sin he witnessed from the descendants of Cain.

I do have some problems with Noah’s character, though. My biggest problem is his decision to abandon the girl that Ham (Logan Lerman) tries to save. When the family first set out, they found Ila injured. A mob of evil men descended on them; they could have left Ila there, but they took the girl with them and raised her as part of the family. It’s a bit hypocritical to leave the girl, Na’el (Madison Davenport), to die, but Noah at that point believes there is no goodness in anybody, including himself. He believes that he and his family are only supposed to safely care for the animals until they can repopulate a human-less Earth, which leads to a big theme in Noah: environmentalism.

The film cries out in support and defense of the natural world. As the family journeys to see Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), they’re pursued by a gang of evil men. They’re forced to run out into a barren land, black and dry of any nutrients. It shows how greedy and apathetic mankind has become towards nature — a clear metaphor for our present society and its unconcern for the natural world. The Earth becomes an actual character in the film, beautifully showcased in many gorgeous shots, particularly in the incredible evolutionary creationism sequence that accompanies the creation story Noah tells the family. The Creator establishes a beautiful world filled with many wonders, and humankind has raped and desecrated it. Nature is also the only way that The Creator communicates with Noah. He sends down a water drop to bloom into a flower in mere seconds to get Noah’s attention. He creates a forest from a sprouting fountain that will provide the lumber for the ark. He destroys the world with floods and water. The natural world is the vessel through which The Creator speaks, which may be suggesting that to embrace and care for the natural world is to embrace godliness.

Aronofsky creates some incredible shots and sequences in the film. His characteristic quick edits make an appearance in Noah in a couple artistic and effective scenes. First is the shot of the doves that follow the stream to the ark. What follows is a series of shots in rapid succession. It would not have been as effective if one or two shots of the doves flying were smoothly edited together to show the passing of time. The quick shots position the birds flying among a plethora of backgrounds, showing a passage of time and change of scenery. Edited quickly, and fitting in a myriad of shots in a short amount of time, it gives the illusion that an extreme amount of time is passing. Another scene that moved me was when Methuselah cures Ila (Emma Watson) of her barrenness. He’s digging for berries and she happens upon him as she searches for Ham. Never having met before, he wants to give his blessing since she is part of the family. He touches her, and an invisible wave of energy emits from her body. She looks up at the trees, at first unclear, and slowly begins to see them in focus. This scene supports the miraculous power of fertility, again relating to the wonders of the natural world. Struck barren for most of her life, once Ila has been given the gift to bear children again, nature reacts physically to emphasize the power there is in womanhood. My favorite scene is the evolutionary creationism sequence. Noah, to accentuate the purpose for cleansing the world of humankind, tells his family the story of creation. It follows the timeline dictated in Genesis, but the sequence that accompanies the story does not follow the literal timeline. The visuals begin with the big bang, and shows the creation of the Earth and the moon out of chaos, the formation of land and sea over eons, and the beginnings of life from amoeba to evolved life forms, all in a beautiful and impressive sequence.

Jennifer Connelly plays Noah’s wife, subtly and beautifully. She’s a strong companion to him and a nurturing mother to their children. Despite that, she’s written into an Eve-like character that I don’t particularly like. She’s the one that speaks with Methuselah about curing Ila’s barrenness, but that is after he’s convinced that humankind should not continue in the new Earth. Because of his unwavering position, she’s painted as the weak woman who was driven by emotion to undermine his decisions. Her alluring and graceful character from the beginning of the film transforms into a flat and mundane character towards the end of the film, which is a shame.

Noah is a film designed to explore the motivations of and character behind Noah. If you go into the theatre expecting to see an exact retelling from the Bible, you will be disappointed. The first two thirds of the film, leading to the building of the ark and the advent of the flood waters, are engaging and thrilling. The timing feels comfortably paced and the visuals on the screen are nothing short of epic. Once in the ark, the narrative goes to a strange, uncomfortable place. The film begins to feel long and is saturated with subplots, including the unnecessary stow-away subplot with Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). The high energy of the film fizzles out once on the ark and is replaced with awkwardness. However, the incredible visuals, amazing cinematography and masterful editing make the film artistic and spectacular, which is definitely worth a watch.