Like a lot of people, last weekend I went to see The Avengers movie (and if you haven’t, don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil any surprises here.) Anyway, I saw the movie and had a revelatory moment while watching it. Before the movie, I always thought that I was part of this big community of adults who all enjoy reading the same superhero comic books. I had assumed that all of us were basically in the same boat, enjoying the same things about them. In fact, it never really occurred to me to question what it was that I was enjoying in contrast to what other adults got out of it.
Because movies are completely different from comic books, something became very clear to me in The Avengers movie; there is a hell of a lot of fighting in superhero comic books. Yes, this is obvious, but when we read comic books, we read them at our own pace, with our own area of focus. There were parts which I focused on and paid more attention to and those parts weren’t the fight scenes. I didn’t even notice what I was doing, but I wasn’t spending as much time reading the fight scenes as I was reading the story. When reading an Avengers comic book, I was concentrating on the messed up marriages, mental breakdowns, confusion, fear, tragedy, loss, and the joy… all sorts of things, but I was not focusing on the battles. It isn’t that I don’t like a bit of action, violence is part and parcel of all superhero comic books I think, but I just don’t spend a lot of time reading those parts. I unconsciously sped up and The Avengers movie revealed to me that this isn’t how most other fans of the book read it.
When I first came out of the movie, the amount of time spent on the fighting and the action (while beautifully done), left me confused about why more time and energy wasn’t spent on the dialogue. And more importantly, why no one else was bothered by this, (because I can tell you that everyone I know has absolutely loved the movie without qualification.) As we left, I asked my friend Whitney about it and she laughed at my consternation, pointing out that “It isn’t that you don’t like the movie, it’s just that you expected a different movie.” and she’s right. As soon as she said that, things began to gradually slip into place and I figured out that I have been reading The Avengers with a different focus which (until now) I had no way of knowing.
Funnily enough, as I examine this, I realize that the way I feel about this kind of movie is similar to how I feel about musicals. I like musicals okay, but I don’t love the singing. It sounds impossible, but actually, once I accepted that fact, I was able to just not pay as much attention when people started the musical numbers. I can get into watching classic films like Singing in the Rain, because I don’t focus on those bits of the film. Similarly, once I understood that about The Avengers, I went back to see it a couple of days later, this time being careful to pay more attention to the dialogue and character development parts and less attention to the action, and it did work, I liked it more. Realistically, I have to admit that predominantly CGI action movies aren’t really my favorite kind of movie, but at least now I can see how well this related to someone else’s interpretation of The Avengers.
One day, I would still like to see a superhero movie that unashamedly targets a different audience, with more weight and importance given to the intimate, complex, human interactions of a superhero team dynamic. Maybe Game of Thrones is this kind of thing, (although I’m not sure if it fits exactly in the superhero genre), it definitely strikes a perfect balance between drama, suspense, action, and effects. Whedon begins to touch on it quite nicely and I could really go for a lot more of that talking thing the team just starts to do. I often find that non-comic book readers are most surprised and excited by the ways that superhero team dynamics can offer an entertaining metaphor to look at life through. We all have to work with people who we may not always see eye-to-eye with, but if we had to save the world (all the time) we’d find a way to make it work, just like The Avengers always do. Thankfully, no matter how awkward the office politics we have to deal with, most of us aren’t depending on our coworkers to help us save the world.