Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

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Hmmm… Thus far, this blog has been dedicated to book reviews. Patently, Avengers is not a book. Should I start a new blog? Can one, should one include it in a “book lover”‘s sanctuary? Is the investment you give a 150 minute film equivalent to a book that takes a week, a month to read? Why should a film to which we dedicate our attention not be given as much respect as a book that we shoehorn into spare moments in our lives, sitting on the loo, over our sandwiches at lunch, at the end of the day before sleep?

You could argue that the merits of a film which is likely to raise millions of pounds and dollars within days for a massive industry employing hundreds outweighs and exceeds the fevered scribblings of an individual sitting alone in front of his laptop (so much less lyrical image than angst ridden in a garret!).

Interesting to see what the blogosphere think.

Personally, I ask myself why I read. It is, for me the narrative, the world creation, the characters, the language. These things appear in novels, poetry, drama, cinema, music, even (heaven forfend) some games.

So on with the film!

As a self-confessed (should one confess to something which he doesn’t think is a flaw?!) geek, I grew up with Marvel. Spider-Man, The Hulk, Captain America are icons from my youth. Therefore, I had high hopes for The Avengers.

The premise is that an intergalactic threat posed by Loki, the Norse God of Mischief, and his alien army causes Earth’s mightiest heroes to assemble to defeat it. And from this arose my concerns: how to bring together a team, establish and develop their characters, and create a good rollicking plot. To a certain extent, I think the film succeeded but only because each of these characters have featured in either the eponymous or a supporting role in previous films. As a standalone, it would have foundered.

So, who are Earth’s mightiest heroes? Let’s look at the roll call that Stark gives to Loki:

Two master assassins: Hawkeye and Black Widow, both of whom had less background and were the least well known characters. Hawkeye appeared briefly in Thor dangling from a crane above Mjolnir when Thir tried to recover it; Black Widow masqueraded as Tony Stark’s secretary in Iron Man 2. I was most irritated by this pair as they had so much potential that wasn’t dealt with: Black Widow had had a bad history, red in her ledger, and came onto SHIELD’s radar as a target; Hawkeye had been sent to terminate her but brought her into the SHIELD family instead. She is the one we see in action most: battling corrupt Russian generals, allowing herself to be captured and tortured in order to manipulate the General into giving up his secrets. A trick she pulls later with Loki; whilst Loki pulls pretty much the same trick on SHIELD. As a bad and possibly damaged character desperate for redemption, she could have held a more central place on the team and in the story.

Hawkeye – who allowed himself to be brainwashed in the opening scene – does little more than glower throughout the film. The implied romance between him and Black Widow was never developed.

And onto the Suits!

Captain America: underused and apparently the victim of severe editing. The film dovetails essentially with the end of Captain America and his reintegration into modern society after half a century entombed in arctic ice is glossed over. His role in this film: look pretty, take the moral high ground, give a couple of orders. The symbolism, the leadership that came across in his own film were lacking. He didn’t convince me.

Thor: the Demi god and brother to Loki. Again, a bit too trusting and naive; but with just a touch of arrogance and over confidence. His first appearance is to steal Loki back from Tony Stark and Captain America, which leads to perhaps the best fight scene in the film. And also the best lines:

Thor: Do not touch me again, mortal!
Stark: Then don’t touch my stuff!

(paraphrased)

The Hulk. Oh dear, the Hulk. Third (modern) incarnation; third variation on his creation myth. No longer was he exposed to gamma radiation following his father’s genetic manipulation now a gamma fuelled attempt to recreate the super soldier effect.

The Hulk is my favourite Marvel character: the Jekyll and Hyde characters, the chaotic rage, the animal within us all, the need and perhaps delight in giving into the creature that simultaneously terrifies us, the liberation from social moral and political norms and taboos. For perhaps 90 minutes of the film, this is all there: Loki tries to unleash the beast; Nick Fury is either terrified of the beast or intends to unleash him as a weapon; Stark, in another lovely moment bonds with Banner the scientist, as a fellow genius, talking to him through a computer monitor, encouraging him to liberate the beast as a form of therapy.

When we finally see The Hulk, he seems to be the beast we expect: blindly chasing Black Widow through the ship, raging against Thor when he saves Black Widow, leaping at and ripping apart a fighter jet.

The next time we see Banner, though – and I guess I should put a spoiler alert here, he seems to change at will and remain in control. WTF! That’s not The Hulk! He takes orders! From Captain America!

By this point, the alien army has descended on Manhattan (always Manhattan) and the film becomes nothing more than a very extended fight scene.

Tony Stark: the final hero. Robert Downey Junior was born to play this role! He sparkles in every scene, he has the best lines, he has the best fights

Steve Rogers: Big man, in a suit of armour… take that away, what are you?
Tony Stark: Uh… genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist…

Possibly not all the best lines though: this one caused me to smirk:

Thor (warning the others not to disrespect Loki): He’s my brother
Natasha Romanoff: He killed 80 people in 2 days
Thor: …He’s adopted

The best line goes to Loki though. When Black Widow speaks to him, asking him to spare Hawkeye, he turns on her and in a vitriolic shattering performance seems to break through all her emotional and mental defences and barriers. He derides her for trying to redeem herself by bargaining the date of the world for one man who is better than herself; he promises to make Hawkeye torture and kill her in every way that she knows and is terrified of and only release him from his mind control for long enough to see what he has done. And he ends by calling her a “mewling quim“. Having a Masters in English Literature from Cambridge I knew what this meant. I doubt anyone else in the cinema did. I doubt the censors did. I’m not explaining it to my 12 year old step son. The modern equivalent would not be acceptable in a 12A film: it begins with a c and rhyming with punt! Naughty naughty Joss Whedon!!

So, overall then. I felt this was a fine piece of entertainment albeit flawed in places. It felt like a longer film shoe horned into a shorter space: at one point Loki stabs Thor in the stomach; in the next scene Thor seems injured and struggling to stay upright. Then it’s never mentioned again. I have no idea if it’s true but it felt as if Thor may at one point in the film have had a near death experience which was edited out. Loki as a force of chaos, caged by Nick Fury but continuing to sow seeds of distrust and discontent to undermine all the so-called heroes, has echoes of The Joker in The Dark Knight but doesn’t dominate and sparkle in the way Heath Ledger did there.

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Oh, this is an extraordinary book!

There are very few books that make me feel genuinely emotional and (a very little bit) teary but this was one. There is something about in simplicity of the prose, the inevitability of the ending, the unflinching acceptance of extraordinary and unavoidable pain, the wonderful mythic nature of the eponymous monster… It is simply deeply powerfully moving.

The story revolves around Conor O’Malley, a school boy whose mother is painfully and fatally ill. Although its not spelled out – and one of the delights here is that Ness is respectful enough of his audiences that he doesn’t feel the need to spell everything out – it is clear that she is suffering from cancer. As the story is based in an idea Siobhan Dowd had as she faced and lost her battle with cancer there is a potent autobiographical parallel here.

As Conor is awoken by the sound of his name one evening he sees “the great yew tree that rose from the centre of the graveyard” as it’s branches “gathered themselves into a great and terrible face, shimmering into anything and nose and even eyes peering back at him.” The yew tree becomes “the spine that the mountains hang upon… The tears that the rivers cry … The lungs that breathe the wind … The wolf that kills the stag, the hawk that kills the mouse, the spider that kills the fly… The stag, the mouse, the fly that are eaten… The snake of the world devouring its tail… Everything untamed and untameable”. This language is so lyrical, so primal, so mythic that the creature itself is a towering literary creation.

It reminds me of The Iron Man in its sheer alienness and inhumanity.

Stories are at the heart of this book. The Monster – like Dickens’ ghosts – has three stories to tell and asks for (expects, demands) a fourth rom Conor.

Half way through the novel, Conor discovers that his mother’s most recent chemotherapy treatment is derived from the yew tree. We witness him from inside the novel try to force the narrative into a fairy tale on which he has summoned the monster in order to heal his mother. Ness, however, refuses to allow the narrative to become quite so trite: it is genuinely heartbreaking when the Monster tells him “I did not come to heal her. I came to heal you”. In fact we the reader share Conor’s experience: the conclusion is utterly inevitable; we all know what will happen; but we all hope for and deceive ourselves into looking for an illusory happy ending.

Parallel to the Monster, Ness offers us snapshots of Conor at school. These chapters offer a contrast to the myth of the Monster but complement it beautifully. The strained friendship between him and Lily is beautifully judged and again Ness avoids the temptation to be trite and wrap up the trauma with his mother in a jarring sugar coated romance. Understated, quiet and moving, the friendship, their alienation and reconciliation is – as with the whole novel – simply beautifully judged.

This is as close to perfection as I could ask for in a novel. Simply stunning. I challenge anyone not to be moved to (near) tears by it. These are characters who will live with you and hang you beyond the end of the novel. Beautiful.

Having read Scar Night some years ago and noticing it and it’s sequels online, I downloaded them.

I had memories of the city of Deepgate, suspended over an Abyss like the gaping maw of some vast creature (urban planning council had a lot to answer for!). I recalled a scarred feral angel whose monthly bloodletting was simultaneously vampiric and werewolf-like.

It was a bit of a shock then that Deepgate had collapsed into the abyss entirely and the scarred angel Carnival appears to have been dispatched within two pages of her reappearance. The main protagonists remain Rachel and Dill but they have now become separated at a metaphysical level: Dill, having sort of died and been reborn in Scar Night is dispatched to Hell once more in Iron Angel as another angel usurps his body; and his body and Rachel disappears into obscurity for the central section of the book.

In my view, this novel suffers from typical mid trilogy issues. The original novel did hint at a wider mythology but was firmly rooted; this novel expands on the mythology often using dialogue to expand develop and explain it to us readers. And in the process, character and empathy is lost. It is like Campbell zoomed out from a manageable citywide focus to a continental one in which we just lose sight of characters – even the ones he doesn’t kill off. Those that remain do so in an utterly passive state: they are placed into a scenario and wait there for another character to tell them what to do. It is a rather frustrating read!

On the plus side, there is a potent imagination at work here. The descriptions of a Hell (or the Maze in the book’s mythology) created out of our own souls was intriguing and the fluidity of form in Hell both in the malleability of the world around the characters and on the characters own forms (bodies is patently the wrong word but the dead tend to retain the form of their erstwhile bodies) was fascinating.

In conclusion, I think Campbell’s own games designing Grand Theft Auto background is visible here. He is a world builder, his backgrounds and settings have potency; but I do not think he is character driven and, consequently, nor is his novel and for me that is a huge let down.

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