Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Secular Pantheon

This last week, the family trundled off to our nearest sprawling Mega Mall for a viewing of the latest and greatest wham-bang early summer blockbuster:  The Avengers.   It was, well, it was what it was.  The kids loved it, of course.   But I while I enjoyed it a great deal, I was aware of its purpose.   It was there to entertain.   Period.

And entertain it did.  It was remarkably well crafted, a testament to the strength of Joss Whedon's direction and screenwriting.  Whedon knows how to create authentically resonant interpersonal exchanges, how to subtly interweave an ensemble cast to spin out a sense of the genuine tension between human beings.  Or superhuman beings, for that matter.   Couple that with a highly competent and well-cast group of interesting characters and a big wahonkus budget, and you've got a shoo-in.

Here you have a film that's mostly explosions followed by fighting followed by more explosions.  Here you have a film where an astonishingly primitive alien "army" appears, one that looks like it wouldn't have posed a challenge to the New York National Guard had they actually ever freakin' showed up.   Yeah, I know, there was that one Humvee, but really?

Yet thanks to Whedon and the cast, it managed not to feel stupid.

Afterwards, though, I found myself musing on how little of the film stuck with me.  It was just fluff, sweet and tasty as cotton candy, or perhaps cotton candy creatively sprinkled through with sour patch morsels and poprocks.  Mmmmm.   Visually interesting, sure.  Enjoyable?  Absolutely.   But ultimately?  Nothing of substance.

We can read substance in, of course, making this some sort of metaphor for teamwork and difference and how we need to learn to be together if we're ever going to defeat totally incompetent alien armies, but whatever "there" was "there" solely served the purpose of being the spoonful of interpersonal authenticity that made the 45 bucks we spent on tickets go down smoothly.

In reflecting on the film further, though, I did find one interesting thread.  This was a story of the Gods, twenty-first century style.  Each of the characters was an archetype of sorts, in much the same way that the gods of the ancient pantheons were archetypes.  You have the Divine Embodiment of Dynamic Capitalism.  You have the God of Honorable Patriotism.  You have the God of Anger.  You actual God of Thunder.   That one always carries over across cultures, as does the God of Chaos and Mischief.

Oh, and Scarlett Johannsen, who may well be her very own archetype.  Or perhaps that's the Goddess of Empow'rd Mercenary WymmnHood.

Wait.  I'm missing one.  Um.  Hmmm.  Oh yeah.  There was that guy with a bow, too.  Perhaps the God of the Hunt, or the God of Accuracy in All Things Including Typing?

In a post polytheistic culture, that yearning to tell stories in which the archetypal powers that frame our existence take on form is still present.  We know they're not real, but that doesn't matter.  We still want to hear the stories.  Once upon a time, we'd gather around the hearth and hear those tales spun by a raconteur, wild stories of battles and intrigue and love and revenge in the heavens as the wind and rain blew fierce outside.

Now, we just see it on the big screen, with bellies full of double butter popcorn, our seats rumbling with the thumping of subwoofer thunder.