Avengers Resemble…

Seven strangers with nothing in common, except each other

The Avengers is not really a superhero movie.

You’d be forgiven for being confused. You must have been focused on the costumes, powers, special effects, and, um, I guess the superheroes.  And OK, a plot summary makes it sound a lot like a superhero movie: a godlike megalomaniac in a ridiculous helmet obtains a magical object with an awesome name (the Tesseract! Because the hexadecachoron must have been busy), teams up with illegal aliens from another dimension, and tries to Take Over the World, or at least trash Manhattan by means of enormous metallic fantail shrimp, which I think I made the mistake of ordering once. Only The Avengers can stop him!  But will they be able to set aside their differences in time?

Do you like my hat?
No, I do not like that hat. Goodbye.

This last question is the one that occupies most of the film’s nearly two and a half hour running time, before the final act devolves into the humdrum Epic Battle for the Fate of the World that has served as the resolution to every sci fi and fantasy movie for decades.  And it’s the one that makes The Avengers less of a superhero movie than a story of People from Diverse Categories Thrown into an Unlikely Situation who then Realize that they have A Lot in Common, or “PDCTUSRALC.”  You know what, let’s skip the acronym on this one.     

The genre has a great literary pedigree, going at least back to Boccaccio’s Decameron (if the Tesseract weren’t available, then Loki could have stolen The Decameron!) in the 14th century, before getting its English makeover in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales a few decades later.  The Decameron featured ten assorted people stuck with each other after trying to escape the Black Death; Canterbury Tales involved a long pilgrimage to the shrine in Canterbury.  But Chaucer really invented the notion that circumstances could bring together a set of unlikely travel companions as characters—a knight and squire;  a merchant, miller, reeve, and cook; a prioress, friar, pardoner, and summoner; the uncategorizable Wife of Bath, and many others, including, it seems, a fictionalized version of Chaucer himself.  The brilliance comes from the schisms and frictions created when people from different social types are forced into confines and conversation with one another. 

The genre then takes off in different directions as we move to America in the 20th century.  Characters telling their own stories in their own styles gets lost, but pilgrimages or enclosed spaces making strange companions flourished.  On the one hand, you’ve got John Ford’s 1939 masterpiece Stagecoach, which finds the 1880s version of the pilgrimage in its title, throwing together a framed outlaw (John Wayne!), a prostitute (with a heart of gold, natch), an ambivalent sheriff, a drunk doctor, an uppercrust wife of an officer (with a secret!), a banker (with a secret!), a Confederate gambler (with a…  ah, you know), and a few others.  That they’re being menaced with massacre by Geronimo is less of a problem than their own internal conflicts within the coach.  On the other hand, you have The Lord of the Rings, another quest that brings together unlikely travel companions and proves that hobbits and men, and even elves and dwarves, could learn to get along.  Star Wars and the many other adventure stories pitting knights (Jedi or not), hotheads, princesses, mentors, and aliens against one another seem indebted equally to Chaucer, Ford, and Tolkien.

There’s of course Gilligan’s Island, with its assorted cast, although why the Howells are on the boat is one of the island’s many mysteries, considering that they could have bought and sold a fleet of Minnows.

And there’s that other island replete with mysteries, from Lost, where, in our modern version of the pilgrimage or the stagecoach, an airplane crash brings together the straight man, the hothead, the druggie, and the bad girl, along with novel additions: a pregnant woman, a prepubescent boy, a paraplegic (as we would discover), a couple that speaks no English (or so we thought), an older (interracial) couple, semi-incestuous step-siblings, an ex-Republican Guard Iraqi torturer, an obese bilingual schizophrenic (although supernatural explanations would supersede psychological ones), and many more. 

Yet even Lost seemed modeled on another updated version of the Canterbury Tales: reality television, with its cast-to-clash archetypes.  And even then, shows like The Real World—for me, the original reality premise from which all the others borrowed–seems less real than a copy of a movie that was supposed to be based on real life: The Breakfast Club. 

Avengers Assembly!

Here’s the poster’s tagline:

They were five total strangers, with nothing in common, meeting for the first time. A brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse. Before the day was over, they broke the rules. Bared their souls. And touched each other in a way they never dreamed possible.

So think of Avengers as the Canterbury Tales, with awesome weapons.  Or Stagecoach, but on that awesome SHIELD flying aircraft carrier.  Or The Breakfast Superheroes:

 They were six strangers, with nothing in common.  A billionaire genius philanthropist.  A recluse with anger management problems.  A gorgeous spy with a secret.  An exchange student who excels at the hammer throw.  An ROTC supersoldier who still knows what it’s like to be picked on. And Samuel L Jackson with an eyepatch.[i]  Before it was over, they broke the rules. Bared their souls.

And saved the world.

Time: 65 minutes.

Also, for no reason, Baby Seal Avengers!

[i] Although I deeply regret that Jackson/Fury never gets to say, “Avengers assemble, motherfuckers!”

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12 thoughts on “Avengers Resemble…

  1. “An exchange student who excels at the hammer throw” is a wonderfully understated description of Thor. And I love that Samuel L. Jackson with an eyepatch doens’t need any other explanation.

    This post has made me want to re-write the film all in rhymes with the superpowers each figuring in for a different tale. Also I love the idea of Tony Start speaking in poems.

  2. jkavadlo says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, IntrovertedAnalyst. You’re right: Samuel L Jackson with an eyepatch does not need any other explanation.

    One of the drawbacks to the Hourman format I boxed myself into is that sometimes when I’m done I rethink the whole approach. Here, I think an entire post that mashes up Avengers/Breakfast Club or rewrites Avengers in Chaucerian language would have been fun, but now I feel done with it. Maybe another week.

  3. Supremely awesome post, Jesse! The comparison to The Breakfast Club had my Gen X heart aflutter.

    I haven’t seen The Avengers yet (and maybe I never will…) because the comic was my all-time favorite as a kid (well, outside the glorious, underrated “What If?” series), so I have decades of Avengers storylines, characters, and emotions raging around in my head.

    Your analysis of the film and explanation of it as a storytelling vehicle is insightful. This is the kind of writing/thinking that should be highlighted in a major magazine, etc. Brilliant!

    • jkavadlo says:

      Thanks for the kind words and the Facebook share. I suspect that all the John Hughes-style friction and banter in Avengers is, in fact, for the long-time fans, who, in true Marvel Silver Age fashion, would rather see Thor fight Iron Man fight Cap fight Hulk fight Thor, etc, than see them actually fight villains, all because of the usual “misunderstandings.”

      I share your feelings about “What If?, ” by the way. Since I know you’ve got an interest in 9/11 fiction, you may want to check out _The Writing on the Wall_, which introduced me the word “uchrony.”

      And if you have contacts with any magazines, don’t hesitate to pass the blog along! Until i get discovered, I’ll just keep giving away the milk for free.

  4. Pingback from a later entry on Regular Show: […] an Unlikely Situation who then Realize that they have A Lot in Common, or “PDCTUSRALC,”  as I suggested two weeks ago of The Avengers. But the faux diversity is a façade—no one behaves any differently based on his species or […]

  5. debradunbar says:

    Great post! I’m now thinking of Avengers lyrics to the theme of Gilligan’s Island. That will be in my head all day.

    • Hourman says:

      Thanks, Debra. Glad you read and commented, apologies for the theme song. If you come up with some good lyrics, though, don’t forget to share them here.

  6. harley says:

    I like Loki’s helmet!

    • Hourman says:

      OK, OK. I like it too. The picture caption was just quoting the children’s book _Go Dog Go_. But a lot of the super helmets–I’m looking at you Magneto, Loki, and everyone whose headgear has little wings or lightning bolts–look better on the page than the screen.

  7. Self-referential pingback.
    […] and footnotes, let me add that this book is another entry in what I previously described in “Avengers Resemble” as “a story of People from Diverse Categories Thrown into an Unlikely Situation who then […]

  8. Self-referential pingback
    […] and footnotes, let me add that this book is another entry in what I previously described in “Avengers Resemble” as “a story of People from Diverse Categories Thrown into an Unlikely Situation who then […]

  9. […] while looking up “Tesseracts” online, I stumbled upon Hourman’s fun blog post  about movies and culture — apparently there is a tesseract in “The Avengers,” […]

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