The Avengers

By Jared Young

Mailed on May 11, 2012

Stamp image Priority

Dear Jared Young, Age 12
Future Reviewer

Dear Jared,

Tell me, Jared: how am I supposed to compose a fair review of a movie that seems - from start to finish, in tone and content, in the quiet beats between loud explosions and the loud beatings between quiet expositions - plucked directly from your twelve year-old brain? And, more than that, treats your Slurpee-induced reveries with such respect, such veneration?

I can't.

In about ten years you'll discover John Updike and he'll offer some germane advice on this topic. In developing a series of guidelines that would define his criticism, he warned: "Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind."

You might not feel like a caretaker of tradition right now, but, when you hit your thirties, you'll find that you spend most of your free time caretaking the tradition of being twelve years-old. And though I'm not committed by friendship to like The Avengers, I am committed to you, twelve-year-old me - to seeking those unconditional, uncorrupted thrills that conjure you out the past - and that makes it impossible for me to apply the sort of ideological objectivity that Updike argues is essential to the critic's trade.

You'll find, as you get older, that it's easy to be cynical about almost everything--movies like The Avengers, in particular. Sure, the characters are commodities, pawns in the great big box office Ponzi scheme. But what does the context matter to you, childhood self? You don't care about the marketing budget or the promotional tie-ins or the per-screen averages. What matters most to you are the witty physics of the comic book world, the ecstasy of two opposing forces coming colorfully together: Thor dropping Mjolnir onto Cap's vibranium shield, Iron Man's mid-air suit-up, Loki's ill-planned sermon to the Hulk (who, with a single punch, forgives all of Ang Lee and Edward Norton's well-meant missteps). What matters to you is what's onscreen, and, from this future vantage point, I assure you that what's onscreen will exceed your expectations.

We begin with an introduction to that most ineffable of MacGuffins: the Cosmic Cube (renamed, here, The Tesseract), which leads, of course, to dimensional portals, mind control, and alien invasions. The usual stuff. But it's not just the spectacle of computer effects that brings to life the world of the comics (they've come a long way since the liquid metal Terminator you're currently so enamored of); it's the miraculous feat of screenwriting that divides time equally between all six protagonists, giving each their moment of bombastic heroism, each their moment of existential worry; it's the characters you love brought brilliantly to life by actors who take seriously the responsibility of living up to a half-century's-worth of character notes; it's the pure pop expression of the superhero myth, which, in the Marvel Universe, was never a fantasy about control, but about a lack of it.

I have some bad news, me. You're soon going to learn that the world is a much more complicated place than you think. You've been raised to have faith in the credo that all things are possible, and that's a fine thing to believe, but passing time will prove it to be a figurative statement. It's not a matter of cynicism or optimism. It's a matter of knowledge. You're going to gain it. And sometimes knowledge sucks.

But I have some good news, too. Despite everything that's going to happen between now and now - all the disappointments, all the sad insights into the way the world really works, all the things you once thought possible so clearly revealed to be just the opposite - you have this one great thing to look forward to: a guy named Joss Whedon is going to make an Avengers movie, and he's going to make it just for you.


You, Age 32

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