Avengers smashes records on opening weekend

The Avengers: Black Widow, Ironman, Thor, Hawkeye, Captain America and Hulk.

Spiderman, X-Men, Batman: superheroes are this decade’s Hollywood money-spinners. But in the box office showdown, the combined might of The Avengers has put every lone hero to shame.

This weekend, breakfast was served early at El Capitan Cinema in Hollywood. At 2.30am, crowds were already filing out from its famous screens, removing their 3D goggles and sitting down to coffee and croissants. The reason: The Avengers.

Joss Whedon’s adaptation of the old Marvel comic-book series is perhaps the most extravagant mash-up ever made. Loaded with wisecracks and CGI effects, it brings together the larger-than-life heroes of some of Hollywood’s greatest recent hits. Hulk, Ironman, Thor, Captain America – the Avengers are an egoistic band of macho warriors (plus Scarlett Johansson). But if they can find a way to work together, the world is at their feet.

It was always likely to be a winning formula. But the scale of success has sucker-punched all expectations: in its first weekend, The Avengers took over $200 million in America alone. Beside the combined power of its six superheroes, previous world-conquerors like Harry Potter and Batman look puny.

But with great power comes great responsibility – which raises a question: to whom are the Avengers responsible?

Comic book fans have been asking the question for years, without ever finding a satisfactory answer. ‘S.H.I.E.L.D,’ the mysterious organisation that commands the Avengers, is somehow both American and international. It seems to be vaguely associated with the US government, but rarely takes orders from it. Are the heroes loyal servants of the global community, or just loose-canon vigilantes?

It might seem like a trivial point. But to no less an institution than the US military, it is critical. ‘To whom did S.H.I.E.L.D answer?’ asked a spokesperson. ‘Did we work for them?’ Norse Gods and green rage-monsters, apparently, were fine; it was the hazy chain of command that the military found ‘too unrealistic.’ Though generally enthusiastic about collaborating with Hollywood, this time they refused: no military equipment was allowed.

Still, the Avengers seem to be handling themselves just fine without the help of the world’s greatest armed force.

Came, Thor and conquered

Thank Valhalla this is only a fantasy, say critics. If the world were really at the mercy of vain, ego-crazed jocks, we would be living in constant terror. The US military is right, they say: it is dangerous to indulge fantasies of unrestrained individual power. Everybody must answer to the law.

‘Hypocrisy!’ cry fans. If anything is threatening our freedom, it is this obsession with rules and order. Ironman and Superman might be flawed, they say, but at least they are human. That makes them far easier to trust than the merciless, faceless bureaucracy of governments and militaries.

You Decide

  1. Would the world be a better place if the Avengers were real?
  2. Which do you find more threatening: powerful individuals, or powerful institutions?

Activities

  1. Design the ultimate superhero. What would their power be, and why?
  2. Pick an icon from pop culture – a cartoon character, for instance, or the star of a movie franchise – and write an analysis of what they say about the values of the culture they come from.

Some People Say...

“The world could do with a hero right now.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Who cares whether a superhero is accountable or not? It’s only a film!
On one level these debates are just a bit of meaningless fun. But popular myths and fantasies like thisdo reveal important things about the culture they came from. Two of the world’s most successful modern comic-book writers recently had a vicious public spat which encompassed both political ideology and superheroes!
But why do the generals care?
The American military has a fruitful relationship with Hollywood. In return for hi-tech equipment and realistic battle scenes, directors depict the army as an exciting and heroic institution. One recent film featuring real Navy SEALs doubled up as a recruitment video! But they only cooperate when they approve of the way they’re presented – and in this case they did not.

Word Watch

The Avengers
Renamed The Avengers Assemble in the UK and Ireland (for no apparent reason).
Joss Whedon
Whedon’s most famous creation was Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the wildly popular and critically acclaimed TV drama widely credited with starting the vampire craze. Before this movie, however, he has never been successful with films.
Marvel
The comic company, founded in the 1930s, is the home of such icons as Spiderman, X-Men and the Fantastic Four, as well as all of the Avengers. In 2009 it was bought by Walt Disney – to the dismay of many fans.
Harry Potter and Batman
Previously, the two biggest opening weekends of all time belonged to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II and Batman: The Dark Knight. To get to a film that’s neither an adaptation or a sequel, you have to look as far down as number 40 – that’s Avatar.
Valhalla
The Viking heaven, a great feasting hall where fallen warriors go when they die. Thor and The Avengers villain Loki are both Norse Gods, so according to myth Valhalla would have been their home.

Subjects

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