Movies’ Much-Needed Game-Changer: “The Avengers” for Best Picture

The promise of that grinning purple alien halfway through the end credits of “Marvel’s The Avengers” is so huge it may represent a tipping point in blockbuster movie making. “Avatar” signaled the major change that’s been coming, but “Avengers” cements it: Anything is possible now; the only question is whether the awesome power of modern special effects will be used for Captain-America-like good or sub-Loki-level evil.

That purple alien is Thanos. When we meet him in the movie, he’s looking at earth while an underling says human beings won’t just lay down and allow themselves to be conquered. Thanos appears to find that amusing.

In the comic, Thanos is famished for power and wants to wed the Grim Reaper (a lady, looking about like you’d expect). To show off for her, he uses a glove with six powerful stones to wipe out half the life in the universe – including several superheroes – with a snap of his fingers. Those who remain set off into space to fight Thanos so he won’t wink away everyone else. The team includes Spiderman, Wolverine, Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom and most of the Avengers. (Thanos gives them a fighting chance for the sake of competition.)

So that’s what may be coming to theaters in a few years – a team of all those awesome superheroes battling an evil, all-powerful alien in space. Before “The Avengers” this didn’t feel possible. Now? That movie is inevitable.

It’s worth sitting through the credits of “The Avengers” not just to see two extra scenes but also to marvel at the ocean of names under “digital artists” and “motion capture” and “models” and “creatures” and etc. Hundreds of people worked on the special effects for this movie, and they succeeded gloriously.

The flick can be watched as a series of fights that grow progressively more creative and more technically profound. By the end, the Avengers are using their powers to fight an entire army of space monsters. A single sweeping camera shot up, down and around the skyscrapers of Manhattan gives us a glimpse of every superhero on the team – all six of them – fighting dozens (maybe hundreds) of monsters while the city crumbles around them.

This really is an amazing achievement, filmed at Albuquerque Studios just an hour from here (by the way).

“The Avengers” is the comic-book movie we’ve been waiting for, because its critical and commercial success could be big enough to discredit movie makers like, sad to say, the director of the new “Amazing Spider-Man” movie, out in July. Marc Webb previously made the very good romantic half-comedy “(500) Days of Summer.” He was hired by Sony Studios, reportedly, to focus on Spider-Man’s high-school years.

That means love triangle. Webb has said he was always a bigger fan of Peter Parker (Spider-Man’s alter ego) than Spider-Man. “There is an incredibly innocent and tender quality to Peter Parker,” he told the website ComingSoon.net.

We do not need more movies like “Twilight.” All of us have angst. The amazing thing about the Amazing Spider-Man is – duh – his spidery super powers. “The Avengers” is a triumph because it pits super-powered good guys against super-powered bad guys over the fate of earth. Their feelings are interesting, but only to a point. “The Avengers” makes exactly the right amount of time to delve into the characters’ psyches to make them funny and more human.

It’s an enormous mistake to think the neuroses of these characters is more interesting or appealing than their super powers. “The Avengers” finds a balance. “Amazing Spider-Man” looks like it won’t.

(A crucial element in “The Avengers” that should also be mentioned is the main villain Loki. Psychotic agents of chaos who smile all the time make the best villains, particularly if they’re hell-bent on revenge. Tom Hiddleston should probably get an Oscar nomination.)

Anyway, the men and women who make movies probably won’t come up with better superheroes than the grizzled comic-book veterans of the last 50 years. What they can do – as “Avengers” writer/director Joss Whedon just proved – is bring the characters to brimming life on a movie screen, making them more awesome and accessible for vast movie-going masses.

There’s a scene very late in “The Avengers” when Iron Man thinks he’s about to die. He tries to call his girlfriend via helmet speaker phone, but she doesn’t answer. Marc Webb watched that scene and yelled out “What the hell!? They should have a 10-minute, tearful goodbye! Actually, the whole movie should have been about Tony Stark’s feelings for Pepper Potts! That’s the ticket!”

“The Amazing Spiderman” could be a big dud. No problem, though, if “Marvel’s The Avengers 2” makes up for that by bringing the webslinger back to fight alongside his fellow superheroes against giant evil gods. It’s suddenly become clear how possible, and even likely, it is we’ll see this happen.

(“Giant evil gods”? Shout-out to the other really great Whedon movie of that last couple months, “Cabin in the Woods.”)

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More New Mexico politics, because this is ridiculous

Adults with weird political agendas are pushing abstinence-only sexual education on unknowing children.

Adults like Gov. Susana Martinez, calling idiotic audibles from the GOP’s culture-war playbook. Message to Martinez and all our other politicians motivated by pious religiosity: The Founding Fathers would hate you, and you are directly responsible for some young people having STDs and unwanted pregnancies.

Numerous media outlets are reporting this week that Erin J. Bouquin, a Los Alamos doctor, has resigned her new position as Chief Medical Officer of the New Mexico Department of Health. She resigned because she was asked to, Bouquin said.

“On the day I was asked to leave, I said the word condom three times on the news,” she told the Santa Fe New Mexican. (The Albuquerque Journal covered this story, too, a day after everyone else and buried in the C section.)

Bouquin gave an interview to KOAT-Channel 7 last week in which she cited spiking rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia in New Mexico teens, and suggested they use condoms. The story aired Thursday morning; she was asked to step down later that day, she said.

“You are being dismissed because you haven’t met the expectations of the governor,” she told the New Mexican she was told.

The governor expects, apparently, that medical professionals will ignore things likes facts and data. The governor expects, apparently, that even doctors talking about the health of teenagers will turn to drooling partisans and promote the GOP’s insane agenda.

It takes about 15 seconds of searching on the internet to produce multiple studies that say abstinence-only sexual education doesn’t work, and is actually harmful. Just this month, researchers from the Guttmacher Institute said a survey of 1,800 people between 18-29 found six in 10 didn’t understand the effectiveness of oral contraceptives like birth control pills.

“Programs to increase young adults’ knowledge about contraceptive methods and use are urgently needed,” the report says. “Given the demonstrated link between method knowledge and contraceptive behaviors, such programs may be useful in addressing risky behavior in this population.”

Abstinence-only education hurts children. That’s just a fact. Girls and women who know more about contraception are less likely to have unprotected sex. Studies continue to prove this, and it’s also common sense.

Fans of intelligent decision making don’t know what to think of a government that favors religion over fact-based reason. Maybe this is a political winner for Susana Martinez, but actively working to keep children ignorant about sex is dangerous. It’s also creepy.

“Things are becoming more political at the department,” Bouquin told the New Mexican of the Department of Health.

If Susana Martinez was truly a small-government conservative, she would let a doctor do her job. Instead, the governor wants to micromanage New Mexicans’ sex lives, based on the fact-ignoring, discredited agenda of her GOP overlords.

State governments have gone to a scary place.

Dear Steve Nash,

Dear Steve Nash,

Please consider playing for the Utah Jazz when your current contract expires this summer.

Utah has a perfect mix of young guys and quality veterans, inside players and wings. It also has Derrick Favors, a young power forward with the strength, speed, agility and talent to be a dominant player. Favors would be a newer, better version of the Amar’e Stoudemire you teamed with for so much success on the Suns; they share similar offensive skills, but Favors is a much better defender and rebounder.

The Utah Jazz, though deep, get nothing right now from the point guard position. There is no unifying, facilitating presence to handle the ball and make scoring just a little bit easier for teammates. You could fill that void, and turn the Jazz’s only weakness into an asset. With you running point, the Jazz would be the league’s deepest, most exciting team.

Jazz shrine in my kitchen

And this is tangential, but worth noting: Utah is not only a better fit, basketball-wise, than New York, LA or Miami, but if you play for one of those teams you will be nagged incessantly by ESPN. Columnists will talk about your team constantly and cast thousands of worthless opinions about your play. That glare won’t be nearly as obnoxious in Salt Lake City. Plus, it’s beautiful there.

The Jazz would be awesome with you starting at point guard. I hope you’ll consider this when deciding what team to play for next.

“The Dark Knight Rises” and then gets his back broken over Bane’s huge knee

Bane: “I’d kill for anything. I’d kill to silence a grating voice, to darken the light in eyes that dared look at me.”

Batman: “You may well be the single greatest source of madness and evil I’ve ever faced.”

Bane: “Easily.”

The bad guy in the new Batman movie, out this summer, is Bane. Quite famously (among comic book nerds like Younger Phil and his little buddies), Bane once broke Batman’s spine. How’d he do it? Like this:

Brutal.

Now, I don’t think there’s any way this happens in the movie. For one, “The Dark Knight Rises” is apparently the last installment of a trilogy, and paralyzing Batman would be a lousy ending to this series of brilliant, beloved superhero movies. For another, Bane in the movie won’t be able to make himself as big as Bane in the comics. The actual act of actor Tom Hardy (who plays Bane) lifting Christian Bale (Batman) over his head and then bringing him down on his thigh like Jose Canseco breaking a bat after striking out would look ridiculous.

A shot from the new movie, out July 20

But there’s something we can take from the comic series (“Knightfall”) that saw Batman literally broken and launched Bane into the pantheon of awesome comic-book bad guys.

Batman is sick when Bane unleashes his evil plan to Break the Bat. Sick with, like, the flu. So Bane uses heavy fire power to break all the lunatics out of Arkham Asylum (Joker; the Riddler; the Mad Hatter; the Ventriloquist, whose sock puppets shoot police officers). Bane arms the freed bad guys immediately, then keeps tabs on the Dark Knight as he goes from one villain to another, fighting until said villain is defeated and can be returned to a pen.

Over the course of these crazy few days and nights, Batman gets swallowed by a fire, feels the “wet snap” of one of his ribs breaking, is drugged by Scarecrow and hallucinates the vicious murder – actually committed earlier by the Joker – of Robin. Batman complains of “passing blood for weeks.” He’s so sick that he can’t fight without quickly becoming exhausted, which throws off his timing. He gets attacked by a panther.

And Bane watches the whole time, waiting for the perfect moment: “When he’s ready to be broken, I will know it.”

It’s kind of fascinating to watch Batman struggle so terribly, and I imagine that’s what we’re in for in the movie. If “The Dark Knight,” the last Batman movie, was about the psychology of order – where the Joker so often ruminates on fear turning to chaos, then blows up a hospital and tries to get an entire boat of civilians to kill a different boat filled with law-breaking prisoners – “The Dark Knight Rises” could (should?) be more about physicality. It’s one thing to outwit a mentally deranged madman; it’s another to physically fight a hulking, powerful madman.

“God help me,” Batman says as he continues tracking the Arkham escapees, “I know them.” Bruce Wayne says this because he, like the psychos he’s chasing, puts on a costume and dashes about Gotham City’s alleys and rooftops. Wayne knows this is a strange thing for a person to do, and it explains why his one rule is that he will not kill anyone. (Heath Ledger’s great Joker knows this and takes full advantage.) If Batman is going to let his issues with the death of his parents (revenge) motivate his strange night hobby, he must do something to separate himself from the psychos. He can’t kill.

But restraint and morality and who knows what else all go out the window when you’ve been burned and beat up and your head hurts and a panther is attacking. Bane wants to break Batman (for awesome reasons I won’t get into here, in case it’s part of the movie), but to do that he has to exhaust Bruce Wayne, the man, until he’s so physically tired that he can’t put up a fight as he’s being lifted over Bane’s head and cracked over his knee. It’s a sad, stirring thing to see in the comic books. It will probably be even harsher in the movie.

I don’t think Batman gets paralyzed in “The Dark Knight Rises,” but he is in for a world of pain. Check out the killer poster:

And this is the new trailer that’s running with “The Avengers,” apparently. (As a quick aside, I still think I’m a little more pumped up for “Prometheus” than “Batman 3,” just because “Prometheus” is an original sci-fi movie from Ridley Scott and looks totally incredible. The sterling reviews so far for “The Avengers” suggest we’re in store for a really good summer of blockbusters.)

[UPDATE: For a conflicted review of “Dark Knight Rises” click here (for part one) and here (part two).]

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