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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