Mixing Weirds


I trust Joss Whedon.  In multiple ways.  I trust him to tell an interesting and compelling story.  I trust him to create fantastic characters.  I trust him to crush my heart if I should care about any of those characters, typically by stabbing them through the chest with an exploding gun or giant bolt.  God damn you, Joss Whedon.

Wait.  That’s not what I was going to say.  I trust Joss Whedon.  Which is a damn good thing, because few other directors could make me optimistic about the upcoming Avengers movie.  It’s a movie I was otherwise anxious about, entirely because of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  I’m aware this is an odd connection to make, somehow holding a George Lucas movie against a Marvel release nearly a half decade later.  So why do I make the Crystal Skull/Avengers connection?  Because both of them mix weirds.

The two entries in the Indiana Jones franchise most people gravitate towards are the first and the third movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade.  Both of these feature dashing college professor Colonel Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones, Jr., Ph.D. (seriously, that’s apparently his full name) globe-trotting while looking for Judeo-Christian artifacts, first the Ark of the Covenant then the Holy Grail.  Odd side note, my college anthropology professor actually praised the movies as the best portrayal of archaeology in the movies, because Indy actually has to do research and get his hands dirty in the process of treasure hunting.  The movies present the Ark and the Grail as physical items containing the power of the God of Abraham, or at least the power of Nazi melting special effects.  We, as an audience, accept that Indy lives in such a fictionalized version of our own world, they create a fantasy where the power of God channels through holy physical artifacts.

Then there’s Crystal Skull, which abandons Christian based fantasy and instead goes running around the jungles of South America on the heels of what turns out to be aliens.  Um.  Spoiler alert.

Now, are ancient aliens who guided the machinations of pre-Columbian man any more fantastic than the literal power of God?  No.  However, it’s a very different sort of fantastic, a change in the source of the weird within the stories.  In the end, the movie would fit the themes of Raiders and Crusade if Indy was stopping post-WWII Nazis who fled to South America with the Spear of Longinus.  Alright, yes, apparently he did the Longinus thing in one of the comic books, but that’s not to say that he couldn’t have done so in the fourth movie, let the comic book be damned.  It’s much more the kind of thing that the audience is used to Indy chasing down.  It’s the same reason Temple of Doom, while many find it a lot of fun, just doesn’t quite fit with the other two.

Alright, look, there is more wrong with Crystal Skull than the changing of the weird.  There’s Mutt.  There’s everything getting handed to Indy that he has to work for in other movies.  There’s the fridge.  There’s the damned Tarzan scene that I’ve tried my damnedest to forget.  There’s…look, it just wasn’t that good of a movie, alright?  But this isn’t about why it was a bad movie, it’s why it set off my misgivings about the Avengers movie.

Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor.  Those are the four primary members set up for the Avengers movie, and while there are other main characters, they’re the four who got their own lead-up movies.  When looking at the four, one is clearly not like the other.  Captain America gets his power from an injection, and becomes powerful through science.  Ditto for the Hulk, though he ends up a little more emo about his power.  Iron Man doesn’t get injected with anything, but he is capable of building an insanely powerful exoskeleton powered by an element that doesn’t exist, so again we’re talking about science and technology.

And they’re joined by the literal Norse god of thunder.

Super science, super science, super science, Norse god.  It’s two different weirds, and the movie mixes them together.  Is it any weirder to have the Norse gods directly intervening in the lives of 21st century humans than it is for an industrialist to assemble a mechsuit in a cave in the middle east?  Not at all.  Is it a very different weird?  Absolutely.  Yes, I know, the Norse “gods” in the movies are actually aliens who have technology so thoroughly advanced that it is indistinguishable from science in the pure application of Clarke’s third law.  They’re still Thor, Odin, and Loki living in Asgard, fighting the frost giants of Jötunheimr.  They are the Norse gods.

I have a problem with mixed weirds.  I’m not sure why.  I suspect it has something to do with being asked to suspend my disbelief, then being asked to suspend it in an entirely different way.  It takes a lot of what I’ve heard called “author points.”  Though in this case I suppose it’s filmmaker points.  Maybe that’s why I’m okay with The Avengers, Joss Whedon has a lot of filmmaker points in my book, whereas what points George Lucas had, he lost with the Star Wars prequels.  And man, those have their own problems that I may write about in the near future, especially with the re-release.  But that would involve rewatching them to solidify my thoughts.

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  1. avatar

    #1 by Brick on February 28, 2012 - 3:08 pm

    http://www.nomachetejuggling.com/2011/11/11/the-star-wars-saga-suggested-viewing-order/

    You probably heard about this already – the recommended order for viewing Star Wars. However, I find it hard to watch the “romantic” scenes in Attack of the Clones and would rather watch the “action” in The Phantom Menace.

    • avatar

      #2 by DLThurston on February 28, 2012 - 3:57 pm

      I’ve seen the 4,5,1,2,3,6 suggestion before. I think the proper order is 4,5, then only begrudgingly 6 to wrap up the plotlines. Then stop. Seriously, stop.

      I guess the real benefit of 4,5,1,2,3,6 is that Jedi ends up looking much better by comparison when coming directly after the prequels.

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