Thursday, May 10, 2012


I already mentioned my movie-going experience for The Avengers earlier this week, when I was complaining about crowd behavior and saving spots in line.

But what I didn't go into was the movie itself. For some reason I'm not entirely sure what else to say other than I absolutely loved it and I want to go see it again already.

To be fair, I loved all of the lead-in movies with the exception of Edward Norton's turn as The Hulk since I haven't seen it. But I actually will defend the Eric Bana version from time to time because despite not loving it, I think it took a lot of risks and did a lot of things that we've started to do now. It just had a poorly conceived villain and some really lousy script problems. I also thought Iron Man 2 wasn't up to the standards of the first one. But in general, I've enjoyed them all on one level or another.

But what is genius has been the casting, at least since Robert Downey Jr. became Iron Man. Each of the main cast seems perfectly created for their roles. Chris Hemsworth is pretty much Thor and I can't imagine anyone else doing the Norse God justice. Chris Evans embodies Captain America so perfectly.

I don't know how much influence Joss Whedon had over the casting of anyone except Mark Ruffalo, so perhaps he inherited this cast but the fact is that they are what makes this film. Each one of them is so perfect, and Ruffalo? Let's hope nobody else ever tries to play The Hulk again (though thanks, Whedon, for getting Lou Ferrigno to do the Hulk's voice).

Perhaps that is Whedon's great strength as a director-working with ensemble casts and helping them to really bond and create great cinema. Because I can't think of many recent action OR comic book movies that I've loved more. Sure, there were some plot holes. But the battles were pretty strongly choreographed, the characters had much more depth than anyone could have expected them to...all in all, it was a ton of good fun.

Each character has a motivation for their character that comes from much deeper than anything on the surface or anything that we see. Because these actors brought that to the performance, and Whedon brought that to the script. Black Widow especially has an amazing amount of characterization often tossed into small lines that aren't focused on. I consider her a very powerful female character as well, because she is physically strong while still maintaining a sense of self. She uses her femininity to her advantage without taking advantage (except, perhaps, of villains). She's a character that could have been so different and instead was one of the strongest ones on the team.

In case you were wondering, Captain America was my clear favorite by the end of the film. But they all made me like them more with every scene they were in. And Whedon didn't forget to make us laugh every so often, which is the most overlooked and most vital piece of a successful action film.

Overall, I'd say if you were one of the twelve Americans who didn't go see it last week, you really should go this weekend.

Flashback: He-Man

It's hip right now for people to be nostalgic for things that were awesome when they were kids. I guess that was always the deal, but now that the "cool kids" have moved on to reminisce about the 90's, I'm left with the older generation reminiscing about the 80's.

When I was young, my favorite thing in the world was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I had all the toys in teh first run, I had books, episodes on VHS, the whole nine yards. I was obsessed. So when Netflix put most of the series in their streaming library, I was really excited but still kind of scared.

More than once, I've been bitten by my own nostalgia. My sister and I refer to it as "Eerie Indiana Syndrome" because we both independently rented Eerie, Indiana after remembering how amazing we thought it was when we were kids. Only, it really wasn't very good at all.

Part of me was really afraid that He-Man would be the same, and I wasn't sure if I was ready for something that was so important to little 4-year-old me to be ruined like that. So I hesitated. But I eventually caved when I was up late one night working on something and needed to put on a show for background noise.

I pretty quickly found myself ignoring my work to pay attention to the show. Now, I'm not going to start talking about how He-Man was better than anything we've got on TV today. It's clearly not, it is exactly what you think of it. It's cheesy, it's a glorified toy commercial, and it's every 80's cliche you can find.

But there's something there, underneath all that. There's a reason this show has endured and that it's been brought back at least once. There aren't massive fandoms for a lot of other cartoons from it's time, but it sticks around through something beyond nostalgia.

Basically because it was better than it had any right to be. For me, the draw became the female characters. Who would expect in a show like He-Man to find such strong role models? Maybe that's why they were able to make the women so awesome, who knows. But between The Sorceress, Teela, Evil-Lyn, and Queen Marlena, there are a lot of awesome women. Yes, I include Evil-Lyn because she's a pretty awesome villain.

Queen Marlena is especially amazing. Little girls watching the show didn't necessarily notice it outright, but they were presented with a queen who was not just a great mother and wife, but also an astronaut. Her episode would have aired around the same time that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Later in the show, she has opportunities to fight and even fly her old plane again and she proves she shouldn't be underestimated.

Teela is the Captain of the Royal Guard, and nobody ever makes any mention of her gender or of that being a weird job for her to have. She just is Captain of the Guard and Prince Adam's bodyguard. Even though they play with the love interest angle a little bit for her, because it was a show aimed at such young kids and because the toy company resisted any kind of continuity she was never shunted into a love story.

It doesn't surprise me at all that one of the writers on He-Man was J. Michael Stracyzinski who also wrote Babylon 5. He is a writer who just writes women well, but has never made a big deal out of it or even gotten a ton of praise or recognition for it. If you ever get a chance to listen to his commentary tracks on episodes from He-Man and She-Ra, you really should because it's eye opening and will give you a new appreciation of the show.

Listen, He-Man is still pure 80's at it's heart. The animation is dated and full of rotoscoping and reused footage. Most of the male characters look way too alike so they could use the same molds for the toys (and Teela and Evil-Lyn have the same outfit for the same reason). And yes, it doesn't make any sense at all that people don't realize that Adam is He-Man unless you throw in a little Grayskull magic. But if you're looking for something a little retro to show your kids or you think today's animation isn't up to snuff, then it wouldn't be a bad idea to see what they think of He-man.

And if you remember it fondly, don't worry, it's safe to watch again. Though you'll find yourself making a lot more off-color jokes than you probably did as a kid.