Surrealist Smash!

Note: This blog post mentions the films Avengers Assemble and The Cabin in the Woods, and contains mild spoilers.

There are a lot of reasons for despising corporations like Marvel and DC, but that’s never stopped Surrealists worldwide from being devoted and sometimes obsessive fans of their comics. The relationship between corporate imperatives and the comics’ content is a complicated question, and not one I intend to get into here; suffice it to say that although it would be wishful thinking to claim that there is no relationship at all, the characters and their universes also always exceed it.

The films based on those comics, however, are usually of less Surrealist interest. Individual Surrealists enjoy them, of course, but that’s not the same thing: we’re interested in the screen adventures of Batman or Iron Man simply because we love those characters, without there being any Surrealist or (forgive me) Marvellous dimension involved. Sometimes a Surrealist fan is just a fan.

Avengers Assemble is a case in point. The hyping of the film has been repulsive, Marvel’s greedy self-congratulation has been obscene, and for me at least the reason for going to see it was simple fandom. Not Marvel fandom in my case – I’m a member of the DC tribe (and don’t get me started on the Batman films) – but fandom of Joss Whedon and Robert Downey Jr, in that order. Of the latter I’ll merely observe that anyone of any gender or sexual orientation who doesn’t share my enthusiasm needs a hormone injection. The Joss Whedon thing is odd, though. Given his usual subject matter – apocalypse, end of the world, monsters, scifi, horror, identity shifts, and fiery-tempered gals who know what to do with nunchuks – his films and TV shows ought to be of Surrealist interest. But somehow, apart from the occasional beautiful monster, they never are. This is probably because his work is usually at least as much about the genres he is using as it is of those genres; it’s crafted with love and even joy, but is too self-conscious to become truly frenzied in the way that poetry requires. The obvious example here is the Buffy saga, but it’s also true of The Cabin in the Woods, which is as hugely entertaining as it is devoid of poetry (its one genuinely beautiful monster, Fornicus, is a straight steal from Hellraiser, puzzle box and all). So I went to see Avengers Assemble expecting a damned good romp with some occasionally shonky CGI and  whole lot of Robert Downey Jr, no more and no less.

Here again though the characters exceeded the corporate balls, and in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I’m not particularly interested in any Marvel characters for their own sake (Spider-Man can eat my leotard), but the least interesting Marvel superhero of all has always seemed to me to be the Hulk. To be fair, this is probably because I’ve never read the Hulk comics in any depth, and most of my knowledge of the character comes from the famous 70s/80s TV show upon which, with an unfashionable lack of nostalgia, I look back with no fondness whatsoever. There was a whinging white guy who trudged around everywhere with a face like a slapped arse, and a big green guy in knee-length polyester slacks who ran around a lot to no purpose, and that was about it.

But with Avengers Assemble, I finally got it. He’s a rage-volcano who has to spend his every moment watching himself, just so that he can interact with the world at large and with his fellow Avengers. The shtick for most of the film is that Bruce Banner is superhumanly calm and takes great care to avoid stress-inducing situations, for fear of turning into “the other guy” and ripping everybody to pieces. The moment of revelation comes in the final battle (another spectacular Whedon apocalypse, natch), when Banner turns to Captain America, utters the beautiful, beautiful line: “That’s my secret, Captain – I’m always angry,” and leaps away to shred what’s left of Manhattan. In other words – oh my god, Bruce Banner’s just a Surrealist with an office job!

Image by Kerry Lannert, licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0

The morning after seeing the film at my local cinema, I had the following dream. Captain America and one of the other Avengers – a female superhero I didn’t recognise, although she resembled the Danish actor Ellen Hillingsø – were taking the day off for some R&R. They went to a games arcade and started playing on a one-armed bandit. As they played, the letters on the exterior of the machine rearranged themselves into the word RIGWEED, and into the payout slot fell a prize: a coiled metal spring with a hard, shiny white sphere lodged in either end. Captain America took it from the slot and they examined it together, puzzled. “Is it a game?” asked the woman. Then two more objects dropped into the slot: translucent white models, of a human thumb and a baby’s leg, life size and shining like ectoplasm. And I knew that now the adventure could begin.

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