Good old-fashioned entertainment

I recently introduced my children to Star Wars. All three enjoyed it, although my eldest daughter took to it most enthusiastically, bombarding me with questions and spending every spare moment with her nose buried in the Star Wars Visual Dictionary. So far the only criticism they’ve voiced is that there’s only one female character. Strangely they don’t refer to the films by their actual titles, but by their numbers: Star Wars 4, Star Wars 5, etc.  They’ve yet to watch the prequels, although they’re aware of their existence, and they’ll see them some time soon. I’ll be interested to see how they react. I’m sure they won’t complain as much as we first generation fans did.

I’m always slightly surprised when our children enjoy older films; not because I think they’re not as good, but because they’re often quite different from modern films in terms of pacing. Certainly the first Star Wars is amazingly slow and uneventful for the first hour, even in comparison with the other films in the series. This is somewhat reassuring as a parent, as it means that my children have a decent attention span and can cope with films which don’t feel the need to bombard them with something loud or flashy every two minutes.

Daddy, meanwhile, went this past weekend to see another fantasy blockbuster: The Avengers. Despite feeling a bit of superhero movie overload recently I was keen to see this one, mostly because it was written and directed by Joss Whedon, of Buffy and Firefly fame. I was expecting to enjoy it, and it has had good reviews, but still it surprised me with how sheerly entertaining it was, although this may be at least in part a comment on how low our expectations are these days for comic book spectaculars. The film offers FX-filled action on a par with anything in, say, the Transformers films, but manages to find the time to delineate characters and their motivations enough that you actually care about whether or not they make it out of the rubble. It’s also hilariously funny, with Hulk in particular getting some of the biggest laughs. While some comic book films strain for depth and “edginess” by cranking up the angst, violence and pretension, these recent Marvel films manage to be a lot of fun, without tipping over into outright parody.

A couple of small nitpicks, which are slightly spoilerish if you haven’t yet seen the film.

1) A couple of characters spend the first half of the film brainwashed and under the control of the villain. This hold over them is broken by…you guessed it: a blow to the head. Joss Whedon seems to be aware of the ridiculousness of this narrative shortcut, even acknowledging it in the dialogue. When [redacted] asks how [redacted] brought him back to his senses, she replies “I hit you really hard on the head”.

2) The climax uses the same trick as The Phantom Menace (never a good sign): once the mothership is destroyed, all the soldiers conveniently fall over, deactivated. Because the best soldiers are remote-control ones with no autonomy, right?