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I devoted this week's Escape to The Movies to Marvel Films' grand, still-in-progress Avengers experiment: Not only the first superhero team up live-action movie, but also the first time a series of (non-comedy) movies with wildly different tones and "rules" are being positioned up-front as taking place in the same "world." Iron Man, a "hard" sci-fi actioner (nothing more "out there" than exoskeleton armor,) officially takes place (via cameo) in the same universe as The Incredible Hulk, a "soft" sci-fi monster flick where getting zapped by radiation turns you into Shrek, which is also haunted by the presence of Captain America in the eerie allusions to WWII experimentation. And soon enough, their shared universe will include Thor - as in, The Ancient Norse God of Thunder.
I wonder if people realize how significant this is. The potential of an idea like The Avengers as a universe-fusing movie is nothing less than the potential of a movieverse wholly decoupled from "rules." Think about it: Once audiences worldwide have digested the idea that Iron Man - "hard" sci-fi or not - is best buddies with irradiated ogres, Viking gods and time-displaced war Heroes, what's to stop him from tussling with the odd warlock or alien invader in his own series? This is the potential: Movies where anything can happen. It's bold, it's exciting... and it's completely unrealistic.
Thank the gods.
If there's one thing I wish I never had to read again, it's another mopey lament for the passing of realism from the movies. You hear it all the time now, the idea that the subject matter and the very style of moviemaking is tumbling down some long slippery slope away from some mythic peak era when a commitment to gritty realism reigned supreme.
The peak era in question is, for the most part, also known as "The 70s," the vaunted era in American movie history when the collapse of the studio system briefly allowed a ragtag generation of seasoned "B" filmmakers and idealistic film students to take over the asylum.
The ur-text of "70s Film Deification" is Peter Biskind's omnipresent, essential (once you get past it's obvious biases) book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, which laid down the basic fall-from-grace narrative from which the modern realism complaint now descends: The Holy 70s were destroyed by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, filmmakers for whom the movie world held greater fascination than socio-political relevance and fantasy appeared to trump reality. To be fair, Biskind's sprawling story ultimately drops the lions share of the blame on the more relevant members of the so-called Movie Brats being undone by fate and their own self-indulgence, but the broad notion of Jaws and Star Wars as the apocalyptic events that brought down the gritty, grownup realism of the 70s has endured.
Some of this, of course, is a generational thing: I was born in 1981, making the Jaws, Star Wars and Raiders the beginning of the movie world I'd grow up in rather than the end of whatever had come before. I'm also, of course, an unrepentant geek. Either way, this combination of factors tends to place me somewhat outside the broader spectrum of film writers (though it's become a rather crowded outside, as of late) in as much as I don't have any real issue with movies trending toward the unrealistic. In fact, it's a prospect I wholeheartedly endorse.