I decided it would be a real fun idea to get fucked up on drugs and go see Avengers: Age of Ultron in IMAX 3D at Sony Lincoln Square, or is it AMC Lincoln Square, and then write a sort of review of it as a pastiche of my one-time idol Lester Bangs' famous 1977 piece "I Saw God And/Or Tangerine Dream." This made sense to me for several reasons, the main one being that Lester had seen God and/or Tangerine Dream at the soon-to-no-longer-be-Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center (and wouldn't it give Lester a stroke to learn that the Hall will soon be given David Geffen's name!) and that the Lincoln Square theater is just a stone's throw away from Lincoln Center, a place Lester found famously alienating and weird ("emerging from the subways into this slick esthete's Elysium is like crawling out of a ditch into Jackie Onassis' iris," he wrote). It didn't make sense for several other better reasons, one being I don't take intoxicants anymore and another being that even under the influence of Robitussin, which I'm told they don't make like they used to in 1977 anymore anyway, my ability to construct a convincing Bangs pastiche is questionable at best.
Still, although I would not be monetarily remunerated for any writing I would do about Avengers: Age Of Ultron, I decided I'd at least take notes. The first thing of note, for me, was that when you pay to see a movie in IMAX at the Lincoln Square theater (which I haven't done since 1999, to see Fantasia 2000, and I WAS fucked up on drugs then, so I don't really remember it all that well), you actually now get a reserved seat. I chose mine, K22, as close to the front as you imagine a row designated "K" would be, and apparently smack dab in the middle. I was surprised to see how many seats were taken on a beautiful spring afternoon. All the better, for I would enjoy a genuinely communal viewing experience.
I was unflanked as I settled into my seat at almost exactly 3 p.m., but this would not last. The row filled. To my left sat a young African-American fellow with a skateboard, sporting a medium sized afro and wearing a snappy blue blazer. Ultra presentable; with a smidgen more alt-attitude he could play auxiliary for TV On The Radio. He was soon joined by a perky blonde in a black minidress. On my right, a young fellow of Middle Eastern descent, it seemed, in a polo shirt; to his right, a young Chinese-American. "I love my row," I thought. "My row looks like America, just as the Furious films do." I was already doing better than Bangs, who, as he left that Tangerine Dream show, hallucinated "a whole audience of shopping bag ladies."
The lights dimmed; there were several trailers, including one introduced by Tomorrowland director Brad Bird, who requested that theatergoers "Get your tickets today," to which one wag in my row guffawed "Sure!" The subsequent scene from the film itself whetted MY appetite, for sure, but the Chinese-American guy complained, "It's coming out in two weeks and nobody knows anything about it." Well, they just showed three and a half or so minutes of it just now, dude; THAT'S not nothing, I thought. But I kept my mouth shut. There's just no pleasing some people.
There were several other trailers, including one for Fantastic Four, which looks like it's gonna be a real career high for Miles Teller, and then the main feature began and it was...pretty smash-bangy, a little generic, a little on the nose, Downey wasn't registering for me and...meh. I thought it entirely risible that on the Avenger-jet (or whatever it's called) ride home, Science Genius Bruce Banner would be soothing his soul via Beats By Dre headphones, which you don't have to be a Science Genius to know are complete dogshit. But my malaise didn't last too long, and as the movie settled in to a story line that I had some vague recollections of from back when I was a regular superhero comic book reader, I got more in tune with it. Sure I could nitpick; Ocean's 13 had a better pretext for Julia Roberts' and Catherine Zeta-Jones' non-participation than this movie does for Gwyneth Paltrow's and Natalie Portman's. But that really IS a nit, isn't it. I enjoyed the movie's conception of The Vision, one of my favorite Marvel characters (because he really DID take the "what does it mean to be human?" question to places that blew my mind back when I was 16 or so), although I found the pre-Scarlet-Witch-Scarlet Witch's "I'm not touching you? Am I bugging you?" hand gestures a little irritating, Young Elizabeth Olsen otherwise did a fine job with the character and this title seems to be a good entree into the world of high-revenue moviemaking for the actress. I think of all the directors who do comic-book movie, Whedon is the one who most consistently gets the closest to the tone of actual comic books, here specifically the Marvel books I found so diverting in the '70s. The knowingness of the humor and the earnestness of the "humanity will prevail" post hippie ethos that so many of the Marvel writers put forward is there; Whedon also knows that even when things are a big deal, they're not SO MUCH of a big deal; he plays cataclysm for a "whoa!" factor, not to spur genuine worries about apocalypse. He doesn't get bogged down in heavyosity the way even the admirable and ambitious Christopher Nolan can. Within the gargantuan there's a sense of scale. As for his characterizations, there's nothing in them that's particular galvanic, or even surprising (there really isn't) but he serves up his commonplaces with wit and sincerity and when he offers twists he makes his notes resolve attractively anyway. To me there was no real cause for indignation in the let's run away/let's face our responsibilities push-pull of the Hulk/Black Widow relationship, and no mystery to Hulk's self banishment at the end (and no, it doesn't have much or even anything to do with Widow). Part of the appeal of the stories these kinds of comic books tell is that of a world that ultimately makes sense. As loud and as tumultuous as they can get, they're still comfort food. They say everything's okay and heroes walk among us. The intricacies of the next challenge are the only part of the story that changes. The Hulk will be back, and many of us will be too. As the lights came up, I got up and shook it off and gave back my 3D glasses and intuited that the folks in my row were feeling pretty much as I did: that was fun, and now for the rest of the day.
I did not, as it happens, intuit that any of my row-mates had the the conviction that this massive entertainment was not just a massive entertainment but that it was art, and art that "matters," at that. Ten or twenty years ago, or maybe it was 25 years ago, it seemed as if everybody who was writing about the arts had read too much Guy Debord; these days I wonder if anybody under the age of 50 has even heard of the guy. Even online critics who don't seem too crazy about this movie—indeed, especially the people who are kinda ragingly pissed off about it— seem frantically eager to surrender their wills and lives and entire sensibilities over to corporate-produced spectacle.
I don't think the endgame of the high/low culture debate was meant to be "Now that we have comic book movies that have character development, we can throw out Rules of the Game; it's no longer relevant." And I mean, you know, to a lot of people who are big boosters of this sort of thing Rules of the Game was never in their wheelhouse to begin with, but they really want to be acknowledged as being just as smart as people for whom...well, this has all been gone over over and over again and nobody's going to give any ground. And it's gotten so that I can't even thoroughly enjoy a comic book movie that I rather want to like. So fuck it. I reserve the right to laugh out loud, and heartily, and with undisguised derision, at the phrase "we're going to talk about Black Widow...like adults."
Nabokov famously said that the first "shiver of inspiration" for Lolita was "prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes, who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: the sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage." I revere an ostensibly highbrow film like Alexei German's Hard To Be A God in part because it is the work of an artist in pursuit of genuine freedom. This observation will not make me a lot of friends, but I think if you spend a great deal of time in earnest rumination over, say, the ostensibly anti- feminist compromises applied to Black Widow's "character arc," ultimately you're just grousing about the interior decoration of your cage. But hey, that's your prerogative. But that is not a prerogative I feel I'm obliged to take seriously any longer, is all.
Now I suppose it would be apt to trot out Bangs' "I will say goodbye to you" bit from his Elvis Presley obit, but that would be melodramatic. I'm not going anywhere and neither are people who want to talk about Black Widow like etc. etc. The more apt trope would be Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu in the railroad-track pissing match at the end of Bertolucci's 1900. It's a living.