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Loving the Ugly,Green Monster

How the human side of superheroes can convert even a non fan-girl.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi |
May 6, 2012 3:02:36 am

How the human side of superheroes can convert even a non fan-girl.

Every time I find myself in a theatre watching superheroes somersaulting at supersonic speeds,I catch myself pointing and grinning. At myself. Because I am a non fan-girl. Because I can watch those guys (mostly guys,very few supergals in the pantheon) going about their super-antics,only to go,oh wow,but what’s next? Because I clap and cheer with the best of them,but can never completely abandon a raised brow. Because I adore a spectacle,but if the entire film is nothing but that,then that film is not for me.

Let me define what a non fan-girl (for want of a better descriptive; ‘non fan-woman’ sounds dreadful) is,before I get lynched. It’s not that I don’t derive any enjoyment from comic book characters doing stuff that’s usually meant to save the planet. Evil villains who threaten the world threaten me,and I want to see them get their comeuppance. It’s just that I do not worship the ground these fellows — bat,cat,whatever — walk on. I do not mug up all the myths that surround them,and reel them off,even as I watch.

So here I am,reporting that I loved the Return of the Hulk in the Avengers now playing at a very crowded theatre near you. It’s tough to make an ugly green monster with severe anger management issues the most attractive part of a superhero ensemble,but in this film he’s a hands-down winner. Because the actor (Mark Ruffalo) who’s playing him,presents his human face to us,endears himself to us,makes us feel his pain and rage. Yes,it is a comic book. Yes,it is constructed. But it is the glue that keeps his pals together,and saves their lives. And that,at the end of a very long,very messy day,is what superheroes are meant to do. Save us from ourselves.

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So let me amend that first statement. It’s not that I am a blanket non fan-girl. It’s that I like superheroes who are more revelatory of their character than those who hide behind their high-tech masks. And billion dollars’ worth of gadgetry. Though I have to confess that some of those super-weapons are great: when George Lucas handed Darth Vader a sabre that spat out fizzy light,which had to be rattled successfully before the princess could be rescued,he had no idea what he was unleashing. From that pre-historic piece to the New Age-y mega-gun that Agent Coulson wields in the Avengers,there’s been an exponential increase in sophistication and power of the weaponry,but you know and I know that the right word at the right time can sometimes be the difference between life and death.

And that brings me back to my point. Superheroes are all well and good,but what we need is to see their human side. Invincible is dull. Where’s the drama if you do not cut and bleed? When Spiderman sheds tears at his beloved grandparent’s demise,that is a moment. When Superman looks at his mother’s radiant face,and reflects that shine in his eyes,that is another. When Iron Man casts a wait-for-it-baby glance at Miss Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow killing the shorts,white shirt,bare feet look),you say aaaah.

The latter-day superheroes have to necessarily come armed with irony,because they need to be aware of their antecedents,but sometimes too much self-awareness can become self-defeating. We know that Iron Man,as played brilliantly by Robert Downey Jr,is madly in love with himself. But we know,in that one look he shares with the lovely Miss Pots,that there is another he may love more than himself,at some point. And we like him for it. That was one of my fave moments,in fact,from Avengers,whose slack middle portions made me hit the snooze button not once but several times.

That willingness to be vulnerable is what makes the superhero’s swing into action something to look forward to. The Avengers has an hour and some of biff,bang,thud in which Bad Guy Loki,well played by Tom Hiddleston,chews up the scenery and spits out venom. And despite all the battles-in-the-sky,and jaw dropping CGI,it would have turned into mere noise if it hadn’t been buoyed by some nice touches when the entire Marvel superhero ensemble,Captain America,the Hulk,Hawkeye,Iron Man,and Scarlet Widow (a yummy Scarlett Johansson) spar and come together.

All right,enough of all this Hollywood worship. When is Bollywood going to give me a superhero that I can watch without splitting my sides? n

shubhra.gupta @expressindia.com

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