Archetypes (Yes, AGAIN, why?)

So, saw The Avengers– only twice though so I’m sure I’ve missed something.  Yes– amazeballs, awesomecrazysauce, fantabulous–you bastardize a superlative, I’ll commandeer it as my own and use it to paint Joss Whedon with lavish praise, right?  Also saw Cabin in the Woods… and, again, DUDE!

Joss Whedon.  That man knows a frickin’ archetype.

Okay– it’s funny.  I recently saw someone praise a work as having “no archetypes and no stereotypes” and even though the work was mine and the compliment was sincere, I wanted to throw a big ugly teacher’s tantrum because didn’t anybody teach this person that, without archetypes there is no literature?   I’ve said it before (oh can we count the ways?  Let’s not.  Unless someone can give me a big long list of links to my own blog, in which case, that might come in handy and I’m too lazy to do it myself) but archetypes are the skeletons.  Characterization, dialog, setting, description, (or cinematography, wardrobe, stagecraft) –these things are the flesh, the hair and eye color, the expression, the pleasing (or not so) way the features are assembled to a complete personality.  Whether you’re talking character, setting, plot trope, theme or symbol, ALL STORIES HAVE ARCHETYPES.

The brilliant thing about Joss Whedon and The Avengers (and Cabin in the Woods)?  Is how he utilizes these things to say a lot in a a very short amount of time.

Now, one of the most difficult things about pieces like these (and we’ll stick with the Avengers because my time is limited and so is yours!) is that there are so many personalities to deal with.  The really brilliant thing that Whedon did, was to show each Avenger interacting–and usually conflicting– with his opposite in archetype.  What this allowed us to do was see the basic drives and motivations of each Avenger–and hence, who these people are.  Were their personalities archetypal?  You betcha!  Did that make them any less original, fresh, or interesting?  Hell to the noes.  Wanna see?

Black Widow vs. The Hulk=
the spy vs. the muscle
the extreme feminine vs. the extreme masculine
the subtle vs. the big green rage monster
intelligence primary to power vs. power primary to intelligence
the ant vs. the boot
the vixen vs. tragic hero
hidden power vs. hidden power

Two scenes– that’s all they had together, were two scenes, and yet because they were such a thorough perfect blend of archetype and character, we got to see the flex and ripple of each personality off the other like the play of light on water.

Wanna see some more?

Thor vs. Loki

the epic hero vs. the gothic hero
confidence vs. arrogance
Abel vs. Cain
bright vs. dark
sincerity vs. cynicism
long view vs. long view

Thor vs. Captain America

epic hero vs. epic hero (i.e., neither one of them has flaws, so they’re both really fucking irritating to each other, plus they’re both used to giving orders and being in charge!)
nobility vs. peasantry
entitlement vs. hard work & sacrifice
long view of the war (like, from Asgaard!) vs. short view of the battlefield
universal decisions vs. short range decisions
offense (hammer!) vs. defense (shield)
Alpha vs. Alpha

Thor vs. Tony Stark

epic hero vs. American Romantic hero (yeah, yeah… I’ve got a hard on for this one, did we not know?)
universal code of honor vs. personal code of honor
moral perfection vs. moral imperfection (smirk)
sincerity vs. cynicism
entitlement vs. entitlement (“Don’t touch me!”  “Well don’t take my stuff!”)
archaic vs. modern (“Doth thou mouther knowest you’re wearing her drapes?”)
Alpha vs. Omega

Tony Stark vs. Captain America

American Romantic hero vs. epic hero
personal code of honor vs. established code of honor
moral imperfection vs. moral perfection (Without the suit, what are you?  Millionaire, playboy, philanthropist.)
entitlement vs. hard work (“Put on the suit!”)
modern vs. archaic
Omega vs. Alpha
self-sacrifice vs. self-sacrifice

Tony Stark vs. the Hulk

American Romantic hero vs. tragic hero
personal code of honor vs. personal code of honor
irreverence vs. anxiety
moral imperfection vs. moral imperfection
entitlement vs. hard work
science vs. science
modern vs. modern
Omega vs. Omega  (Notice how many of these they actually have in common?  It’s why they were almost automatic friends.)

And I could go on.  The Black Widow vs. Loki, the Widow vs. Hawkeye, Stark vs. Fury, Thor vs. Fury, Captain vs. Fury, Captain vs. Widow– lots and lots of potent combinations, and pretty much every one of them can be broken down into a series of dichotomies with one, maybe two, moments of connection.  The point is, that almost (and I’ll get to the almost) every two characters on the screen had a variety of archetypal dichotomies that Whedon exploited with dialog to create instant, fully fleshed characters– it was a genius move, and not only made the movie fucking awesome, it also illustrated that same tired point I’ve been making from way back.  Archetypes are everything.  You can’t write a true, resonant story without them, especially one of importance.  (And, yes, although it was a popcorn movie, The Avengers is an important movie because it showcases the beauty of human flaw.  Jeez, don’t get me started on the legitimacy of sci-fi and fantasy again… I’ll just make you tired.)

Oh– and now to the “almost”.  There were some characters who were notable in their absence from the dichotomy list–characters who were never put together, and the fact that we don’t see them together shows us almost as much about them as an interaction would.

Hawkeye vs. Thor
soldier  vs. leader
battle vs. war
follow orders vs. issue them
American Romantic vs. epic
understated vs. overt

 …and these two men have nothing in common.  Nothing.  The conflicts illustrated between the other characters are exciting because those characters have at least one dichotomy in common.  When they have more than one, there is in instant connection, but when there is not even one?  Hawkeye and Thor would not encounter each other in their real lives.  These two types of people don’t interact.  Perhaps, in a sequel, a common denominator might be found that would showcase both these personalities, but until then, any interaction between them would show very little more than we can see by just watching them in action.  It was probably why we didn’t see them talk a lot.  I think Thor swept down and did some back to back fighting–and that was cool, because it was like he came down from heaven to help the foot soldiers in battle, but otherwise?

Yeah.  If those other guys didn’t have some moments of mind-meeting, their chemistry would not have been nearly as interesting–or as important to watch.

0 thoughts on “Archetypes (Yes, AGAIN, why?)”

  1. roxie says:

    Maybe this weekend, then. Gotta see it. Who is this Hawkeye dude? And is that a picture of Captain America laying a wet one on Iron Man? OK, that just warped my world view. Trying to get all those characters to pull together would be a lot like hitching a bunch of cats up to the sled and hollering, "Mush!"

    Love your EnglishTeacher viewpoint. gives me great perspective on things. Keep hitting it, dear. We can always use reminders.

  2. Liam Grey says:

    I haven't seen this yet (hopefully this weekend!,) but I can still really appreciate your examples. I think having read this before seeing the movie, I'll be more in tune to those moments (hopefully) when they come up.

  3. Jackie B. says:

    What all this tells me is that you probably were/are/will always be a really good teacher 🙂

  4. Donna Lee says:

    I remember rumors that Captain America liked boys……but Tony Stark? (I know what's to like? but I can see him slug the Capt for that one)

    This will be our date night movie on Friday. I'm really looking forward to it.

  5. Galad says:

    Most of what I know about archetypes I've learned from you. You always have such great examples that it get to the end before I realize you were educating. That is the hallmark of a wonderful teacher 🙂

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