Back in 2008, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) got home after his first bout of super-heroics and outing himself as Iron Man to find Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) in his house talking about something called The Avenger Initiative. And fans went justifiably wild. Four years and five films later and here we are with the highly anticipated release of Marvel Avengers Assemble. And the verdict? The fans will be more than justifiably happy. In fact, most people will. This is up there with the very best of them.
Tying almost all of the previous films together, S.H.E.I.L.D. director Nick Fury is put in a desperate position when the Tesseract (a cube of staggering cosmic power, featured in last year’s Captain America) is pilfered by belligerent demi-god Loki on behalf of a mostly unseen alien menace. Consequently, Fury is faced with the task of gathering together “Earth’s mightiest heroes”, namely Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/the Hulk (a live action and mo-capped Mark Ruffalo) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), in order to stop Loki from achieving world domination and handing the Tesseract over to an even nastier menace that threatens the universe. No mean feat.
A similarly daunting task was handed to writer/director Joss Whedon when he took the reigns of Marvel Studios’ most precious baby of all. He had to create a story with several major heroes all vying for attention without turning the proceedings into “Iron Man and Friends” or “The Brothers Asgard.” It is a difficult balancing act and there were a lot of doubters, but Whedon pulls it off wonderfully. Marvel Avengers Assemble (an awful title and so we shall subsequently refer to it as The Avengers) is not just the culmination of all of Marvel’s films to date, it is a work of love crafted by a passionate fan who also happens to be one of the best sci-fi / fantasy creators of recent times.
Everyone gets their chance to shine here, even Black Widow and Hawkeye, who would seem peripheral characters. Just about every element and character is woven into the story in a convincing way. They need an old fashioned hero, call Cap. They need a technical genius, call Stark. They need a gamma radiation expert, find Banner. Other characters are acting under alien influence and need called back in or combated by those who know them best. And when Loki misbehaves, big brother Thor is on his case. Obviously, this amount of super-heroics inevitably involves super-egos and things get off to a less than friendly start as their paths begin to cross, leading to some fabulous skirmishes to get us in the mood for what is to come.
And what comes next is one of the most fun, exciting and downright joyous comic book movies ever made. It is also a Joss Whedon film, through and through. It might not have the mythological heart of Superman The Movie or the dramatic heft of Nolan’s Batman films, but The Avengers knows exactly what it is and whom it is speaking to, and that is not solely a comic reading audience. Its two and a half hours breeze by effortlessly. Hardly any time is wasted and every actor involved gives it their best, from Tony Stark’s sharp wit to Steve Roger’s earnestness and even Agent Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) boyish enthusiasm – his first scene with Captain America betrays a star struck quality we might not have expected from him.
Whedon’s affinity for strong female heroes resurfaces in the depiction of Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson), who is given much more to do than cynics had feared, both physically and internally, when she has to face up to the fact that a very important person in her life has gone loco and she’s prepared do anything to rectify this. It’s not wise to get in Black Widow’s way or even to try and get inside her head. Cobie Smulders’ agent Maria Hill doesn’t get as much to do, however, but we can only follow so much with so many characters. Each of the heroes gets their chance to shine, particularly in the final forty five minutes of the film where the action simply does not let up as Loki’s evil forces invade New York City.
But it’s not as overwhelming as it may seem; this is no Bayhem spectacular. Whedon peppers the explosions and lightning with a good amount of humour, all of which is drawn convincingly from the characters. And in this respect, Hulk stands out the best. This is the best depiction of the green giant in any moving medium yet, not just an angry menace but almost child like and petulant in his rage, at times genuinely frightening but still aware enough to pass comment on someone he has just thrown around like a wet tea towel, one of the funniest moments in the film. Of course Tony Stark has some of the best lines but Ruffalo’s Banner is now released from the sombre self-control the character has been lumbered with in two previous films, giving him more humanity and heart. And heart is something that this film has in spades.
Of course, the film is not without its flaws. As stated above, dramatically it is relatively lightweight. Yes, the world is in danger but it never truly seems to be in that much danger, even with downtown Manhattan being blown to bits. Perhaps some insight into the true consequences of Loki’s intentions would have been helpful. Also, as enjoyable as the characters are, none truly seem to possess an arc, Stark being the closest to an exception as his sense of self-preservation is challenged by Captain America, a wise decision by Whedon given Roger’s association with Stark’s father and Stark’s own daddy issues. The 3D is also pointless and adds nothing (and this reviewer is not against 3D in general).
But these are minor quibbles. The Avengers is simply so much fun that it almost doesn’t matter. It knows it’s about more than just blowing stuff up but it never loses sight of the excitement factor, remaining true to the spirit of the comics and causing this reviewer to realise just how much he was smiling at the proceedings. Hiring Joss Whedon was one of the wisest things Marvel could have ever done and what has resulted is not just a Marvel film but also genuine Joss Whedon movie (Whedon fans will recognise a lot of his trademarks and even one Angel cast member in there somewhere). He has crafted one of the greatest super hero movies ever made and one of the best summer movies for a long time. Excelsior!
Marvel Avengers Assemble is currently on general release in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX