Marvel’s Avengers Assemble

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© Marvel

Joss Whedon’s labour of love matches the hype

by John Spence

When pondering what other event has generated so much hype and expectation amongst its core fanbase as Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (hereafter known as The Avengers as it should have bloody been known in the first place) has for the comic book crowd, the only thing one could come up with was Armageddon for eschatologists and the ‘rapture-ready’ religious right. That’s the biblical Armageddon of course; not the Bruce Willis v giant meteor movie, obvs.

And, like Armageddon, The Avengers has had several portents. The six films (five, if you discount Ang Lee’s Hulk, which would be reasonable) that have fed us a drip drip drip of Avengers-based teasery have been of mixed quality, but common to all has been the limitation that, as they’ve all been produced as fore-runners to this film, they have always felt somewhat incomplete.

This has meant that some of the introductory films (and I’m looking at you Captain America: The First Avenger and The Incredible Hulk) have seemed like rather functional and drab place-holders rather than successful stand-alone films and, adding the very average Iron Man 2 to the mix, it would have been legitimate to be concerned as to whether The Avengers, like Armageddon, would end rather badly for everyone.

The good news from the outset was the appointment of Joss Whedon to both helm and script the film. While his recent TV record (Dollhouse) has been patchy, the goodwill that obviously still exists towards Buffy, Angel and Firefly, as well as the critical (if not commercial) success of the latter’s big-screen spin off Serenity ensured that this was the right guy to give both the right words and the right screen time to an ensemble cast and who can do both action and humour.

But did it work?

The answer is a resounding YES! The Avengers is everything that a) the comic book geeks and b) general cinema-goers (I‘m in the latter group) could want. Thrilling action, strong plot development and some excellent humour (everything from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sight gag on the Helicarrier to a Loki/Hulk interface produced huge chunks of chortle) meant that, in the screening I went to at least, the audience were swept along and responded positively to all the elements mentioned.

Of course Whedon’s direction and script can only work if the cast play ball and in this sense Chris Evans deserves an honourable mention. With Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark getting the zingers, Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner getting a good line in dry humour and Chris Hemsworth staying the right side of overblown as Thor, Evans’ Captain America does appear a little bland by comparison, if only because that character is, emotionally speaking, far more balanced.

Other actors, or their agents, may have pushed for more ‘gag time’, but it is to Evans’ credit that he stayed true to his character’s disposition and provided the ‘straight guy’ to the others’ humour.

Samuel L. Jackson, given more screen time as SHIELD grand fromage Nick Fury, relishes the extra responsibility and portrays the various shades of grey within SHIELD well. Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner, as Natalia ‘Black Widow’ Romanoff and Clint ‘Hawkeye’ Barton respectively, bring a sense of fragility to their characters as the only ‘fully human’ members of Earth’s mightiest heroes but Hawkeye, of all the Avengers, seemed the most undercooked character.

The stand-out performance, however, is Tom Hiddleston as enemy-in-chief Loki. Following his disappearance at the end of Thor, Loki oozes menace and malevolence and Hiddleston’s portrayal is electrifying, moving between supreme confidence, outright viciousness and also a sense of a gambler’s fear; that somewhere inside he feels, he knows, that he has bitten off more than he can chew.

If there is a criticism that can be levelled at The Avengers it is that the enemy army, the Chitauri, feel entirely disposable and non-descript from the various other forms of cannon-fodder that are portrayed in other ‘beasties from beyond the stars’ films, while the denouement which on the whole is as well balanced and spectacular as the rest of the film, falls into the common trap of sometimes feeling like levels of a video game.

But these faults, such as they are, are entirely obscured by the comic book literacy and movie-making brilliance of all concerned. There is simply a sense of joy in this film that stands it above and apart from the rather gloomy superhero films that have been produced of late, and the writers have been canny enough to leave enough open plot strands to inform future films but, crucially, not in a way that leaves this film feeling incomplete. For that The Avengers deserves credit and the box-office so that Marvel will make more of them.

Oh, and as ever, don’t leave your seats during the credits!

**** ½ stars

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