The dreams of comic book and superhero fanboys around the world finally come true with the arrival of Marvel team up “The Avengers”, or “Avengers Assemble” as it’s been released in some countries. Having gone through several years of development hell, anticipation peaked when it was announced that geek favourite Joss Whedon would be directing, pulling together the heavy hitting all star returning cast of Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, with Mark Ruffalo stepping in as the latest screen incarnation of the Hulk.
The plot sees Tom Hiddleston again as the villainous Asgardian Loki, who during his exile after being beaten by Thor has joined with the would-be galaxy devouring alien race the Chitauri, being promised an army to conquer the earth in return for recovering all-powerful energy source the Tesseract. Loki appears in the SHIELD facility where the cube is being held, snatches it and enslaves scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Hawkeye with his sinister glow-stick staff before vanishing. Knowing that war is surely coming, Nick Fury assembles The Avengers, a disparate band of superheroes, hoping that they will be able to overcome their various differences and personality defects and combine their talents to save the world.
First and foremost, “The Avengers” is fun – a great deal of fun. Far removed from the kind of tiresome dark, gritty attempts at realism that some genre outings have aimed for, the film for the most part has a colourful and playful feel, with a focus on banter and camaraderie. Whedon genuinely seems to be having a great time with his characters, and whatever mutations the script has gone through on its long route to the screen, the results are sharp and filled with humour and daft humanity. The film works very well as an ensemble piece, Whedon doing a great job of balancing the various (super) egos and allowing all of them enough time and importance, and as a result each does come across quite distinctly while remaining true to their own origins and franchises.
The film is definitely at its best when exploring the many different dynamics between the Avengers, with some great and frequently hilarious scenes of bickering, fist fights and petty squabbling. Whedon spends a great deal of the long (though not overlong) running time on character, and though there are no real surprises, everything comes together neatly, and when the final battle lands there’s a real sense of fellowship. It helps that the megastar cast all seem to be having a great time, and the film is immensely likeable, even for viewers who are unfamiliar with the original comics. This really makes it obvious that unlike other, director for hire helmed superhero films, “The Avengers” was made by someone who cared, showing a level of craftsmanship and effort which is very pleasing indeed.
The film also scores highly in terms of spectacle, with the last half an hour or so basically being taken up with one huge scale battle scene as the long promised alien army finally arrives, complete with pointless but fun giant flying snake machines. Although, predictably perhaps, the 3D counts for very little aside from adding depth to some shots, the film earns points for not inserting any needless effects, and the conversion certainly doesn’t offend or undermine the excellent CGI mass destruction. The action is well handled and boisterous, with all of the characters getting the chance to show off their individual talents, and again here Whedon manages to get the best from his cast, from the earlier scenes of them fighting each other through to their believably fluid last act teamwork.
All of this is just as well, as with his eye clearly on characters, comedy and action, Whedon in the process neglects plot, with there being very little happening aside from in-group quarrelling for long stretches of the film. The Chitauri are introduced briefly at the beginning of the film, only to pretty much disappear until the end in favour of an incredible amount of time spent on the SHIELD aircraft, and while the final conflict is impressive, it doesn’t arrive a moment too soon. As an alien menace, they are sorely lacking, being of the vaguely monstrous humanoid variety seen in many other films and possessed of few determinable skills, easily taken down with an arrow or bullet and their only strength seeming to be in numbers. Loki is similarly unconvincing, and aside from the fact that he had already been (quite easily) defeated by Thor, he is from the start incompetent and is caught slipping on many occasions, at times being played entirely for laughs – admittedly making for some very funny scenes. Certainly, there’s no real sense of threat or tension, with the only real enemy being the heroes’ own egos, their ill-defined opponents coming a distant, distant second.
This is though a relatively minor criticism, as “The Avengers” is clearly a film chiefly about, unsurprisingly, The Avengers themselves, and Whedon more than delivers on the premise, successfully combining the cast and characters to very entertaining effect. Easily the best Hollywood superhero film for some time, it’s arguably also better than any of the individual franchise films, and should be enjoyed by a wider audience than just the fanboy crowd.
Joss Whedon (director) / Joss Whedon, Zak Penn (screenplay), Jack Kirby, Stan Lee (comic book)
CAST: Robert Downey Jr. … Tony Stark / Iron Man
Chris Evans … Steve Rogers / Captain America
Mark Ruffalo … Bruce Banner / The Hulk
Chris Hemsworth … Thor
Scarlett Johansson … Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
Jeremy Renner … Clint Barton / Hawkeye
Tom Hiddleston … Loki
Clark Gregg … Agent Phil Coulson
Cobie Smulders … Agent Maria Hill
Stellan Skarsgård … Selvig
Samuel L. Jackson … Nick Fury