By Abigail Chandler
Robert Downey Jr. … Tony Stark / Iron Man
Scarlett Johansson … Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
Samuel L. Jackson … Nick Fury
Jeremy Renner … Clint Barton / Hawkeye
Chris Evans … Steve Rogers / Captain America
Chris Hemsworth … Thor
Mark Ruffalo…Bruce Banner/Hulk
Cobie Smulders…Maria Hill
The Avengers brings together the super hero team of Marvel Comics characters for the first time ever, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk and more, as they are forced to band together to battle the biggest foe they’ve ever faced.
It’s one of the most ambitious and anticipated films of the superhero age. Will the effects be up to scratch? Will director/writer/nerd god Joss Whedon manage to marshal so many Oscar-bait egos in one movie? Will there be cameos? Will Robert Downey Jr let anyone else get a word in edgeways?
Well, Avengers Assemble has been unleashed on a salivating nerd audience and… it’s good.
I’ll give you a minute to sigh with relief and steel yourself for a ‘but’. Because there is one.
The 3D is shoddy. If you like people to stay in focus when they move you’ll probably want to see this in 2D if you can. This motion-blur was especially noticeable during the first half hour. Whether that’s because I got used to it over time or just because the first 30 minutes were worryingly weak, I don’t know.
On paper, there was nothing wrong with the opening (apart from a hammy introduction to Loki’s army) – it took us to some very unexpected places, gave Black Widow the coolest introduction of any of the characters, moved at a fair pace and Samuel L. Jackson is at least 30% more bad ass than usual. But the film feels like it’s treading water, waiting for the last Avenger to arrive for the party so that the fun can really kick off.
Which it does. As soon as all the gang are aboard the SHIELD Helicarrier (which looks great), Avengers Assemble becomes a different film. A fun, witty, involving, action-packed film, stuffed with characters who, in true Avengers style, become more than the sum of their parts when they’re together.
Whedon stated at one point that this was Captain America’s film – not quite true. If anything, it’s predictably Tony Stark who sits at the centre of the movie, and the main driving story is him learning to play nicely with others and be a hero for humanity’s sake, not just to show off. Downey Jr is being held more tightly to a script this time, avoiding some of Iron Man 2’s more embarrassing rambling ad-libs, and the character is given a likeable, vulnerable edge not seen since the first Iron Man.
All the cast are excellent. Cobie Mulders’ Maria Hill starts off awesome but by the middle of the film is relegated to standing around behind Nick Fury. Clark Gregg finds new, hilarious levels in Agent Coulson, who turns out to be a bit of a Captain America fanboy. Both Chris’ – Hemsworth and Evans – are excellent but occasionally left without much to do. I’d have liked to see Steve Rogers adjusting to the modern world a little more, but I guess something has to be saved for his own sequel. As for Jeremy Renner, he plays Hawkeye admirably straight. I guess in a cast stuffed with so many outlandish characters, someone had to be the straight man.
Most surprisingly, though, are the two characters who steal the show (or is it three?): Black Widow and Bruce Banner/Hulk. After a poor, utterly pointless showing in Iron Man 2, Whedon works his magic on Black Widow and turns her into one of the best characters, giving her some of the film’s most memorable moments. How much of that is down to the writing (and great action sequences) and how much is Scarlett Johansson, I don’t know. Maybe the character would have been even better with a different actress. But Black Widow more than stands her ground amongst all the superheroes.
Best of all, though, is Mark Ruffalo. His Bruce Banner is funny, intelligent, zen-like and self-deprecating. When Tony mentions “big bag of weed?” among suggestions for how Banner might stay calm, you wonder if he’s onto something. But Whedon has done something completely unexpected: He’s found the humour in Hulk. Yes, Banner is a palpable threat, locked in tight confines and capable of turning on his new teammates at any moment, but set loose Hulk is a hoot. He gets the two best visual gags in the film, which I won’t spoil by even hinting at, and looks great. Getting Ruffalo to performance-capture Hulk was a good decision. Hulk isn’t just a CG smashing machine, he’s a character.
Plot-wise, there’s not much to write about. It’s kept very basic to allow as much room for teammate bonding as possible. The threat is big enough, with Loki bringing his under-characterised army to Earth. This army are never more than plot points that make things go boom, and Loki’s motive is vague. “I’m going to rule the Earth with this army I don’t seem to have any actual control over!” “Why?” “Just… because. I’m a god, dammit! Don’t question me!” Luckily, Tom Hiddleston is at his charismatic, smirking best, a trickster more dangerous and powerful in a cage than out of one. Although you can’t help but think all of this could’ve been avoided if Odin just hugged him more and gave him some boundaries.
The action sequences are great, surprising and adrenalin-packed. You might think that with a god in the line-up, the others might have less to do, but Whedon finds jobs for everyone. He even effectively shows Cap moving into the leader role, as the only one with any real experience of war. Even Thor unquestioningly does what Cap tells him. The film handles close-quarters fight sequences just as well as city-wide smackdowns and everyone – even Coulson – gets their hero moments.
The film’s real strength lies in Whedon’s reluctance to do what you expect. Things that are set up as big fights turn into gags. Things that start as gags turn into fights. And as for Whedon’s well-known fondness for shock deaths… well, he doesn’t do what you’d expect in that department either. And of course it is so much funnier than you’d expect.
It’s a shame that a weak opening, bad 3D (but excellent, seamless CGI) and a lack of villain motivation might see this film getting three stars across the board. Because the vast majority of the film is four-star fun, one of the most entertaining and charismatic films I’ve seen in ages. Some scenes are even five-star. The action sequences are packed without becoming jumbled or confusing and Whedon wrangles a huge, talented cast with aplomb. He’s done what everyone thought for a long time was impossible –he made an Avengers film. And a damn good one, at that.Tags: the avengers