Review: Avengers Assemble

This film has been hotly anticipated for the last four years after Sam Jackson appeared at the end of the trailers of Iron Man introducing himself as Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and letting the cat out of the bag about The Avengers project. Over the next four years we’ve had our introductions with all the highly volatile individuals who would later be forced into fighting together to save the world: Iron Man, The Black Widow, The Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye and Captain America.

There was a genuine sense that this film could have been hugely over-hyped and all the superstar egos could have clashed on set as opposed to gelled, destroying the film entirely. No one could say that they envied whoever had the task of directing this epic superhero movie. But Joss Whedon was the man  appointed to helm this ambitious project and he has certainly exceeded expectations.

As he has proved with his previous work his scripts crackle with a kineticism and wit rarely seen by writers of standard Hollywood blockbusters, and this film is far from standard. First off Loki, the god of mischief (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor’s brother is back from the void and he’s really angry! He steals the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D. and takes off with it and some staff members including Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Sevlig (Stellen Skarsgård), who both return to reprise their roles from Thor. This forces Fury into action assembling the rag-tag band of misfits and egotists who will form the last line of defence for a world now forced into a war it surely cannot win.

The way in which they bring the characters together is really well written, as otherwise it could have felt quite contrived; luckily for Whedon each character has already been fully fleshed out before in  at least one film where they are the star. So no tedious re-treading of back stories means that he catapults us straight into the action. But after the initial good feelings at getting the team together tensions soon arise between the heroes; this soon culminates – under the control of Loki – in the fractures splitting the team apart. The result of which sees Bruce Banner losing it and turning into the “giant green rage monster” and having a fist fight with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who is the only one among the cast who is close to powerful enough to match the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). This rivalry carries on throughout the film and provides a few really funny moments.

The interplay between the characters at this point is ludicrously strong and only a script written by such a massive fan could possibly have held all these megastars together. Personally I expected Downey Jnr to run away with his scenes and be the stand out star of the piece, but everyone has equal amounts of screen time and equal parts drama and snappy one-liners. In fact the one person I had expected to find uninteresting became the star thanks to the script and some mighty fine acting.

After Marvel signed Mark Ruffalo up to play Bruce Banner and “the other guy”, Edward Norton railed against the studios claiming that they went for a cheaper actor rather than the official story stating that they felt Norton wouldn’t want to work in an ensemble cast, and I felt for him; he had made the Banner/Hulk character his own and I really enjoyed The Incredible Hulk. But Ruffalo really stepped into the shoes of the character and gave a fantastic performance as the weary, reclusive scientist who had mastered his control of the monster inside. The scenes between Ruffalo and Downey Jnr really rattle along as the two characters connect over a shared passion for science. He is also both vulnerable and threatening at the same time, a trick that is not easy to pull off, and when he becomes the Hulk he causes non-stop carnage as well as providing at lease two moments of  genuinely hilarious, belly laugh moments of slapstick comedy. One of these, that took me completely by surprise, was his confrontation with Loki, where he cuts the villain’s diatribe short by picking him up and swinging him around like a rag doll into the ceiling and the floor before wandering off retorting “Puny god”!

Contrastingly, I felt that both Captain America and Hawkeye were utilised far less than they could have been and were just there for window dressing purposes.

Another character I felt came alive much more than in her previous film outing was Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) who displayed a much more vulnerable side as well as the kick-ass martial artist from Iron Man 2; she also proves herself as an adept interrogator in a couple of key scenes, most notably against Loki where she double-bluffs him into telling her his plans for dividing the team. A scene in which Whedon manages to get the Chaucerian expletive ‘quim’ past the sensors, which is to be applauded. As far as I can remember this was the only swear word in the film and would have gone over the heads of most, he didn’t even cave into the half swearing that other films have stooped to in the past and proves that you don’t need to swear to make a script engaging.

There was a point in the final battle where the spectre of Transformers style CG confusingness could have set in, but Whedon stepped up to the mark once again and managed to make an apocalyptic battle for the end of the Earth into something easy to follow. In fact some of the best shots were used in these final minutes. There is one ‘continuous shot’ that tracks around the streets of New York showing off each character fighting the aliens who are terrorising the city after the Tesseract opens a portal to the dimension Loki appeared from at the beginning of the film. One other shot that really impressed me was from inside a car that was flipped onto its roof. The camera was stationary in the centre of the car looking through the windscreen as the car was rolled; the thing that really stuck out in this blink-and-you-miss-it shot was the fact that it was real, unlike a lot of the stunts in these kinds of films, but it didn’t look out-of-place in amongst all the CG effects shots. Another example of good directing with an eye for visual effects.

After a four-year wait Avengers Assemble lives up to and exceeds expectations and finally put Joss Whedon on the map as a top class director, hopefully we’ll get to see more of him in the years to come as he truly deserves recognition. This is a must-see blockbuster in a sea of utter tosh that is saturating the multiplexes at the moment.

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One Response to “Review: Avengers Assemble”

  1. Perhaps this is an acquired taste, but I couldn’t help thinking of Loki as a bit of a sex-Goth…

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