With Asgardian God Of Mischief Loki (Hiddleston) having stolen an all-powerful device and planning to attack Earth with the help of an alien army, Nick Fury (Jackson), director of espionage agency SHIELD, decides to assemble a collection of extraordinary individuals. Together with agent Natasha Romanoff (Johannson), AKA The Black Widow, and marksman Clint Barton (Renner), AKA Hawkeye, Fury attempts to team billionaire genius Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), AKA Iron Man, with recently-awoken WW2 super-soldier Steve Rogers (Evans), AKA Captain America; tortured scientist Bruce Banner (Ruffalo), AKA The Incredible Hulk and Loki’s half-brother Thor (Hemsworth), the Asgardian God Of Thunder…
For some of us, the very notion of The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble, Marvel Avengers Assemble or whatever the hell it’s been unnecessarily re-titled as) was always going to be a tough sell. After all, it’s tricky enough to do justice (league) to one hero’s character journey while balancing all the accompanying super-action, but five or six? Good luck with that. As such, some of us have remained sceptical since day one (including, you guessed it, this writer), and after four years and five movies of feverish build-up, the task of assembling this multi-hero crossover lay somewhere in between monumental and impossible.
But despite only having one big-screen feature under his directorial belt, Marvel fanboy Joss Whedon has managed the not-inconsiderable feat of pulling it all together. The AC/DC-infused light touch of Iron Man (and its disappointing sequel), the tragic pathos of the underrated Incredible Hulk, the Shakespearean drama of Thor, the adventurous derring-do of Captain America – the passionate writer-director has impressively wrestled all these contrasting ingredients together as well as could be expected.
Rather inevitably though, the surplus of existing personalities, abilities and back-stories means there’s little room for anything fresh. While spinning so many plates this well is a triumph in itself, the heroes are still left (quite literally) battling for screen time, despite all getting great moments to shine. Unlike Brian Singer’s X-Men movies, there’s no underlying themes or subtext to chew on, leaving us with a witty, block-busting actioner where the plot is – by necessity – an exercise in moving pieces about with little more to the story than “big aliens are going to invade – let’s assemble a team!”.
Said aliens are also little more than faceless, throwaway goons to be dispensed of heroically (you never fear that they might win) in a huge finale which, admittedly, is superbly-realised. Importantly though, whilst Avengers Assemble will unquestionably provide two and a half hours of geek nerdvana for Marvel fanboys, it will likely prove too ‘big’ and comic-y for those who prefer their comic adaptations more grounded. In fairness however, in order to provide our heroes with a suitable threat (as well as a reason for their actual assembly), the climactic threat does need to boast of a certain epic scale. Although whether this justifies massive, flying biomechanical dragon-type things is another matter altogether.
But while far from the best superhero movie ever (well, in this reviewer’s eyes), it’s almost certainly the funniest. Hulk ‘bullying’ Loki, Thor mentioning that Loki is adopted, Cap paying a lost bet with Fury, Harry Dean Stanton’s janitor finding a naked Banner, Hulk ‘making up’ with Thor – there’s at least five or six genuine laugh-out-loud moments. True, there’s lots of exposition and geek jargon which frequently sounds like exposition and geek jargon, but Whedon has always had a gift for snarky group bickering and ensemble interplay (which he perfected on cult-favourite Firefly), and the best scenes here are those where the Avengers gloriously banter back-and-forth.
Predictably, Robert Downey Jr. proves a great mouthpiece for such smart dialogue and the highlights are his interaction with… well anyone he talks to. While Chris Evans is often saddled with an inescapably-silly Captain American costume and Jeremy Renner is arguably wasted as Hawkeye, sexy Scar-Jo gets a much meatier role (unlike Iron Man 2), which is perhaps unsurprising since Whedon was the man behind Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Likewise, Sam Jackson’s Nicky Fury and Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, although Cobie Smulders is basically there to spout exposition whilst looking slinky in a tight leather suit as SHIELD agent Maria Hill.
But while Tom Hiddleston is riveting once again as the mischievous, quietly-menacing Loki (sharing genuine chemistry with Chris Hemsworth’s still terrific Thor), the stand-out is new addition Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. Frustratingly, the CGI Hulk remains unimpressive and far from definitive, but Whedon complements Ruffalo’s turn with some great writing (IE, Banner describing his alter-ego as “the other guy” or mentioning an unsuccessful suicide attempt) and character beats. As for the reveal of Banner’s ‘secret’, it’s a very cool geek moment, despite ultimately cheating the emerald behemoth’s sudden shift from uncontrollable rage beast to compliant teammate without satisfying explanation.
Very big and comic-y, Avengers Assemble will likely prove a huge hit and many fans (particularly of the Marvel persuasion) will find their new favourite. There’s not much in the way of plot or fresh ideas, but pulling it all together is a staggering achievement in itself.