I am NOT calling it Marvel Avengers Assemble, which is just insulting to our collective intelligence. Humph.
The Pitch: The long-haired god and his immovable object meet the irresistible force, the irascible scientist, the irresponsible robot, the irritable Russian, the invincible soldier, some guy with a bow and arrow and Samuel L. M***********’ Jackson.
The Review: For so many years, Marvel comic adaptations were the poorer cousins of their DC counterparts. While Batman and Superman films have dominated the blockbuster scene for thirty years and more, Marvel had to contend themselves with The Punisher, Howard The Duck and repeated failed attempts at a Captain America film. Then the last decade has seen a revolution, with the X-Men and Spider-Man being given successful treatment by filmmakers who actually knew what they were doing. But these were outsourced properties, and if Marvel was going to put its own stamp on the movies, what better way to do it with the biggest of all their properties, the Avengers? Over the last five years they’ve been testing the water with individual adaptations of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain America, but it became clear that this was not only a strong array of characters but a massive collection of egos. Would it even be possible to get all of these massive Marvels onto the same screen? And who could do justice to them if they did?
Step forward one Joss Whedon, master of small screen and comic book culture, but a man who’s had a somewhat less than impressive record himself when it comes to big screen adaptations. Put simply, from Alien: Resurrection to Serenity Whedon has at best a cult following, but there may have been no-one better suited to bringing this clash of the titans together. No matter what the medium, Joss has a track record of marshaling large rosters of characters, and there’s a huge list lined up here from the best of Marvel’s own brand adaptations. This does create two problems up front: to actually assemble the Avengers takes an inordinate amount of time, as they’re rounded up one by one, and there’s then a significant imbalance in the back story afforded, with Thor and Captain America getting further exploration of their methods and motivations while poor old Hawkeye still gets little more than a name and an prior affiliation with a SHIELD colleague. If Basil Exposition had been a comic book character, he would’ve fit right into the Avengers.
That’s not to say there’s not a lot of nice moments or sharp dialogue, but that’s all they are, never quite gelling together or giving the plot the forward momentum it needs. Sure, it’s great to have an excuse to get them all together, but motivations in some cases are a little weak and throwaway in a way that comic books can often get away with but which seem more exposed on screen. Many of the best throwaway moments are given to Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, the potential star of the ensemble right from his first appearance in the shiny red suit four years ago, but the other major success story is Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, with a much better balance between Banner and beast than either of the previous attempts, playing well on Ruffalo’s natural charm but also managing a brooding menace. The rest of the Avengers themselves all get moments to shine but rarely steal the screen. Of the Avengers themselves, Hawkeye is the most underused, and while both Nick Fury and Agent “Phil” Coulson have some zingers to hand out, but Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill feels like she’s just being set up for future installments. As for the bad guys, Loki is even better here, Tom Hiddleston commanding the screen – no mean feat against such a roster of hero talent – but he’s poorly served by a supporting army who prove nothing more than Avenger fodder for the final battle.
Ah, the final battle. Once all of the Avengers are assembled, and something has finally been worked out for them to be Avenging, Whedon and co finally let rip. Everything that you’d possibly hoped this could be and more comes to pass, with scores of moments to please both the general crowd and the fanboys and an epic sweep to the action, which comes in wave after wave of that Avenger fodder mentioned earlier, that does finally give each of its leads stand out, iconic moments. The third act of The Avengers, taken on its own, has to be one of the best summer blockbusters ever, there’s just a risk that when you get the Blu-ray that may be the stretch which gets worn out first, as everything of the highest quality is weighted into that final third. Producer Kevin Feige somewhat bizarrely compared The Avengers to the most recent Transformers sequel in interviews, and he’s actually right in the sense that the film increases in quality over the course of time, but thankfully even the dullest moments here are better than the heights that the giant fighty robots managed last time out. The better comparison here is the first Spider-Man and X-Men movies, for despite what amounts to five prequels The Avengers turns out to be an origin movie, as good as its Marvel brethren but sadly suffering from the same flaws as almost every origin film in its genre. When you consider how well the second entries in each series turned out, and how high the heights reached are here, you’ll be salivating at the thought of Avengers 2. Let’s just hope that Iron Man 3, Captain America 2 and all of the other required interquels can keep us entertained in the mean time.
Why see it at the cinema: For the first of the main summer blockbusters of the years it’s oddly uncinematic, shot in 1.85:1 (the widescreen TV ratio, rather than the normal cinema widescreen of 2.35:1), but the combination of the sweeping visuals and the gut-aching humour of the last third mean this is best seen with company.
Why see it in 3D: Don’t, if you can help it. The first third is swathed in darkness and becomes almost unwatchable with the polarising filter reducing the light levels, and when the film does move into daylight some of the 3D in-your-face moments have a disappointing feeling of fakery. You’re absolutely better off not paying the premium.
Should I wait for the obligatory end credits sequence? Only if you’re a hardcore fanboy. I’m not, so I had to come home and Google what happened. This one’s also in the middle of the credits, so only sit through all the names if you have a genuine appreciation for the craft involved or Alan Silvestri’s bombastic score.
The Score: 8/10