Monday, 30 April 2012

Avengers Assemble Review

Joss Whedon must be rubbing his hands together. Two years ago, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly had endured limited success with the silver screen; the original Buffy movie was a camp flop that the series largely ignored, his script for Alien Resurrection – together with Jeunet’s ill-fitting visual style – is (perhaps a little harshly) considered as the centre point of that franchise’s downfall, and Serenity flat out bombed.  Meanwhile, his meta-horror piece The Cabin in the Woods was effectively shelved. That last one’s perhaps a blessing in disguise, given that Whedon can now boast that the genre cinema of early 2012 was effectively dominated by him, and him alone. The success of Cabin has already been discussed, offering something new and fresh in a genre thats current laziness is only contrasted by its marked barrenness. In contrast, Avengers Assemble enters the fray amidst a plethora of comic book movies that in many cases only highlight how stale the “Super Hero Bubble” has already become, trading in on origin stories and boringly contrived power groupings. It doesn’t help that many of said tired films were the two hour advertisements for this all-star super hero smash fest, and it’s a testament to Whedon’s writing ability that Avengers Assemble – a film that could so easily break apart under its own weight – actually feels more cohesive and full-bodied than its foundations.

The plot of Avengers Assemble finally joins together four years worth of Marvel movies under one title, harking right back to the original Iron Man, though in terms of narrative, the film largely builds on threads established in last year’s Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Loki, trickster demi-god and adoptive brother of Thor, has returned to Earth to claim the Tesseract; an Asgardian energy source capable of opening portals between dimensions. With it, he hopes to lead an otherworldly invasion of our planet, installing himself as our new king. It’s all very...dense and slightly daft, but Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) takes the threat seriously enough to bring together Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) et al. to bring him down – if they can just stop tripping over each other’s egos first.

 Bryan Singer’s X-Men films are frequently regarded as the go-to examples for ensemble comic book movies, but in all honesty, they come off as hammy and overtly serious, putting too much stock into their one-liners and sense of self-importance. Whedon’s script, in injecting the Avengers with a severe case of familial dysfunction, brings a strong layer of banter to the film, allowing these characters to trade off one another and come away feeling like a team, instead of a set of SFX devices. RDJ’s Stark was of course built for this kind of humour, but it’s a surprisingly well-balanced turn by Ruffalo as Banner and his chaotic alter-ego, the Hulk, that actually sparks much of the wit – particularly in the film’s climactic New York battle. It’s a smart move that, coupled with some nice visual quirks, refutes the rather staid approach to OMG-EXPLOSIIOOONSSS that dominated Thor and Iron Man 2, leaving them more than a little deflated. In fact, Whedon does a great job all round of ensuring everyone’s character arc feels complete and weighted; even Johannson’s Black Widow and Renner’s Hawkeye come away as realised characters – despite having to contend with established heavy-hitters.

 This is not to say that Avengers Assemble isn’t a mess – it is. Really, how could it not be? But it does the best it could at holding all the threads together, offering a sharp if (in the nicest way) shambolic rollercoaster ride along the way. If you thought the original Iron Man was a blast and wonder when the fun died, Avengers Assemble might just be what you’re looking for.