Thursday, 31 May 2012

REVIEW: Avengers Assemble

Marvel’s latest behemoth has become the biggest grossing movie of the year so far (over $1bn), with (in my opinion) only three films yet to be released  to contend with Joss Whedon’s caper crusader: Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit. Avengers Assemble (I preferred the title The Avengers) is the climax we have been building towards with cross-overs and cameos galore in the previous Marvel features – Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America  - displaying the Marvel world as one all-encompassing entity. Avengers Assemble cranks it up a notch by having the titular team at the front and centre, each character having their own moment of glory.

The team is made up of Iron Man (Tony Stark), Captain America (Steve Rogers), Thor, Hulk (Bruce Banner), Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff), Hawkeye (Clint Barton), Loki, and Nick Fury. We also have Pepper Potts and Thor’s scientist Erik Selvig making a reappearance. The plot sees Tom Hiddleton’s Loki, last seen at the end of Thor on Earth stealing the Tesseract – a super powerful energy cube, plot the destruction of mankind by using the Tesseract to open a portal to his world letting he Chitauri alien race invade. Lo and behold, Nick Fury decides the only plan of action to stop Loki’s dastardly scheme is to make a superhero team comprised of the aforementioned heroes.
The sheer delight of Avengers Assemble lies not in the huge setpieces and charged action sequences, but in the rhetoric pitter patter between the heroes, each one more arrogant and headstrong than the last; we hear Captain America ask Tony Stark, ‘Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?’, to which Stark replies, ‘Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist’, and on another occasion we hear Tony Stark refer to Thor as ‘Point Break’ due to his blonde surfer locks. Even the all-serious Thor gets some comedy, as he defends his brother Loki to Natasha Romanoff she responds ‘He’s killed eighty people in two days’, to which he quips, ‘He’s adopted’ – again a sign that Whedon was indeed a safe pair of hands on script duty (and very reminiscent of the wit in his past efforts, Firefly and Serenity).    Whedon’s script is excellent, and he manages to hit all the buttons with inter-character chatter – which is at the forefront of the script – as well as creating an interesting-enough (although hugely overdone) plot thread for the story (owed more to Zak Penn’s contribution). 

It is without a doubt that Iron Man, Cap and Thor get the best lines, but the real scene-stealer is Hulk, with Mark Ruffalo’s shy and unassuming performance perhaps showing the best acting in the whole piece. Hulk is a headstrong, angry juggernaut, destroying and crushing everything in his path, like some kind of agile bulldozer. Iron Man and others question Banner’s ability to control the rage and ‘the other guy’, and his secret isn’t revealed until the end of the film – and what a reveal. He gets the best action sequences and even saves the day after one of the team makes a huge sacrifice to try and close the portal oozing nasty-looking aliens. When Loki baits the Avengers with his threats of an army, Stark points out quite aptly, ‘We have a Hulk’, and boy does Loki not see what’s coming. The two most memorable beatings are both delivered by the green giant on Thor and Loki, tossing and battering one of them like a rag doll before quipping, ‘puny God’. This is the Hulk which Lee and Letterier failed to deliver in Hulk’s two cinematic outings, less controlled and more fierce and angry than his previous incarnations. It’s no wonder there’s been public outcry for another Hulk film. 

Aside from the final action sequence – a massive setpiece in downtown Manhattan – there are a number of excitable moments and great punch-ups, the next most-memorable being a Thor-Iron Man-Captain America challenge in the woods. As can be told from this review, Black Widow and Hawkeye don’t quite pack the punch of their co-stars, but rather than a hindrance this actually works rather well. These two are different from the other heroes as they are both special agents, extremely skilled and gifted agents, but not really superheroes in the same vein as the others. Loki as the villain was an inspired choice, and is one of the best villains the Marvel universe (on film) has known. Dark sinister looks, check. Super powers, check. Hellbent on destroying mankind, check. Alien army, check. Daddy-issues, check. The fact that his brother is on the opposing side helps develop Thor’s character arc, initially defensive over his brother (feeling only he has the right to judgement) and finally motivated by vengeance. 

Joss Whedon has done a fantastic job for Marvel and fans alike, and has certainly raised the bar for Marvel movies (still doesn’t quite reach the level of Nolan’s Bat-universe though) slated for the future. I only hope that The Avengers aren’t turned into caricatures of themselves – easily done – and Marvel/Hollywood keep the balance between comedy and action, chuckles and grimaces. I for one would certainly be front of the queue for The Avengers’ next outing.

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