AVENGERS ASSEMBLE: in cinemas now
DIRECTED BY: Joss Whedon
WRITTEN BY: Joss Whedon, Zach Penn
STARRING: Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth
RUNNING TIME: 142 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The evil Loki, once a Viking god from Asgard who was defeated by his heroic brother Thor, is still hell bent on destroying humanity and turns up at the headquarters of SHIELD, the international peacekeeping organisation headed by Nick Fury. He takes a device SHIELD found which turned out to a huge source of renewable energy but is also a portal to another dimension, a dimension through which Loki is intended to attack the Earth. Fury assembles Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye and Black Widow, though they find it hard to work as a team and Hawkeye soon falls under Loki’s spell…….
The first film I ever saw at the cinema was Superman The Movie back in 1978, which may be why it still remains my favourite superhero movie and something which has never been matched though the likes of Batman Returns, Superman 2, Blade 2 and Spiderman came close. Out of the recent wave of Marvel superhero outings, none of them have totally rocked my boat. Iron Man, Thor etc., are certainly fun movies but to me seem to be a little lacking and also at time seeming like little more than setups for a certain planned motion picture called The Avengers, I mean Captain America was most entertaining and in my view the best of these pictures but its ending made it seem like it was just a lead-in for The Avengers and not its own movie. So you can imagine I was not especially excited about The Avengers and even a little annoyed by its existence but I couldn’t help getting ‘buzzed ‘about it the last few days, even though I thought it would be another minor disappointment.
I was wrong! Now I cannot tell you if Avengers Assemble [I don’t like the title change much, but never mind] is faithful to the comics which have inspired it. I can, though, tell you that it is a gloriously giddy, rip-roaring piece of entertainment that is just about worth the hype. The plot, while it does have a few minor surprises in its second half, is basically very simple. A portal is opened through which Earth is about to be invaded, and a group of potential saviours have to reconcile their differences and stop it. That’s it. The portal idea has been done loads of times before and I wonder if the film could have had a more interesting and original premise, but then to be honest, the plot should be little more than the excuse to get our disparate heroes together and battling to save the Earth, and that it does very well. I am not really a fan of Joss Wheddon’s writing, which to me often comes across as being smug and pretending to be a great deal cleverer than it actually is. The Cabin In The Woods, which seems to have divided people like few others, even on this here website, didn’t really change my opinion even though it was still a fun movie. But you know what, Wheddon totally nailed this movie.
Avengers Assemble may be a film about people with special powers in silly costumes fighting themselves and aliens, but it has been written with care and intelligence. It’s pitched right on the edge of almost being a send-up, it knows how silly the whole thing is, yet also cares about its characters and makes us care too. The film is full of laugh out lines, my favourite being Captain America’s reaction to Thor and Loki being gods, which I won’t say because I am nowhere near the best reviewer, sometimes tend to get a little spoiler-rific in my reviews and am trying to avoid it here! I will say though that as well as being very amusing it cleverly gives us a bit of Captain America’s personality. Quite simply this is the funniest film so far this year and yet it’s not really a comedy, nor is it like the Transformers movies where the humour was often out-of-place, grating and crude. Avengers Assemble, by the way, is one film where I think the rating is a little high. It has a’12A’, but I think a ‘PG’ would have been fine.
Of course much of the first half does consist of our supposed ‘heroes’ squabbling but these scenes are always ‘to the point’ and never outstay their welcome. At some time or other most of the characters end up fighting each other, but much care has been taken to differentiate the brawls. I was especially impressed with one involving Black Widow which, though brief, showcases some decent martial arts choreography and, guess what, for most of the time you can actually see what is going on. Occasionally the camera shakes and gets in rather close but it seems an attempt to ‘heighten’ a particular moment and actually works really well. An extended set piece on a submarine/ship [that can become invisible], with diverse action happening all over, and even outside, is extremely well worked out, but the final half hour battle is just stunning. Buildings are smashed, cars are thrown, ‘money shots’ are thrown at us by the bucket load [one I especially like involved Iron Man and a novel way of getting into his suit], fighting goes on and on, and it’s like the climaxes of the Transformers films the way it goes on and one and you don’t want it to end, but it is actually better, because you are emotionally invested in what is going on. You also get to see Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury actually do something.
I saw Avengers Assemble in 3D as it was the earliest showing I could get to, and I will utter my usual moan about some scenes looking absurdly dark, but……..the 3D is actually pretty good when it counts, chiefly during the action. The 3D was actually retro-fitted, but to be honest it is almost as good as the 3D in the last Transformers, which was actually shot in the format, and I am getting a slight liking for retro-fitted 3D , because the folks who do it obviously concentrate on changing the action and the special effects into 3D and not so much on the dialogue scenes, which in films actually shot in 3D often makes the people look like cardboard cut-outs. Of course the special effects throughout are stunning, with the amount of detail in some shots awe-inspiring. I am a great critic of CG, but cannot complain about it in this movie; you really will believe what you are seeing! The design is sometimes impressive too; I was disappointed by seeing yet more Predator-type aliens, but their huge ships are incredible, almost H.R.Giger-like in their design, the way they seem part-machine and part-living organism, welded and twisted into some surreal, perverse combination of the two.
Anyone would think that the cast would be drowned in this orgy of f*** me thrills, but they most certainly are not. You wouldn’t expect Robert Downey Jnr to be anything less than brilliant as Tony Star aka Iron Man, but I was most impressed with Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki because they were, in my opinion, quite poor in Thor but have really grown into their roles. Hiddleston is great the way he shows Loki is clearly having fun with his evil-doing, and this extends to Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner aka The Hulk, who always seems to find a humour in his tragic character, yet still not letting go of that all-important tragic element in what I think overall is a brilliantly judged piece of acting. I suppose some may find the lack of real ‘darkness’ somewhat weak, there is no doubt that the film could have gone that way, but then superhero stories, like any kind of tale, can be done in many different ways and they are all valid, from the anarchic mickey-taking of Kick-Ass to the semi-realistic intensity of Christopher Nolan’s Batman outings, the latter films being ones which I personally didn’t connect with but which I can understand the love for. Avengers Assemble is more flawed by its restrictive settings and lack of original ideas that for me just hold it back from being truly great!
Alan Silvestri’s score is a disappointment, especially after his great work on Captain America. It almost seems like he was reigned in and told to imitate the dreary Media Ventures [the dreadful Hans Zimmer-headed music organisation whose goal seems to be to make every film score sound the same] template, but I may be saying that because the score seems to be partly buried in the sound mix. But you know what, I loved Avengers Assemble. I am certainly not a comic book ‘geek’; for a start, I will say that the [already] much discussed after-credits scene meant nothing to me until I came home and researched it. However, I cannot deny that Avengers Assemble is big budget, ‘commercial’ cinema near its best [and by the way with no unnecessary love stories in it!]! I seem to be constantly criticising stupid ‘blockbusters’ at the moment because I do believe there is a greater proportion of condescending, stupid crap these days than in any decade since movies began. I also, though, believe that to make a really good ‘blockbuster’ takes great skill and care, and Avengers Assemble most certainly is a ‘really good’ one.