Joss Whedon kicks off blockbuster season with an awesome salvo of a movie
It is all about superheroes this summer. Well, more so than usual. We have the Spider-Man reboot coming up, and the climax to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy on the way, but now, at the start of blockbuster season, the ante has been almost pre-emptively raised very high by the release of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble.
The film is the climax of four years of Marvel adaptations and brings together some of their most popular (and not to mention lucrative) characters. We have Iron Man, who delights in informing us that, behind the suit, he is Tony Stark “a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist” (Robert Downey Jr. in a rare, non-mumbling performance); Captain America, who is the super-soldier Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), recently awoken from an ice-induced, post-war hiatus; the Hulk, aka Dr Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), mild-mannered scientist when calm, big green monster when angry; Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who is, well, Thor, the Norse god of thunder; and, finally, assorted other agents who are more human but nevertheless awesome, including the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson kicking lots of ass) and Hawkeye (an über-cool archer who makes Legolas look like even more of a nancy-boy, played by Jeremy Renner).
They are brought together by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of SHIELD, the organisation which has bitten off a little more than it can chew, and is now facing imminent mega-alien invasion led by Loki, Thor’s brother (an excellent Tom Hiddleston). The group must come together, get over their internecine warfare and save the world. It’s all fairly standard stuff, just with some Norse mythology chucked in, and some “science” incorporated somewhere along the line.
This comic book all-stars smash-and-quip-athon very much had the potential to suffer from a “too many heroes spoil the movie” situation, leaving fans with an unbalanced mess. Thankfully, someone at Marvel had the good sense to send for Joss Whedon, the man behind Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, the TV series which spawned the much underrated Serenity. In Whedon’s hands, this film is an effortlessly enjoyable, hilariously funny and utterly crowd-pleasing masterpiece of a blockbuster.
Certainly, it takes a while to get going. There’s lots of mumbo and lots of jumbo, and then some jumbo-mumbo-jumbo which all makes sense in the end but was a little baffling to start off with, even for someone who’s seen all of the previous films. There is also a lot of getting the plot set-up. Hulk has wound up in Mumbai for no apparent reason, Iron Man is kicking about in New York, where Captain America is having a post-nap sulk, and Thor is still trapped in Asgard before returning after a hastily mumbled plot point.
However, once all the component parts are in place, this bursts into life. The performers returning from previous films are all excellent, and new arrivals are just as good (especially Ruffalo as a very effective Banner, constantly wrestling with his inner green giant). Special note should be made of Tom Hiddleston, who delights in his increased villain role, and even does a decent job at pulling off Loki’s ridiculous horned helmet, and Clark Gregg, who is wonderful as Agent Coulson. There is fantastic, witty repartee between all the characters and it’s a superb group effort, but the real star of the movie is Whedon.
This script is masterful. It pulls together all of these somewhat disparate characters and makes them all function equally, with no one character gaining excessive screen time over the others and all of them having their chance to shine. On top of that, it has an abundance of one-liners and gags which are just terrific, and Whedon can take kudos as the man who finally got the Hulk to work. Banner the man is an interesting character, but the monster that looks like an icon for sweet corn vending is intrinsically as amusing as he is frightening. Whedon cracked this problem by turning the Hulk into the comedy star of the year, but whilst maintaining the integrity of the character. That is frankly a rabbit out of a hat.
Most reports suggest that one doesn’t have to have seen the previous films to enjoy this one, which is unsurprising. This is witty, inventive, bold and brilliant filmmaking which has set the cinematic summer alight. Exactly what we need to combat these infernal April showers.