Thursday, 26 April 2012
And so it's finally here, five films, a few A-List actors, a dozen of supporting characters, various devious villains, a few end of the world scenarios and it's all came down to this. Yes, Marvel Films ambitious five year plan to bring the big screen versions of Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor together at the same time is here in the form of Avengers Assemble - or simply The Avengers if you're reading this from the USA.
The man set with the goliath task of juggling these larger than life characters and putting them into a coherent film is - as mentioned in my Cabin in the Woods review - geek god, Joss Whedon. Films like this have always been a little hit or miss in the wrong hands, but since Whedon has experience with ensemble stories in the past such as his brilliant Buffy The Vampire Slayer saga as well as the gloriously doomed sci-fi series Firefly and its film adaptation Serenity, he gets the balance just about right and even throws in a couple of surprises along the way.
The returning stars of the show, Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America), Scarlet Johansson (Black Widow) and Sam L Jackson (Nick Fury) are exactly how the audience left them in their previous outings and delivered to such entertaining effect. The real surprise however was the brilliant addition of Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk - replacing Ed Norton from the previous big screen version. His version of Bruce Banner/The Hulk was maybe at an advantage over his two predecessors in the role, getting to play off the sheer absurdity of the situation at hand and developing great chemistry with his co-stars, as oppose to having to carry the film alone, brooding and juggling his inner demons. Due to this Ruffalo's Banner came across much more light hearted incarnation of the character but still managed to explode into life gloriously when he 'Hulked Out'.
It was a bit of a shame Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye didn't get as much chance to shine as some of his team mates did, as he added an extra level of class to the proceedings any time he was on screen. However, his limited use and his screen time with Johansson managed to flesh out his backstory without the need for convoluted flashbacks and moments of angst which would clog up an already packed film. Where a lot of the Marvel films have faltered over the years for me is in the distinct lack of a genuinely interesting villain. Thankfully when (forgive the pun) assembling The Avengers, Whedon opted for the best of the bunch in Tom Hiddleston's Loki who unsurprisingly was excellent from beginning to end; typically dastardly, still licking his wounds from the emotional conclusions of Thor and setting the film up for its explosive action packed third act.
Returning to the fold was a bunch of characters from all the previous films leading up to it in various supporting roles and cameos. Most notable was Clark Gregg as SHIELD agent Phil Coulson, the man whom (with the exception of Fury) ties this universe of characters together. Stellan Skarsgard manages to reprise his supporting role from Thor as scientist Erik Selvig, and plays a bigger role in the overall plot than one might expect. Gwyneth Paltrow even takes the time to share a couple of scenes with RDJ as his on again/off again love interest Pepper Potts while Paul Bettany returns to voice Iron Man's virtual butler, Jarvis. New to the proceedings and coming across very well in her few scenes was How I Met Your Mother star Cobie Smulders as SHEILD agent, Maria Hill.
Even in a two and a half hour running time, managing to have proper use for all these characters in a meaningful way was always going to cause problems at certain points. Where it stumbles the most is probably in the first act bringing everything together, but unlike say... Nolan's Batman series where the genre was taken in directions it'd never really been before, The Avengers was never about being anything more than a giant, entertaining, spectacle. It's thankfully this in abundance. Almost like a superhero movie equivalent of Comic Relief. Each and every character gets their chance to shine also, be it in more intimate one-to-one segments like a surprisingly endearing scene between Banner and Stark about The Hulk, or the bigger moments when you see The Hulk utterly level the impending alien invasion heading Earth's.
I don't agree with all the film techniques Whedon used in the film, some really strange camera shots might make you feel queasy if watching the film in 3D - which I thankfully did not. Nevertheless I'd probably rate the film's dialogue and overall delivery as some of the finest work Whedon has scripted in his long and illustrious career, which I can only imagine will go to new levels now off the projected box-office success of this film and the critical acclaim from The Cabin in the Woods. It's been a long and torturous road and when you see films like Battleships getting made you know Hollywood isn't quite there yet but with this and the likes of X-Men: First Class and Super 8 before it and The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus and the Spider-Man reboot to come, I get this warm and fussy - possibly diluted - feeling that the blockbuster genre is starting to return to a more meaningful event status like it did when I was a kid seeing Jurassic Park on the big screen for the first time.
The special effects were brilliant and used in a way Michael Bay should probably take a moment to consider next time he plagues our cinema screens. I particularly enjoyed the set designs for the famous SHIELD heli-carrier which looked like it was ripped straight from the comics. If I'm being overly critical however I'd say the one thing the film was severely lacking was a memorable theme tune in the score. Not to say Alan Silvestri's stellar work was awful, but even as I sit here typing up this review I'm really struggling to hum along to any of it like I would occasionally with Williams' Superman score or Elfman's Batman and his underrated Spider-Man scores.
As usual with Marvel films be sure to stay until after the main credits roll, and for the obligatory cameo from Stan Lee.
Avengers Assemble is exactly what you expect from a film where superheroes team up to save the world from an impending, seemingly unwinnable situation. There's loads of action, there's the odd moment of tension, there's a dastardly villain and scattered throughout a lot of moments of genuine comic relief. Don't expect it to be a game changer, don't expect it to be the finest example the genre has to offer, because it definitely isn't. However even the harshest of cynics can't deny the sights of Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America and Thor standing together, saving the world isn't some of the most satisfying entertainment you'll see on a big screen for some time. Well done, Mr Whedon. Well done.
Avengers Assemble is in cinemas everywhere now.