Avengers Assemble (2012)

21 Apr

Comic book fans have eagerly awaited a cinematic outing for superhero troupe The Avengers ever since Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, announced in 2005 that Marvel would effectively take ownership of their universe and begin producing its own films.  Five films later; two instalments of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor and the time has finally come for our heroic misfits to join forces and fight a common enemy in Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble.

With the necessary origin stories put to bed, Whedon wastes little time pandering to the uninitiated, thrusting his audience headfirst into an impending crisis at S.H.I.E.L.D.  The mysterious and incredibly powerful tesseract, last seen being recovered from the ocean floor by Tony Stark at the end of Captain America, is misbehaving.  Self-activating, it opens a doorway into another dimension that delivers intergalactic bad ass Loki (a wickedly brilliant Tom Hiddleston), who is seemingly intent on harnessing the tesseract’s power to achieve a very old school form of world domination, replete with capitulation and kneeling.

Now, this evidently won’t do and so Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson playing, well Samuel L. Jackson) activates the Avengers initiative, rounding up the would-be saviours to fight for the greater good.  Whedon, so renowned for his admiration and indeed subversion of genre tropes, thankfully applies his wickedly sharp pencil to the screenplay.  He’s aware that his audience identifies with and admires a superhero as they are at a base level, human beings and flawed ones at that.  And so, Whedon is careful to peel back the layers of his players, revealing flaws and weaknesses that will have us rooting for these plucky underdogs before long.

Captain America (Chris Evans) and Stark (a show stealing Robert Downey, Jr.) are at loggerheads throughout, whilst Mark Ruffalo’s Dr. Bruce Banner is as vulnerable as his Hulk is hulkish.  Whedon too, ensures that the less super of our super heroes, Hawkeye (go to action man Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (the delectable Scarlett Johannson) and even cult fave Phil Coulson (a brilliantly observed Clark Gregg) are afforded crucial roles in the development and indeed disruption of Loki’s evil plan.

Hiddleston’s Loki, harnessing a hint of Paul Mcgann’s I after one too many, is in cahoots with an army of Mumm-Ra’s and but for all his intelligent poetic musings and archaic idealism would be a very interesting and different type of  threat did he not so resemble a demented goat.  Regardless, Loki is a formidable and conniving foe and Hiddleston absolutely nails it.

Whilst the first act struggles to get going, bogged down as it is by the necessity to round up the troops, Whedon is keen to show what he can bring to the party and suitably ups the ante for the remainder.  Impressive set pieces, particularly a woodland brawl between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Iron Man, demonstrate his craft and are visual gold, whilst the denouement is a veritable assault on the senses.

That said, this drawn out and bombastic second act ensures that The Avengers, Ruffalo and Downey, Jr. excepted, begin to resemble their 1D comic book counterparts, side-lined by the fact that the wryest and most show-stopping moments are all afforded to Iron Man and The Hulk.   Perhaps frustratingly, Whedon seems to revert to genre type towards the film’s conclusion; as evidently, even he couldn’t bring anything particularly new or novel to the systematic destruction of Manhattan, which has been done to death.

Yet, ultimately Avengers Assemble is a veritable and unashamed crowd pleaser.  Whedon, by lending the picture a pithy wit, elevates his work above much of what has come before and delivers the requisite explosions and unexpected deaths with aplomb.  He betrays an inherent understanding of what fans of the Marvel canon expect and he succeeds in vastly over-delivering on what was already a very appealing promise.

(originally featured at www.criticsnotebook.com 0n 20/04/12)

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