You have to admire the sheer ambition and audacity of Marvel. For years it was the DC Comics heroes who ruled the big screen. The likes of Supermanand Batman became film franchises almost untouchable to others. Having sold the rights to characters like The Amazing Spider-Man and X-Men, Marvel would have been forgiven for simply resting on their laurels and sticking to the comic book game. But they had bigger ideas, world domination ideas, the likes of which are normally reserved for all-powerful super villains. And so began their master plan, a plan formulated by the now assembled Marvel Studios and known as Marvel Phase One. One by one Marvel began to treat us to some of its iconic heroes. Iron Man, Thor and Captain America all got their own films, marching through cinemas with box office confidence. But these were just the appetisers to the main course, each Marvel film hinting at, thanks to Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury, something bigger, an epic undertaking that would become The Avengers.
Deep within a military base the Tesseract (an Asgardian weapon recovered by Earth in Thor) opens a portal, allowing Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into our dimension. Loki has one aim; to bring forth an army known as The Chitauri that will conquer Earth and leave him as soul ruler. With Loki now in possession of the Tesseract, Nick Fury (Sam Jackson) is left with no choice but to approve The Avengers Initiative. Sending out his trusted agents Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) Fury begins to round up the usual suspects; Tony Stark’s Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), whilst also hoping that Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo) knowledge of Gamma Radiation will help them locate the Tesseract. But can this group of super-egos learn to harness their combined powers and stop Loki, or will they tear each other apart leaving Banner’s Hulk smashing his way to kingdom come?
Having a master plan is one thing, making it come together is another altogether. Enter Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly maestro Joss Whedon. Marvel have, for the most part, made out of left field choices on their directors. Jon Favreau for Iron Man and Kenneth Branagh for Thor were not exactly the names on most fan boys’ wish list to direct but both pulled it off with aplomb. Whedon, on the other hand, is always on the lips of fan boys. Furthermore, any fan of Buffy will know that Whedon was, if not publicly, an Avengersgeek or at least well versed in Avengers lore. Watch any series of Buffy and you’ll likely hear Nicholas Brendon’s Xander utter the words “where’s the gang, Avengers Assemble?”
The result of this is Avengers Assemble (so called in the UK as not to be confused with ‘60s TV show The Avengers), an ultimate, unashamed popcorn movie. A joyous, over the top, funny and exciting thrill ride, the kind of which we’ve been deprived of with Transformers and Twilight.
Yes the world is in peril, yes buildings are crumbling and yes Hulk is smashing but in the middle of it all is a typically Whedon-esque sense of comradery and banter between the team of mismatched superheroes. Much of the joys ofAvengers comes from the bickering, the almost familial feud (literally in the case of Thor and Loki) that is both familiar and endlessly enjoyable. In fact such is the fun to be had by watching Iron Man tease Thor, while Captain America tries to keep up with all the modern references you almost miss the exchanges when the action starts.
This is not to say the action isn’t fun. It is, but it’s fun in a summer box office way. Heavy on the CGI and low on the real peril stakes with the villainous Chitauri feeling like generically bland bad guys. Thankfully, like Buffy, Whedon injects the action with humour, peppering each set piece with a funny aside or a witty punch line after a villain has been dispatched.
It takes a certain kind of director to make a film with this many big names whilst never feeling that any of them aren’t getting due care and screen time. All The Avengers get their storylines, their moments in the spotlight, whilst Whedon keeps sight of the overall group dynamic with wonderful attention to detail. As such the plot often takes a back seat. This is no bad thing when you have such an all you can eat buffet of brilliant characters on display.
Of course much of this comes down to a group of actors who are now wonderfully recognisable to us as the iconic heroes but also comfortable in their shoes/masks. Downey Jr. manages to make Stark’s arrogance all the more playful as he tries to exert himself as the alpha male of the group. Chris Evans’ Captain America is the reluctant leader with wry sense of fatherly disappointment at his motley crew. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor this time gets becomes a darker incarnation, fueled by anger at his brother, you suspect much of his venom is gearing up for the Thor 2’s bleaker storyline. Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson are both a little too serious as Hawkeye and Black Widow but then they’re supposed to be the responsibly trained agents so leaving the humour to others was perhaps advisable. Mark Ruffalo, taking over the role of Bruce Banner after Ed Norton supposedly asked for too much money to reprise his role from The Incredible Hulk, is hands down the best incarnation of the man who would be Hulk we’ve seen on screen. His quiet demeanor always hinting at the inner rage that will unleash the Hulk. Indeed watching him role his eyes at Stark’s attempts to antagonise him throughout is something of a highlight. Special mention should go to Tom Hiddleston for his endlessly enjoyable Loki. As in the Thor movie, Hiddleston is a classic English villain, an actor reveling in the sheer camp delights of jeering at the ‘good guys’. In fact when Loki is on screen you know something brilliant is going to happen and that is in no small part thanks to Hiddleston’s deadpan delivery.
Avengers Assemble has already become the third highest grossing film of all time. The reason for this? It’s fun. Fun in a way that most box office films fail to recognise. Audiences don’t just want spectacle, they want characters they can identify with and root for. Avengers delivers both of these in spades. Put another way, it’s one of those films you’ll be watching again and again and comparing your favourite moments with your friends for a long time after the creditsrole. Pure, unadulterated entertainment. The only downside? We have to wait till 2015 before we put the band back together, till then we’ll begin to see what Marvel holds up its sleeve for Phase Two. We hope it’s something as magical as Avengers Assemble.