By Tony Sharpe
The remarkably successful Marvel Studios has a sure fire winner on its hands with Avengers Assemble, which features a Travelling Wilburys-esque super group of comic book heroes. This is a fan’s wet dream, which many have been waiting for since Stan Lee first created The Avengers almost 50 years ago.
The plot of Avengers is beautifully straightforward and sees ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ brought together to battle against the evil demigod, Loki, who is hell bent on subjugating the inhabitants of our little blue planet. Nick Fury, of S.H.I.E.L.D, puts into place the Avengers Initiative and enlists Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow and The Incredible Hulk to save the planet or as our dear American cousins would have it, Manhattan. The group of solo heroes soon find themselves at odds with being part of a team and some memorable superhuman showdowns occur before the team unite to wage war against Loki and his army of alien conquerors.
If you’ve seen any of the Marvel Films that precede Avengers Assemble then you’ll pretty much know what to expect. That’s not to say, however, that this movie doesn’t work as a stand-alone piece and even the superhero novice would have a good time with this film – as long as they weren’t expecting another abominable remake of the 1960’s Cult British TV show. But, there’s no doubt that the movie has been made by, and for, ardent Marvel fans and it certainly works on a higher level for those with a detailed knowledge of the comic book universe that these characters inhabit. Cameos and in jokes abound throughout the film that reward Stan Lee’s ‘true believers’ for their faith in, and support for, characters that have been around for more than half a century.
Joss Whedon has done a terrific job with the story and direction of Avengers Assemble and fans of his previous work on such TV cult classics as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly will be happy to see that his usual mix of humour, action and sentimentality are all in abundance throughout. The script does fall flat in some places but it’s often difficult to sustain realistic dialogue in such a fantastical setting.
The lead cast are all incredibly comfortable in their given roles as they, with the exception of Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk), reprise roles which have already proved successful. Robert Downey Jr slips into the Tony Stark/Iron Man character without skipping a beat and lends a great deal of humour to proceedings here. Jeremy Renner’s role as Hawkeye is the weakest of the ensemble but this could be down to scripting issues and the idea that firing a bow and arrow, however accurately, is a super power is quite hard to swallow. Tom Hiddleston is clearly having a great deal of fun playing Loki and manages to bring something fresh to the hackneyed super villain role.
The stand out star of the piece, for me at least, was Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk. Avengers Assemble manages to capture the fun of this character in a way that the two previous outings for the Hulk failed to do. Instead of dwelling upon the misery and anxiety that Banner’s unfortunate propensity to ‘Hulk out’ causes him, as was the main focus of Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) and the Edward Norton starring The Incredible Hulk (2008), we see Ruffalo playing the role in a much more serene and accepting way. Indeed this sanguine attitude makes the first transformation much more shocking and Whedon actually manages to convey how terrifying it would be to come up against this monster in a scene that sees the Hulk chase Black Widow through the hull of a flying aircraft carrier.
When Captain America is issuing orders to the team in the final battle it is his command to the Hulk that really demonstrates the film makers’ respect for the source material and its fans – “Hulk. Smash”. The encounter between the Hulk and Loki towards the end of the film is similarly the sort of scene that lovers of the big green monster have been waiting years to see on the silver screen.
An early contender for superhero movie of the year, Avengers Assemble is hugely enjoyable and succeeds because, while it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it acknowledges the importance of these characters to millions of boys and girls, however old they may be now, and treats the ever faithful fan to a long awaited, joyful experience. That said if anyone can beat The Avengers this year The Bat’s the man to do it. Has there ever been a better time to be a comic book geek? I think not.