Starring | Robert Downey Jnr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson
Writer | Zak Penn, Joss Whedon
Director | Joss Whedon
Run-Time | 143 mins
Rating | 12a
Plot | Renegade Asgardian prince, Loki (Hiddleston) has come back to Earth to exact his revenge on the planet that his brother Thor (Hemsworth) loves. He plans to steal the cosmic cube tesseract last seen in Captain America and use it to open an inter-spacial doorway to allow and alien invasion force to seize the Earth. Realising the imminent global threat, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Jackson) assembles a team of Earth’s mightiest heroes, including Iron Man (Downey Jnr.), Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Black Widow (Johansson), Hawkeye (Renner) and the aforementioned Thor.
Review |Avengers Assemble is the end of a chapter for Marvel Studios. When Iron Man hit the big screen in May 2008, no one could have quite predicted the Marvelmania that it would kick start. Now, with four years and three (potentially more) franchises under their belts, Marvel is prepared to play it’s hand with it’s first fully cross-over feature. The question is, is the film a sum of it’s parts? Or does it sag under the weight of the volume of star power and egos? Thankfully, it is the former.
The groundwork for Avengers Assembled has been laid in Marvel Studios’ other recent features – particularly Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. The former provides the main antagonist, the latter with the object of power that each faction strives to control.
Loki is a great choice for the villain, and it is clear that Hiddleston enjoys every second he is on screen. The perfect picture of arrogance, the fallen prince is determined to wreak havoc (and subsequently subjugate) the planet that his brother loves so much. He is a petty, yet proud creature who is blinded by his single-mindedness for revenge. Hiddleston plays the role much more black-and-white than in Thor, and it is a nice progression from morally torn and misguided, to devious and power hungry. His relative strength and cunning compared to the heroes is nicely played out, and you genuinely believe that he always has another trick up his sleeve.
But what of our heroes? In a movie such as this, with an ensemble cast as star-laden, there is always a danger of one or two stars outshining the others. Equally, there is a chance that the reduced screen time means no one stands out. Whedon gets the balance just about right in this respect. Each of the key players gets enough time focussed on them to make them seem like an integral part of the squad, yet no one is promoted over any other. As expected, Iron Man provides a lot of the comic relief, with light quips and cutting sarcasm as shown in his two previous outings. Captain America is the perfect soldier and influential leader on the battlefield. Thor is the aloof (but likeable) outlander who doesn’t quite grasp all the pieces in play. Dr. Banner is the ‘nice guy’, and provides the perfect foil to the other heroes and their own egoes. Black Widow and Hawkeye are exactly as you expect to be – master assassins in their chosen specialisms.
With the exception of Hawkeye (and a lesser extent, Black Widow), the script allows for solid chunk of character development for a story with so many key characters. Downey Jnr.’s Tony Stark is as he always was (arrogant and never quite taking everything seriously enough), and the tension between him and Evans’ super-serious Cap is palpable. You really do feel like they will throw down at any moment. The ego clash Stark also has with Thor also provides some of the wittier lines in the film (‘Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?’). The three look comfortable in the roles they made their own in their previous features, and it seems perplexing to think others were considered for their roles. Strong performances for strong characters. Oddly enough though, it is the one man who doesn’t have his own franchise that, if anyone, threatens to steal the show. Mark Ruffalo is excellent in his Marvel début and his subtle, warm, unassuming portrayal of Dr. Banner is a joy to behold. You genuinely believe that he just wants to do his bit and go back into his semi-secluded dwellings in the third world, aiding the ill.
The supporting cast is also a plus point. Jackson’s Fury benefits from being given a larger role than previously, and his second in command Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) shows potential to expanded upon in future productions. Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgård and Gwyneth Paltrow all have small roles too, and there is a welcome nod to Natalie Portman’s previous involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
So, the performances are all pretty good – but what of the film itself?
Well, the plot is fairly straight-forward and does seem typical comic book fare. ‘Besmirched demi-God hires malevolent aliens to conquer the Earth for him as an act of revenge against his brother’. Simple and unoriginal, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some may complain that the scale of the eventual conflict is not quite as large as they expect, but it makes sense that the fight is just with the ‘scouting fleet’ as it were, prior to a full scale assault. Also, the size of the gateway is kept relatively small, restricting the volume which can pass through in any one go. Personally, I like that the team are there to try and stop it before it gets out of hand, and it’s not just an entire planet’s armada that appears on Earth for an unrealistically titanic battle.
The pacing is a little off in the middle third, though Avengers Assemble never drags or outstays it’s welcome. This is down to the impressive editing and cinematography which helps to keep Avengers Assembled moving along at a steady pace. This is somewhat crucial given that the film is nearly two and a half hours long.
Whilst the middle flounders a little, the opening is very good, and the 35 minute final battle is excellent and probably the best sequence in the linked franchises. Whilst not quite to Transformers level, the CGI is generally top notch and it complements the action scenes beautifully, especially in the final scuffle in the streets of Manhattan.
Zak Penn and Joss Whedon should be commended for taking on such a risky project and, generally, delivering on it’s promise. The characters feel human (or in Thor’s case, human-like), and finally we get a depiction of both Bruce Banner and The Hulk that fans can be happy with.
They also do a great job of making the film appeal to a wide target audience, from Marvel novices to hardened buffs. The plot is explained well enough that if, for some reason, this is your first venture into this cross-over franchise, you will be able to follow and appreciate it. Similarly though, there are plenty of nods to the previous films and wider universe at large. Towards the end particularly, the under currents that could lead to the much publicised ‘Civil War’ storyline are quite evident. All in all, very good stuff.
Oh, and don’t forget to stick around afterwards for the now obligatory teaser clip after the first set of credits.
The Verdict | A triumph of perseverance, Marvel and Joss Whedon have shown that, with a little patience and a good production team, you can make quality interwoven cross-over franchises. Avengers Assemble is a very good film where the positives far outweigh the negatives. It will please the majority of Marvel fans and newcomers alike. Here’s to Avengers 2.