Friday, 27 April 2012

Avengers Assemble Review

Yesterday, I saw Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, in a cinema, twice. I’ll admit that my own terrible scheduling was primarily responsible, but I loved it both times. That’s the kind of movie we’re talking about. It’s a big deal, too- the long awaited super-hero super-movie, titled simply Avengers in several places I don't live in, has a giant budget, a big-name director and an all star cast- can it possibly meet the hype?
Without giving too much away, the plot is exactly what you’re expecting. Loki, god-like alien from the other end of space, decides he’s the boss of earth now, and has a deadly robot army to back him up. Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), director of world-defense agency SHIELD does not want this, and seeks to assemble a team of superheroes to stick it to Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Despite some initial quarrelling, the heroes are brought together by the peril facing humanity, and a titanic showdown ensues between the newly-formed Avengers and Loki’s otherworldly minions. It took a little while to get going, but the opening and early scenes, which I initially thought were kinda dull, do really contribute to the overall arc of the film. 

It’s plainly obvious that the film was a Joss Whedon effort- Whedon’s trademark wit and humour courses through the film’s bloodstream. I was struck by how genuinely funny the film was; this isn’t a comedy, but the dialogue is razor sharp at all points. At both showings I saw, the audience was laughing hugely throughout. This is great, but in places it was almost too funny for its own good- several jokes seemed to be missed either due to their subtlety or that the audience was literally laughing too hard at the last crack to hear the next. 

Characters are similarly master-crafted. All the Avengers feel very natural and well cast, and their personalities are clear and distinct; Captain America (Chris Evans) is straight laced but sometimes puzzled by modernity, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is the brilliant eccentric and Bruce Banner aka the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)  has a very strained and deliberate calm. I had suspected Downey Junior’s Stark might outshine the other characters before seeing the movie, even joking about going to see Iron Man 3: Now With Pals; Tony Stark, the brilliant rogue with drink issues seems to come very naturally to Mr Downey Jr, for some reason. My fears were unfounded, however. All the Avengers are played well, and have big parts to the narrative- even Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), lesser in power and reputation to their comrades, worked great. Hulk in particular was on smashing form, though seemed to have lost some of his unpredictability. Hulk isn’t supposed to be a force for good or for evil, but a force for force; unstoppable, uncontrollable and totally destructive. Here, though, Banner managed to exert some sort of control over ‘the other guy’, but I’m prepared to chalk it up to artistic license. This diversity and quality of characters made their eventual union all the sweeter- despite their different circumstances and agendas, they came together when it really counted- heroism of the truest kind. Special mention has to go to Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki. He really made the character his own, putting across an air of genuine menace and haughty egoism. His wounded pride was very clear, and his evil grin genuinely unnerving. 

One thing a superhero film can be relied upon for is action, and Avengers does not disappoint. Some real kick ass set piece battles give excuse for sequences of large and expensive things, like secret laboratories, experimental aircraft carriers and the entirety of Manhattan, to be destroyed. The usual pitfall of mindless explosion is sidestepped for the most part; almost every explosion occurs with good reason, and action sequences have some proper charm- Iron Man's hijacking of a PA system to blast out AC-DC as he blazed in to battle Loki was a brilliant addition to an already intense fight scene. The CGI was used well and sparingly, mostly to lend the alien creatures and locales that extraterrestrial shine.

I really, really liked this movie. At a sizable 140 minutes, it was big on experience without dragging out or feeling flabby. The intelligence and humour of the dialogue had me genuinely grinning start to finish, and the characters all worked beautifully. I’m the wrong kind of nerd for comic books, alas, but my comic consultant was very satisfied. Whedon clearly knows both comics and filmmaking, so we’ve got a movie with both fan and mass appeal. I would note that between the 12A certificate and the general light-hearted tone the movie felt kind of edgeless, especially compared to films like The Dark Knight, though for about eight seconds I genuinely thought that Iron Man might be killed off. That’s personal preference, though- Avengers Assemble was a riotously good time. See it twice or more, but preferably not by mistake like me.

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