Thursday, 26 April 2012
'The Avengers'/'Marvel Avengers Assemble' review:
Regular readers of this blog will know that I've long been a shameless, rambling cheerleader for this summer's first major comic book movie, Marvel's ambitious 'The Avengers': a film which brings geek-friendly comic book-style continuity to the big screen in a way never previously considered possible. It's a bold move from the company, recently acquired by Disney, which - had it failed - might easily have sent the entire house of cards tumbling down, risking tentpole solo properties 'Iron Man', 'The Incredible Hulk', 'Captain America' and 'Thor' in the process. In fact combining these heroes in one movie should have been an almighty mess and perhaps one for fanboys rather than the diverse cinema audience required to enjoy global mega-success.
Yet 'Buffy the Vampire' creator Joss Whedon has, as director and co-writer, delivered not only the best Marvel movie to date (not a bad accolade in itself), but also the very best (or at least the most enjoyable) superhero movie ever. It's a relentlessly thrilling and frequently laugh-out-loud funny affair which manages to provide each of its characters just enough to do to avoid feeling like a clumsy bag of cameos. It's a rare beast that exceeds the two hour mark and yet leaves you craving more and, as has been noted by almost all who have seen it thus far, it manages to pull off the feat of making the Hulk interesting. Mark Ruffalo is cast as the irradiated Dr. Bruce Banner/lumbering green rage beast and does an exceptional job both in the flesh, as an anxious and introverted genius, and in CGI mo-cap as the show-stealing titan.
The other Avengers combine well, in terms of their disparate skill sets and distinct personalities. Pleasingly each even finds time to grow and complete their own small arch. Captain America (Chris Evans) is still the guileless embodiment of goodness that struck such a pleasant note in last year's solo vehicle, though now he's learning to assert himself as the natural born leader familiar to readers of the comics. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) remains that slightly haughty man from another world with a penchant for grand, almost Shakespearean turns of phrase, now faced with the embarrassment of having his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) at the head of an alien invasion of Earth. And Robert Downey Jr is still a terrific force of nature as cocky billionaire, playboy philanthropist Tony Stark (AKA Iron Man), here learning a thing or two about subjugating himself for the greater good whilst chiding his more obviously noble teammates.
Even Black Widow and Hawkeye (Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner), who have yet to benefit from their own solo features, are given ample time to demonstrate their prowess and (though not as developed as the others) both feel like interesting and valuable parts of the ensemble. This time we even get to see a little more of Samuel L. Jackson as eye-patch sporting S.H.E.I.L.D director Nick Fury, getting involved in the action and playing a genuine part in events as opposed to being a bombastic guest star in another person's adventure. Alongside Fury are the returning fan favourite Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and new supporting character Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) - who doesn't get a lot to do but whose inclusion presents an interesting option for writers of the probable sequels, for those that know her from the books.
'The Avengers' succeeds on every level it's trying to and gets everything right when it comes to making the ideal comic book movie. The various superpowers are used (and combined) imaginatively, the balance between action and dialogue is perfect, and Hiddleston's villain is deliciously charismatic, every bit as entertaining as the heroes. The gags work and even moments of pathos find the target when they arrive. It's a very different beast to Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight' - commonly acknowledged as the holder of the "best comic book movie" crown - being unabashed, escapist fun rather than a rumination on The Patriot Act or an exploration of how a costumed vigilante might really be viewed by the world as we know it. But in being so proud of its pulpy routes, giving us daring deeds painted broadly and in bright colours - as Norse gods battle men in Star-Spangled spandex - it's arguably a far braver and much tougher movie to get right. And Whedon gets it completely right, painting this epic battle on a suitably large canvas.
It helps that Whedon, a past writer of Marvel comics (notably an acclaimed run on Astonishing X-Men) knows and loves this world. From a fan point of view, he ensures that Captain America takes the lead rather than the more commercially popular Iron Man and that S.H.E.I.L.D's motives are uncertain, with the organisation not truly trusted by the gang. He knows that fans want to see Thor smash his hammer upon Cap's shield and see Iron Man hold his own against the Asgardian prince and promptly delivers this spectacle without it seeming like the most cynical act of fan service, probably because he wants to see all this just as much.
'Marvel Avengers Assemble', known internationally as 'The Avengers', is out now in the UK, rated '12A' by the BBFC.