AVENGERS ASSEMBLE – 5th May 2012
I would like to preface any comments i have regarding this movie with a confession, i never thought The Avengers Assemble would ever happen. Even when Marvel started to weave the characters and films together (rather cock handedly i thought) i still felt it would be a step too far. The main problem (or so i thought) would be to balance the characters and actors. Indeed, the very thought of Robert Downey Jnr, Edward Norton (replaced here by the excellent Mark Ruffalo), Chris Evans and Samuel L Jackson in the same film is enough to melt even the hardened fanboys little heart. However, this prematurely perceived problem is definitely the films major strength, the way Joss Whedon (finally getting his props) allows each character their space to shine whilst adhering to the ‘confines’ of the super group is exemplary. None of the team are ever neglected, no matter how varied or relative their strengths seem to be. The obvious odd men out here, Hawkeye and Black Widow, get just as much screen time both kicking ass and burping exposition as Stark or Banner do. Its this care and attention that gives the movie its weight, that even when we are watching a 20 minute slew of explosions and flying kicks, we are still pondering the fragile dynamics of the group.
The action sequences, although never particularly groundbreaking, are never the less engaging and well-conceived. The shining example of this is the emergence of the Hulk. The Hulk has had a checkered cinematic past (from all out disaster to utter mediocrity) and its nice to see him finally get the treatment he deserves. Firstly, we get the fragile, brilliant and a little kooky Dr Banner. We are inundated with references to his dangerous ‘other self’, which serves to amp up the excitement for the eventual breakout of Banners monstrous alter ego. We really get a sense of how dangerous The Hulk is, everyone on the team seems all to aware of his power none more so than Banner himself. Watching The Hulk single handedly take down one of the larger shark-like alien spacecrafts was utterly intoxicating and left me reeling with fanboy excitement. The bench mark for marrying visual effects and emotion in this type of movie was Spiderman 2, to my mind at least. It was the perfect balance between caring for Peter Parker and believing in the power and importance of his alter ego. That’s exactly what we get in spades here, whether its watching Thor whipping up a storm, Iron Man deploying his TnT or Captain America wielding his starry shield we still actually like and care about the characters.
Another particular strength is the films humour. Since Batman Begins we have been told that movies have to be darker, edgier and more realistic and whilst i love Batman Begins (and its sequel) i am growing tired of the trend. Here we have a movie that is peppered with fragrant, wholesome humour. Most of this is supplied by everyone’s favourite smart arse Tony Stark, his witty one liners prop up some of the more lengthy expository scenes and give them a welcoming zip. Also present is Whedons own brand of silly visual comedy which he honed on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the such. A few scenes continue past the usual action or emotional beat to great comedic effect. For example, after watching Hulk and Thor beat on a few faceless baddies we watch as they recover, Whedon has us stay around just long enough to see Hulk knock Thor across the room with a single punch. The moment is simple but so effective, it breaks up any monotony accumulated in the drawn out action sequences, breathing fresh air into the proceedings.
Everyone (without exception) comes out of the film with their heads held high, even Scarlett Johansson impressed me as the manipulative Russian spy (Black Widow) and that is something i never thought i would say. I hear the argument that all the actors represented here aren’t doing anything taxing or game changing but no matter how frivolous the entertainment may be, it still takes some craft and heart to make the world believable. Although, its Mark Ruffalo that steals the show as the tetchy Bruce Banner. It might be down to the unique fact that we have seen a few incarnations of this particular character over the years and therefore have a solid reference point(s) in which to examine Ruffalo’s performance. Its his awkwardness that is the key to this performance, we had always seen Bruce as a gifted but tortured soul. Here Ruffalo plays it smoother, we get a man who is seemingly confident, articulate but broken. Finally, Banner is painted as intense and weird, not sappy and tortured. It seems then, that he is always one step from the Hulk (as he states a one point in the film). The Hulk element isn’t portrayed so much as an accident (as in previous incarnations) but as a dangerous personality trait of Banner himself amplified by an unfortunate incident. This is a much more allegorical reading of the character and a much more intelligent one. It is far too easy to write him off as an experiment gone wrong and ditch him as such. Banner learns to control his inner demon as we all must and tries to follow the path of the righteous man, well, as much as he can anyway.
This film easily represents the most satisfying installment of the super hero movie genre. That’s not to say its the quintessential super hero movie, but its the most watchable and enjoyable movie of its kind. It doesn’t have The Dark Knight’s brooding intellect nor does it have Watchemen’s genre critique but what it does have is all out fun. I couldn’t believe leaving the cinema that the film was a whopping 2hrs 20minutes long, this is testament to the scripts strength and the films charm and charisma. Judging by the films opening box office receipts, i don’t think i need to urge anybody to go see this movie but if its simple, loud fun you want you absolutely, positively cant go wrong with The Avengers Assemble. It’s a HULK SMASH.