The Avengers assemble a smashing success
With less than two weeks until its UK release, Marvel’s The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble, as it’s needlessly being touted in this land) is just about ready for release. Why just about? Well, last night’s “fan screening” was presented in glorious 2D, so this review won’t be able to offer any insight into how effective the 3D version is or isn’t. Then there’s that extra scene Robert Downey Jr mentioned that was to be shot following the premiere (which Marvel studios producer Kevin Feige sheds a bit of light on here). Still, with 99% off the pieces in place, it’s easy enough to make a call on Joss Whedon’s super super-hero film The Avengers.
Bringing together an all-star cast of characters with an all-star cast of actors was never going to be an enviable task, yet writer/director Whedon manages to make it look easy across the 2+ hour run-time. It would certainly behoove the viewer to have seen the films that have led to The Avengers, especially Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America: The First Avenger as little time is spent re-introducing the central figures, as Whedon focuses on continuing their stories and their personal growth. A great example of this is seen in Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) response to the new threat posed in The Avengers by his embittered brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). In the spirit of teamwork, here’s a look at how The Avengers work once they’re assembled.
Iron Man/Tony Stark: It was expected that The Avengers would become the Robert Downey Jr show and while his charisma stands head and shoulders above his colleagues, Stark does not dominate the proceedings. It’s the nature of his character that enables him to get the sharpest one-liners, but in numerous ways Iron Man meets his equals in the Avengers and Whedon has ensured that Downey Jr doesn’t overshadow the rest of his cast.
Thor: Despite a late introduction into The Avengers, he makes a quick impact. His scenes with Loki directly continue their conflict from 2011’s Thor and portray a more mature, humble god of thunder. Hemsworth is as good, if not better than he was in his debut in the role. He also gets what may be the film’s best one-liner, though there is stiff competition from Stark in that race.
Captain America: Without much time to spend on how Steve Rogers is adjusting to the culture shock of the 21st century, Chris Evans spends most of his time taking charge as a tactical field general whilst Cap displays an assured confidence, playing a key role in truly bringing the Avengers together. Thankfully, along the way, there are some fun asides playing up his anachronistic origins.
Hawkeye/Clint Barton: Lacking his own feature film to set the stage, Jeremy Renner was at risk of being lost in the background as the sharp-eyed archer. However, a masterstroke by Whedon early in the game ensures that Barton is a significant player throughout the plot. Without super powers, the success of the character is largely on Renner’s shoulders and he provides a captivating performance that helps to even the playing field for Hawkeye amongst the stacked cast.
Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff: The most minor role of the Avengers here, Scarlett Johansson makes the most of what is asked of her, even when it borders on the absurd (such as her opening scene) or firmly eclipses it (a hijack sequence later in the film). The highlight is a terrific exchange with Hiddleston that hits the mark spectacularly.
That finally leaves Bruce Banner and his alter-ego The Hulk. As the third actor to fill the good doctor’s shoes in as many films, Mark Ruffalo knocks it out of the proverbial park. His Banner is entirely compelling and the rapport he has with fellow science geek Stark provides some of the The Avergers’ most engaging scenes. It’s enough to crave a pairing of the two in a future film. The flip side of that is how the character of The Hulk still seems to present problems to film-makers, even Joss Whedon. There are some serious plot inconsistencies here that detract from the enjoyability of The Hulk. Can Banner control his monstrous side? Whedon himself doesn’t seem to be sure and utilises the character as is convenient to the plot. The uneven presentation is frustrating, to say the least. Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in watching The Hulk do what he does best and he gets a brutally brilliant, laugh-out-loud moment in the final act that bears repeated viewings.
Of course, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki deserves mention. If he was good in Thor, Hiddleston is fabulous here. Brimming with snide arrogance, Loki appears to be savouring each tiny detail of his plan as it unfolds. Watching Hiddleston sink his teeth into the role is an absolute thing of beauty.
Then there’s the story itself. There’s a lot going on here but Whedon proves himself to be a master of balance and it comes off remarkably well. Internal conflict is rife in the first two acts and enables The Avengers to be highly entertaining when the focus isn’t on the set pieces. By the final act, all hell breaks loose and it provides a near overdose of action. The effects look superb and it’s an absolute blast even if there are some plot holes of concern. Not to be forgotten is the comedic side of The Avengers. As loosely referred to above, the film’s frequent attempts at humour deliver each and every time and do so without disrupting the tone of the plot. It’s a real triumph.
Full of vibrant colours and a shiny blockbuster gloss, The Avengers is a visual treat that delivers a fantastic, slightly flawed, comic book story on the big screen. Whedon deserves a floating-boatload of credit for managing to balance the screen time of the individual Avengers (plus Samuel L Jackson’s excellent SHIELD director Nick Fury and Clark Gregg’s reliable Agent Coulson) and tying in elements of the previous films along with other Marvel comic references. With plenty of action and an abundance of laughs to be had, The Avengers is the definitive popcorn flick of 2012. 8.5/10
Check out our Avengers Assemble European premiere report and photos from London.