The Avengers finally assembles in cinemas and is a super-powered success, as writer-director Joss Whedon (Serenity) successfully controls an ensemble cast through big budget setpieces and fun, irreverent storytelling. It might not be The Avengers movie I had in mind – one that’s a tad darker with more powerful dramatic moments – but it’s hard to deny that Whedon’s take is blockbuster filming at its finest.
The sixth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), you’ll likely enjoy The Avengers more if you’re familiar with the previous entries in the series, which include Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. If there’s a weakness here it’s that the plot setup is actually fairly basic: Thor’s brother Loki appears on Earth and steals the Tesseract (the cosmic cube that first appeared in Thor‘s post-credits scene and then throughout Captain America) and attempts to use it to open a portal that would allow his alien army to invade.
This isn’t a detriment however, since it’s really only mere window dressing to the real story: the banding together of the Avengers themselves, a group of remarkable people brought together in a time of need to fight the battles humanity might otherwise lose. The problem is that these individuals don’t get along so much of the movie follows their internal headbutting and aggressive infighting. This allows for some great character development and lends a solid emotional centre to the proceedings, with Whedon’s talent for balancing multiple story threads clearly shining. The dialogue is particularly noteworthy, with buckets of witty banter and tongue-in-cheek character moments that are sure to delight – The Avengers made me laugh more than most ‘comedies’ I saw last year. Perhaps the Hulk should turn to stand-up?
Speaking of which, Mark Ruffalo replaces Edward Norton from The Incredible Hulk and presents us with the best silver screen interpretation of gamma radiation expert Dr. Bruce Banner. Ruffalo’s performance also extends to ‘the other guy’ he transforms into when he gets angry, as he was able to Hulk out through motion capture technology similar to what was used in Avatar. For the first time I could actually relate to the green beast, whereas previously the brute was too much of a rage monster for my tastes.
Meanwhile, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth put in amicable showings as Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Thor respectively, though they’re somewhat overshadowed by the titanic onscreen presence and innumerable charms of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark (who unsurprisingly received top billing). Similarly, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki continues to demonstrate why he’s my favourite villain in the current MCU lineup, this time coming across as a spoiled brat with a god complex throwing a temper tantrum even though his overall arc in The Avengers isn’t quite as compelling as the Shakespearian stuff that went down in Thor.
But it’s the rest of the cast that fills out the film. Scarlett Johansson reprises her Iron Man 2 role as assassin Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), and Jeremy Renner fulfils the promise of his cameo as Hawkeye in Thor. Both characters work for Nick Fury, the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D who coordinates the Avenger Initiative and is essentially a caricature of Samuel L. Jackson playing himself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but he isn’t given many moments to shine so doesn’t quite live up to his badass name. Friendly faces like Pepper Potts and Erik Selvig also turn up, the latter having a larger role than I was expecting (and maybe not as friendly).
That said, it’s Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D’s Agent Phil Coulson who surprises. I’ve always been a big fan of Coulson’s everyman agent since he first appeared in Iron Man. Since then he’s also been in Iron Man 2 and Thor as well as starred in two Marvel One Shot short films set within the MCU (these are available on the Thor and Captain America Blu-rays). Coulson gets some nice development here, including some wonderfully nerdy interactions with Captain America and is ultimately integral in helping the Avengers to come together as a team – a logical extension of his role in the previous films.
Whedon tops it all off with breathless setpieces that deftly balance action, drama and humour. There’s hardly any shaky cam and the action never outstays its welcome; The Avengers is very well paced. If anything, the aliens are a bit of a plot contrivance but at least they allow for an exciting climax set in New York (where else would it be?!). Alan Silvestri who composed the soundtrack for Captain America also provides a strong, supporting score that evokes ‘superhero’ without being cheesy. A word on the 3D: don’t bother. It’s not bad but it’s not particularly worthwhile either. The post-converted effect is just kind of ‘there’, existing solely to steal you of a few extra bucks. On the other hand, make sure you stick through the credits as there’s a mid-credit scene that you won’t want to miss.
The best superhero movie ever? Marvel’s The Avengers is certainly in contention and is regardless a shining, spangly, irradiated example of the genre (in a good sense, of course); a cinematic event and masterclass in blockbuster filmmaking.