Archive Review – “The Avengers”/”Avengers Assemble” (Director: Joss Whedon)

Review first published 28/04/12

Remember that little cube from “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”, The Tesseract.  Well, you’ll also remember that it became an item of interest to S.H.I.E.L.D. and it’s director, Nick Fury.

Problem is, it’s also of interest to Loki, brother of Asgardian demigod Thor, and he will stop at nothing in his plans to unleash it’s power in his quest to conquer Earth.

But Fury has a plan to create a team made up of people with extraordinary abilities… assuming that the team’s members will co-operate long enough to not tear each other apart.

Well, this is the film that people have been looking forward to, tweeting about and reviewing at present.  I’ve certainly been looking forward to it as I was a major Marvel geek in my teens.  (Spidey was and still is my favourite superhero, hands down).

So, without spoiling it for the people who haven’t seen it in the UK and where it isn’t available yet including, very surprisingly given where the original comic book was produced, the United States, what did I think?  I have to come down on the side of saying that it is a very solid, very well crafted film.  But is it worthy of the hype that’s being lavished upon it? Then my answer would have to be, “No”.

Now, before I have a queue of Marvel fans lining up to my door with pitchforks and flaming torches, I’ll explain myself.

Firstly, the tone of the film is set very much by Buffy and Angel creator, Joss Whedon. Rather than this being a film where the team comes together and runs like clockwork, Whedon, along with fellow scripter Zak Penn, has created a team that is a dysfunctional, argumentative, squabbling bunch. Basically, a team with real personalities – albeit real personalities with super powers – and personality issues.

As befitting his personality in the two “Iron Man” films, Robert Downey Jr. dominates the proceedings in his role as Tony Stark.  He is the rebellious “teenager” of this family unit who challenges authority and seeks to do things his way.  Downey Jr. lights up the screen with a glib remark along with some great scenes where he displays some great acting chops, in particular a quiet scene with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner on why the abilities they have may not be a curse but a blessing and the face off with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki that has been partially seen on trailers and scene excerpts doing the rounds.

As I said in a review last year, Chris Evans was born to portray Steve Rogers and his alter ego, Captain America.  Evans gives the character a quality which is of a man who is frustrated by being a man away from the time that he was born and lived in.  He also carries off the values that “Cap” represents – virtue, loyalty, leadership, humility and bravery.  Evans also gets the opportunity to play the older, more responsible “brother” to Stark and it was interesting to see the counterpoint between Rogers’s values born from the 1930’s and Tony’s jaded values where he sees conspiracy wherever he goes.

Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is left a little to the sidelines as is Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow (although she does get a great homage to “Silence Of The Lambs” with Loki) and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.  However, they do get their moments to shine and I hope that, in the event of a sequel, these three characters get more to do.

But what about Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, you may ask?  Well, I wanted to leave my favourite for last.  Ruffalo delivers the best cinematic portrayal of Banner and, through the use of performance capture, “The Green Goliath” or, as Banner calls him, “The Other Guy”.

What you get from Ruffalo’s portrayal of Banner is a man seeking peace but who is fully aware that as soon as he becomes part of the investigation into the Tesseract, there is a risk of his alter ego coming out to play.  Whilst playing Banner as a twitchy, nervous man, he does get some moments of comedy and pathos – paricularly in his dealings with the Black Widow which led me to feel that there were either guilt issues on the part of her for putting him in this situation or something deeper between the two and I hope that this gets explored further.

In short, I would say that although there have been three modern day cinematic portrayals of Banner, Mark Ruffalo portrays the humanity of the character the best and, for mine, he is the natural heir to the late, great Bill Bixby’s portrayal of the role.

Samuel L. Jackson is fitting in his role as Fury.  Not only as the film’s authority figure, but as a man who has to keep secrets, such is the nature of his profession, and who will play by his own rules.

Tom Hiddleston picks up where he left off in his role of Loki – arrogant, power hungry, mischievous and spiteful.  Whilst he’s not as physically imposing as the heroes, he dominates the scenes that he is in with his voice and facial expressions which gives his character an air of threat and menace.

The special effects are fantastic to look at, especially the performance captured version of the Hulk, which is the best of the three cinematic excursions of the character – every facial movement, muscle movement and… this Hulk has comedic moments too!!!

The direction matches the pace of the film, frenetic and using tricks like slo-mo and hand held shots to capture the impact of the film.

The script is on the main, well paced, but there is a little bit of lag in the middle where there are times where you’re waiting for something to happen.  Now, I know that there has to be times where the audience has to get the opportunity to pause for breath in a film like this, but in a film like this a lot depends on keeping the audience moving.

Basically, you need to approach this film as a Summer popcorn film in it’s own right and don’t fall into the trap of over-hype.  Yes, it’s a very well made, well crafted film and you can tell it’s a labour of love for Whedon and all involved.  However, it doesn’t offer anything different to set it apart from other superhero actioners, except for more “big” personalities on screen.

A great start for this year’s Summer season.

Rating: 4/5

As a little link to comic books in general, those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I’m a massive Whovian and this month sees the release of the first part of the Doctor Who/Star Trek: The Next Generation crossover, “Assimilation2” pitting The Eleventh Doctor and “The Ponds” alongside the crew of the Enterprise-D against the joint forces of The Borg and The Cybermen.  Here are the covers for the first two issues, plus the exclusive Forbidden Planet variant cover which can be ordered here and will be signed by Tony Lee.

Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation #1 (Product Image)Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation #2 (Product Image)Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who #1 (Forbidden Planet Variant) (Product Image)

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