By Ben Keightley
Avengers Assemble might just be Josh Whedon’s finest hour. As the creator of Buffy, Angel, Firefly and a host of other excellent TV shows there isn’t another director/writer better equipped or qualified to handle the behemoths that are Iron Man, Thor, Hulk & Captain America all in one film.
Historically comic book films suffer when they have too many characters, Spider-man 3 being a recent case in point. On the other hand the X-Men films worked mainly because each film focused on Wolverine as the central hero around which the other characters played supporting roles.
None of that for the Avengers. A film in which each member is vital and necessary for the teams success. Where there is no main character but rather an ensemble cast where each character is given their own arc and where each arc is subtly and intrinsically interwoven with the main plot of the film.
That Whedon over achieves so much is credit to his writing and directing. Avengers Assemble is the most super of superhero films ever created. And by definition it therefore may well be the greatest comic book film of all time.
The story itself is simple and pure comic book fare. Loki wants to bring mankind to its knees and needs the Tesseract (feature of both Thor & Captain America films), a source of unlimited power, in order to achieve his evil scheme. Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D bring together Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain America in an attempt to thwart Loki’s plans to destroy the world.
Whedon uses this simple premise as the launchpad for a film less concerned with plot and story than with character. Avengers works mainly because Whedon allows each character multiple times to shine, both as superheros but also as people. The film never gets bogged down in turgid exposition or lost in a story too convoluted to keep up with.
Like Marvel’s recent lead-in films to Avengers, much of the film is about the men behind the mask. Some of the most enjoyable scenes are with the entire cast on screen bantering, bickering and fighting with each. It’s a pleasure seeing Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlet Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson share the screen together.
Robert Downey Jr is typically superb and relishes Whedon’s witty dialogue. Chris Evans develops further as Captain America, a stranger in this new modern world and the most straight-laced of the bunch. Chris Hemsworth (easily the least major star in the film) looks comfortable with arguably the most difficult character. What with Thor being a God, his outlook, appearance and demeanor feels very different the rest of the team and of everyone his performance could have been the weak spot. Then there is Mark Ruffalo. Instantly the best Hulk of the big screen, he brings his usual understated charm to a character who is possibly the most empathetic of them all. With Hulk though Whedon unleashes the best incarnation of the character ever. Whedon’s Hulk is ripped straight out of the comic books and the film reaches its most exhilarating moments when he’s on screen.
Supporting the superheros are Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow who is dramatically improved following her brief role in Iron Man 2 and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye (seen ever so briefly in Thor). Both are given moments to shine and easily hold their own against the actual superheros.
Samuel L. Jackson, given his biggest role as Nick Fury, is superb. Cool, tough but also pragmatic and wise. It’s Jackson’s best performance in years.
On the other side is Tom Hiddelston’s Loki. Superb in Thor, here he achieves new heights. His gravitas and presence really makes him feel Godly, and he holds his own against everyone else on screen. Most comic book films are usually only as good as their villains and although Loki isn’t quite the best, Hiddleston delivers a great performance and Whedon writes a genuinely dangerous villain.
Comic book films are almost always defined by their great action sequences and Avengers never once disappoints. Each action scene is not only extremely ambitious, explosive and fraught with genuine danger, but also helps progress the story and reveal character. There were more occasions than I can remember where I wanted to punch the sky. In fact I spent much of the film wondering how they could possibly top what I’d just seen. They did, every time.
Whedon’s strength as a writer from Buffy to Firefly was always the humour he infused in his stories and here is no exception. Each character has its own moment to shine (Downey Jr perhaps a few more than most) and its this genuine humour and light-heartedness which makes the film so irresistible. In an age where comic book films seem intent on being dark and brooding, Whedon has successfully found a way to offer serious peril and sharp wit with lighter tone.
If the film has a fault its Loki’s underdeveloped hordes which are essentially canon fodder for our avenging heros. But to criticise the film for giving them more time and character would have either added to the already long running time and detracted from the focus of the film; the Avengers.
Avengers Assemble is near faultless comic book movie (barring a needless post credit sequel set-up) which at 2 1/2 hours never once feels long. It fizzes with ingenuity and jaw-dropping scenes the like of which no comic book film has achieved. Its rare that I leave the cinema happy to turn right back round and watch the same film again. With Avengers Assemble I felt I could do that three or four times. The film is everything a summer blockbuster should be and has set the bar extremely high for what could be a defining summer for comic book movies.