Joss Whedon delivers the best film of the year so far, a truly brilliant blockbuster.
Marvel’s superhero team The Avengers were long considered one of those properties with the tag “unfilmable”. How could one film bring together so many disparate heroes and weave a coherent story within the confines of a standard running time? Thankfully, “unfilmable” to many means a challenge to others, and writer/ director Joss Whedon has proven just the man to bring the super-ensemble to the screen. You can rest easy folks, Whedon absolutely nails this one.
The plot is fairly straightforward – Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) rocks up on Earth and starts causing all manner of trouble, looking to bring forth an alien army to dominate the world. Cue Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) Avengers Initiative bringing together the greatest heroes on Earth in the planet’s defence. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are thrust into an initially uneasy alliance in order to face this new threat.
The most commendable aspect of Avengers Assemble comes from Whedon’s expertly constructed screenplay. Not only does his typically snappy dialogue fizz between the various characters, but more importantly each Avenger is given a fair share of screen time, and everybody gets at least one crowd-pleasing moment. To juggle six main characters alongside various strong supporting roles is quite a feat, and even the potentially sidelined members of the group, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are given plenty to do here.
Indeed, they form some of the most compelling parts of the film – Hawkeye hardly appeared in any of the promotional material, yet Renner’s tough charisma nails his scenes. Johansson benefits greatly from working with Whedon, renowned for creating strong female roles, with a controlled turn which even finds time to gloriously send up misconceptions of what her character’s place in the film would be.
Downey Jr, Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Evans all slip into their familiar roles with no problems, allowing their already fleshed-out characters to form entertaining and genuinely funny relationships. The four all share scenes to great effect, but the real scene stealer in Avengers Assemble is Ruffalo. Even before we get a glimpse of “The other guy” (Who Ruffalo also plays in mo-cap mode), Bruce Banner is portrayed as an uneasy boffin, with Ruffalo’s natural charm perfectly capturing the calm demeanour which hides the infamous raging spirit that dwells within him. Of course, when all hell breaks loose and he loses his temper, the big green fella gets some awesome moments, including two of the finest character beats in cinema this year. In a strong ensemble cast, Ruffalo just edges ahead as the most impressive here - an inspired piece of casting in the first film portrayal to have approached the character properly.
The whole film serves as a perfect example of what a blockbuster should be. Never going too “dark”, a refreshing sense of humour anchors the whole thing, with some air-punching action punctuated by real belly laughs courtesy of the characters. Whedon wisely looks past the personas of Captain America or Iron Man, to the people inside the suits, and the bristling chemistry between the cast paves the way for some truly funny exchanges.
Of course, no film is flawless – the first half an hour understandably feels a little disjointed as the characters come together – but this is completely excusable when the results of the slightly stuttering establishing scenes come about. The final act in particular, which we have seen much of in the trailer, is a battle scene of truly epic proportions, with a tremendous sense of scale and adrenaline-pumping action coming together to form what may just be a perfect 45 minutes or so of superhero cinema. Exciting and fast-paced, Avengers Assemble squeezes every last drop it possibly can into a two and a half hour running time that never feels too long.
The shot in the arm that major blockbusters have needed, Avengers Assemble is comfortably our favourite film of the year so far, and easily the strongest Marvel film to date. With plenty to offer both fans and newbies alike, the minor flaws of the first half are soon forgotten as the action reaches an incredible climax. Strongly acted, sharply written and laugh-out-loud funny, this is an ensemble piece that is so much more than the sum of its parts.