Saturday 5 May 2012


Marvel's epic in scale superhero smackdown The Avengers (or Marvel Avengers Assemble depending on where in the world you live) is now in cinemas. But after so many years of hype building, can it possibly meet such high expectations?

Well, pretty much yes. Fair play to Marvel Studio's head honcho Kevin Feige for taking the massive gamble of putting this film in the hands of Joss Whedon. An extremely talented scriptwriter and cultural behemoth for sure, but with only one previous big screen directorial credit (the crowd-pleasing Firefly spin-off Serenity), hardly the most seasoned of directors to put in charge. Thankfully, not only has the gamble paid off, but it'd be hard to imagine this film made by anyone else.

Filled with the sense of humour and character definition you'd expect from Joss Whedon, the film is irreverent, pop-culture happy at times, and with all the characters injected with a wit I'm sure Marvel would like to see carried over to the separate franchises. As Thor attempts to defend his brother Loki before being informed by Black Widow that he killed 80 people in two days, he quips "he's adopted". Just from re-writing scripts alone, Joss Whedon's going to be a busy boy.

Although it is a clear advantage to have seen the films that led up to this almighty amalgamation of the franchises, it's not impenetrable to audiences to haven't. They've made the smart move of not over complicating the plot, basing it around Loki's desire to rule over Earth as revenge for being slighted by his brother, Thor. Enter Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury to "assemble" together his rogues gallery of super-powered soldiers to stop Loki and his soon to arrive army.

As for using Loki as the big bad, all I can say is move over Alan Rickman, there's a new chief pantomime villain in town in the form of Tom Hiddleston. Building high upon the promise he showed in last year's Thor, Loki turns out to be a delicious bastard of a bad guy, complete with over the top theatrics that almost have you rooting for him to win. Not only does he ham up the screen at every given opportunity, he gets to deliver one of the most vulgar insults I've ever heard, never mind the 12A certificate. I can't repeat it without blushing, but you'll know it when you hear it.

Somehow The Avengers has managed to avoid being the Iron Man and Pals film many thought it would turn out to be. Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man may be front and centre on a lot of the promotional artwork, but given that franchise's success, it's to be expected. As for The Avengers it's a pretty fair playing field with each character able to bring their own specific skills to the group. Chris Evans' Captain America may be a man out of time, but his military strategising can't be faulted. Chris Hemsworth's Thor may be a long way from home but he brings a lot of strength. He's a god for chrissakes.

As you'd expect with so many ego's flying around (literally), it often ends in fisticuffs between the characters, feeding fanboy wish fulfillment by doling out some Deadliest Warrior style face offs between the main Avengers crew. If you've ever wondered who would win in a fight between Thor and Hulk, you finally get to find out. How about Iron Man versus Thor? Yeah, that too. Sod Battleship being the biggest film this year based on a game, this is the cinematic equivalent of Marvel Top Trumps.

Despite being the only actor involved to have not appeared in any of the other films that were building up to The Avengers, Mark Ruffalo is a most welcome addition, often coming across as the most likeable and well rounded of the bunch. Not only is his mo-capped Hulk the best big screen incarnation yet, Bruce Banner gets to bring his all important scientific expertise to the group. Form an orderly queue ladies, Brains and Muscles. The Hulk may not make an appearance until way into the film, but when he does it's a tortured and dramatic one. That's not to say we've got the same dark, introverted Hulk as before. In one glorious scene whilst facing off against Loki, he provides what may be the film's funniest and most enjoyable moment.

There's also a surprising degree of character growth for Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. No longer the window dressing she was in Iron Man 2, she's a welcome addition to the otherwise boy's club that is The Avengers. That also applies to Clark Gregg's Agent (Phil) Coulson, until now a borderline annoying character who was the only connective tissue between all of the franchises, his sweetly innocent and knowingly deadpan SHIELD agent reaches his character's high point in this film.

It's a fantastic platform for all of Marvel's characters, whether they have their own franchise or not. Some will clearly be carrying on in series of their own (Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and Captain America 2 have already been confirmed), but they're all part of the same universe now, so I wouldn't be surprised to see certain characters crossing paths in the future.

That is, of course, until we see them back together in The Avengers 2, at this point a certainty. It's almost annoying to know that we'll have to get some of the character sequels out of the way before we can see them all back together on screen again, but hopefully if they involve Whedon, they can all be as enjoyable as this. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has now been given a healthy dose of the Whedonverse, and that's no bad thing.


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