Dir. Joss Whedon
After five quasi-prequels of varying quality and as many Samuel L. Jackson post-credit cameos, Joss Whedon’s long-awaited Avengers Assemble finally arrived late last week. I had spent the days leading up to the film’s New Picture House premiere watching its constituent preludes, worried that I would perhaps be disoriented or disadvantaged by not having seen any of the movies tied in to Marvel’s comic book behemoth. Of course, I needn’t have fretted. Like all of its predecessors, the plot in Avengers Assemble is pretty much irrelevant; what matters are its snappy dialogue, thrilling action sequences, and the self-deprecating sense of humour that has become a staple since Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. These elements, combined with Whedon’s deft direction and a constantly rotating cast of charismatic heroes, ensure that Avengers Assemble more than lives up to its extraordinary hype.
The premise is predictably simple, but unquestionably effective: an international crisis (something to do with a glowing cube) requires a team of dysfunctional superheroes to unite, put aside their differences, and save humanity, in between throwing one-liners at each other. Each of the six Avengers is (re)introduced in their own vignette, before being flung swiftly together to begin bickering and knocking seven bells out of each other, with both forms of engagement proving equally entertaining. Robert Downey Jr.’s wonderfully dry Tony Stark was unsurprisingly the source of much gleeful tittering from the wildly enthusiastic audience at the NPH, but Mark Ruffalo also deserves credit for his role as the affable Bruce Banner, whose internal battle with his Hulk alter ego provides the film with its closest thing to a serious character study. The whole ensemble is aided greatly by the choice of Tom Hiddleston’s demigod Loki as the film’s terrifically brooding antagonist. A snarling, spiteful, vindictive villain, his thespian malice is perfectly suited to the impeccably caricatured comic book world Whedon and Co. have constructed.
Admittedly Avengers Assemble has some problems: it’s over-long, and though the script hits far more than it misses, there are a few jokes that don’t quite make the grade; however it’s undeniably refreshing to see a superhero movie that is so endearingly unpretentious and self-aware. It consistently takes itself just seriously enough for you to give a damn, before producing a brilliantly bathetic moment of slapstick to restore the natural order.
Ultimately, Avengers Assemble delights in revelling in its own absurdity. It’s the anti-Dark Knight: loud, brash and hugely entertaining; a superhero movie that doesn’t bother to burrow into the psyche of its characters and recognises that it doesn’t need to. With the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s sober Batman trilogy looming large among the summer’s blockbuster releases, Avengers Assemble is a timely reminder of the fun there is to be had when a superhero movie acknowledges, and embraces, the genre’s clichés.