With less than a week to go until The Avengers finally assemble in the UK, I thought it prudent to share some thoughts on the finished product. Yes, you may turn green with envy (but not anger), but it is true, I am indeed part of a privileged faction who have seen the finished film. Disney made me sign an embargo lasting until 20th April, so only now are us journo-types allowed to publish reviews (much like Simon did yesterday).
Not wanting to spoil too much, or give away any plot details, I’d still like to evaluate Joss Whedon’s efforts. In five simple steps, I’d like to illustrate why I think that Avengers Assemble might just be the definitive comic book movie to date.
1. Make ‘em Laugh
Joss Whedon is well known for his pithy writing, so it should come as no surprise that the film is littered with, what I like to call, “crowd humour”. Back in the day, Shakespeare would have his actors turn to the crowd during plays, and express witty one-liners or glances like running jokes. Although Whedon might not quite be up to the standard of The Bard (ironically his next film is an adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing), he definitely has a knack for peppering dialogue with belly gripping gags.
You’d be forgiven for assuming that Robert Downey Jr has all the best jokes: and he does get some corkers (i.e: when addressing Thor, “Hey, Point Break.”) But pretty much everyone get 15 minutes of stand-up. Whedon hones the comedy, utilising an ability to use each character’s familiar traits to create jokes. Hulk and Thor get physical comedy, Iron Man insults pretty much everyone, Black Widow’s sexuality becomes funny, Nick Fury’s no-nonsense attitude creates lightness, and even Captain America finds time to quip whilst ‘leading’ the team.
It’s in this embrace of mirth, that Whedon brings us instantly closer to each Superhero. Sometimes it’s hard to see grown men in blue spandex as anything but a bit humorous, so why not let them in on the gag? True, most comic book films have humour, but it is often hidden amongst the angst and drama of their daily lives. Christopher Nolan has easily crated the magnum opus of comic adaptations with The Dark Knight. But even the most diehard fans can tire of the films relentless downbeat tone. What Whedon does with Avengers Assemble is say: “yes, I see it’s all a little bit ridiculous. So let’s lighten to mood.”
In laughing at and with these characters, we readily accept them a little bit more. It humanises them, and makes us want to be a part of their world. And isn’t that what these people were created for in the first place?
2. Big Bang Theory
Do you know who coined the phrase, “more bang for your buck”? It was U.S Defence Secretary Charles E. Wilson, in 1954. Since then, many filmmakers and studios have lived by the ideal that a big film should have increasingly bigger set pieces. Avengers Assemble is definitely not lagging in the explosions, firepower, and death ray department. But what is different here, is that the film doesn’t really crescendo or boil over into ‘big battle’. Granted, the finale is ridiculously huge, and does ‘reveal’ the impending threat that has been hinted at for 90 minutes. However, it just feels like a slightly bigger version of what has come before: and that is great. The film opens with an underground sonic implosion, then goes on to a forest levelling punch up, then to a mile high dog fight/shoot out/fist fight/explosion, and manages to fit some immense spectacles in between, all before getting anywhere near the final showdown.
In superhero lore, every fight should be a massive one. There are no ‘degrees of destruction’. This is something that many comic book adaptations have failed to recognise, and action has often been tempered out of adherence to filmic traditions. This rulebook is pretty much out the window in this example, and instead of being drip fed tasters of an ultimate fight, we are force fed patterns of just what to expect. Whedon is in the wonderful position of not needing origin stories – they are already there. All we want to know is, “who would win in a fight between…?” And we get an answer to pretty much any combination you can think of. Glorious!
3. It’s Not a Set-up
Remember when Iron-Man film was first released? The film had no real allusion to the rest of the Marvel universe – except for a short post credit cameo. Since then, it has felt like every Marvel film has been about setting up something bigger. Thor was all about explaining Captain America. Captain America felt like a set-up for The Avengers. And Iron-Man 2 was one long advertisement for all of the above. Then there was The Incredible Hulk…a lame attempt at escaping, in my opinion, the setting of a much better predecessor.
For those concerned that the format will continue here, fear not. Yes, there are suggestions at ‘what will happen next’. But they come very sparingly. We do get a sense that Tony Stark has something on the horizon, but only through back-story. There is an inclination that S.H.I.E.L.D will evolve, but only a fleeting mention. Many are talking about Hulk sequels or Hawkeye spin-offs, and they could happen. But Avengers Assemble is certainly not used as a platform for self-fulfilling prophecies.
This lack of foresight adds a refreshing immediacy to the film. We are less focused on what’s coming and more fixated on what’s happening. One can imagine that no one really knew whether this was going to be a onetime only deal, and you can really feel that it has been treated as such. Everyone who is a part of Avengers Assemble, has given it their all. A genuine, balls to the walls, all or nothing attempt at making something top notch: an adaptation of something special, rather than a setting for further franchises.
4. Good Guys Really Are More Interesting
In all honesty, other than Tony Stark and Wolverine, have any superheroes on celluloid ever really been interesting to watch? I’d argue ‘no’. Most comic book heroes end up being catalysts for unique visions or far more engaging villains. What is with that? These comics are named after the hero, because they are supposed to be the ones we root for. Not the bad guys.
Whedon very clearly recognised that short coming, and pulls out all the stops with Avengers Assemble to make the heroes the true….heroes of the film. Whedon uses tension, comedy, action and shifting allegiances to make our endowed protagonists engaging.
There is one scene where Whedon literally throws everything in his arsenal at us (pun, coincidental) Yes; it is all well a good to have moody and damaged champions. But sometimes, its even better to have human beings experiencing human interactions with the benefit of super powers. What this means is that when Thor threatens to punch a hole in Bruce Banner’s face, we think “now that’s a pub fight I’d love to see.”
The offset of this is that Loki becomes very much a background character. His existence in the film becomes the inverse of the many villains who have come before. Loki turns out to be a magnet for the plot, and a recipe book for the right ingredients. Avengers Assemble happens around Loki, rather than through him. But that’s ok; because we pay to see the big green guy and the dude in the robot suit kick some ass, not to listen to the pompous emigrant from Asgard camp it up. If the Joker and Lex Luther are the best things about the DC film universe, then consider the Avengers some stiff competition from the Marvel one.
5. Ho, Ho, Ho. Green Giant
“Yes”, is the answer to your question. The Hulk gets his moment in the sun. Surprisingly, the appearance of Hulk becomes something of a standout moment in the film. It’s not a case that we like him more than the others, but rather than his contribution to the dynamic of the group generates completion.
If Eric Bana’s Hulk was the embodiment of anger, and Ed Norton’s was a representation of despair. Then Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk is control. The arrival of the green goliath marks anticipation for the character, and for the first time since his transfer from page to screen, Hulk becomes a definitive representation of what fan boys always wanted. There is a point when he turns and decimates a villain with one punch. You could literally feel the electricity in the cinema, and I could hear Whedon remarking in victory, “check mate” – a perfect depiction of an iconic character.
After the dust settled and the burly monster stood over his prey – the excitement had steadied, and a quick thought entered my mind. Maybe the reason he works so well in Avengers Assemble, is because Hulk might not be a three-dimensional enough character to carry an entire movie…then he goes mental and decimates hordes of aliens, and the thought leaves me. I feel embarrassed to even ponder such a thing, and get angry at myself. But I don’t turn green and outgrow my trousers, I just look up at the mounting destruction on the screen and gleefully whisper; “Hulk, smash.”
Make sure you read our review of The Avengers here;