The summer blockbuster season gets off to a whizz and a bang – not to mention a likely unmatchable benchmark – with Joss Whedon’s much-anticipated rendition of comic lore’s more celebrated supergroup, The Avengers (rather daftly renamed to Marvel’s Avengers Assemble in the UK). Tying the constituent elements together with a remarkable blend of humour, pathos and exhilaration, a superhero film has finally come along to stand alongside Christopher Nolan’s marvellous Batman films (although not quite challenge their greatness).
It is a given that those not acquainted with the standalone films featuring Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America and Thor are likely to find themselves a little lost during the opening expository moments (but if you see this unitiated, more fool you). The premise picks up where Captain America left off; the mysterious energy source known as the Tesseract, held in the custody of S.H.I.E.L.D, is stolen by Thor’s rogue brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in a devastating attack. In the wake of this, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) activates the Avengers Initiative, which requires the universe’s most powerful forces of good to band together and stop Loki from unleashing a savage alien race called the Chitauri upon Earth.
The Avengers might be the breeziest 143-minute film – blockbuster or otherwise – in recent memory, oweing to immaculate pacing from Whedon’s pen, causing the film – very much one of three distinct acts – to feel entirely complete yet loose and light on its feet all at the same time. Act one feels especially inspired, utilising the classic “men on a mission” schematic; Nick Fury recruits the various heroes to his cause, and there’s a distinct echo of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai in a few of these scenes, no doubt an inspiration in some form.
While one might expect that too many cooks would spoil the broth, Whedon has come up with a cleverly novel manner with which to give each hero their due; just as much as the Avengers battle Loki’s menacing army, they also fight each other. The super-sized egos create some hilarious exchanges during the downtime, and in fact, one might deem the film’s true arc to be that of them coming to co-exist. With Robert Downey Jr’s endless supply of charisma, it would have been very easy for The Avengers to become “Iron Man and Friends”, but Whedon smartly gives each character their individual moments to shine. Particularly credit is due for the stellar characterisation of The Hulk, who, recast for the third time in a decade – with the superbly-placed Mark Ruffalo, inarguably the best of the bunch – steals most of the scenes he is in, and will probably garner his own standalone film in the wake of this.
It is also worth singling out the depictions of Nick Fury and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg); their humanity and vulnerability helps ground the story in authentic emotional terms despite all of the absurdity going on. While the group’s master assassins Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are depicted as the naturally weaker of the active group, it is rather the distinct fragility of the two agents who help hammer home why we even need heroes at all.
Act three delivers the full-blown extravaganza fans have been salivating after, and while many blockbusters promise proplulsive, plentiful action, this is certainly one of the few recently which delivers just that. Set-pieces throughout this sprawling scene are divided by perfectly-placed morsels of uproarious humour, ensuring this is a film that never takes itself too seriously, yet has enough sustained threat and intensity that we still care about what is taking place on screen.
Like Nolan’s work in the superhero sphere, this is a film that has pretty much everything the fanbase could want; great performances, scintilating action sequences, wry wit, and a knowing interpretation of a medium that too often can’t nail the correct tone. Whedon, who can seem to do little wrong recently, has once again reinforced his reputation as a writer of great humanism and hilarity, and now, he also establishes himself as a hyper-capable director of impossibly large-scaled, crackling action pictures.
Delivering more heart, wit and intellect than any other previous Marvel offering, The Avengers demonstrates that the sum of the parts is definitely worth the cost of assembly. This super-charged blockbuster is a mammoth spectacle which takes the genre to dizzying, rarely-seen heights. Will The Dark Knight Rises live up to this phenomenal feat? Now, I’m not so sure. Your move, Nolan.
The Avengers is out now in UK cinemas and will be released next Friday May 4th in the US.