“There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could.”
Did you really ever think that we were actually going to get a big budget blockbuster movie which brought together Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor et al?
Even a decade ago, with CG effects at a stage where we could capably bring any comic-book character to life on the Big Screen, and when superhero movie productions were gaining some serious momentum, the chances were slim of getting a film that would actually unite a series of characters who all had their own discrete blockbuster franchises. It wasn’t far off the notion of Batman joining Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Flash for a Justice League outing – i.e. nigh on impossible.
Hulk himself could have easily blown the whole ambitious concept – both Ang Lee and Louis Leterrier’s films proving almost as difficult to manage as the character himself – but thankfully Iron Man stepped into the lead and proved to be a surprise revelation. One of the less obvious ‘superheroes’, the decent origin story and perfect characterisation by Robert Downey Jr. (himself just starting his comeback at the time) would leave Iron Man arguably the best Marvel adaptation to date, and a true beacon of light to reveal the potential path towards the then-still nascent grand ensemble superhero epic.
Yet, even with Samuel L. Jackson’s recruitment officer, Nick Fury, turning up in a recurring cameo role to tease us with the mere possibility of bringing all of these big guns together, it still seemed like such a remote pipe-dream project, contingent upon not only the success of each and every one of the original characters’ origin movies, but also upon all of the leading actors being free and available, with a big enough budget, to make this happen.
Well, with rousing Thor and Captain America origin films churned out in record time and a decent, if far-from-as-good-as-the-original Iron Mansequel under their belt, now we’re finally here. Indeed, looking back, it’s hard to believe that in just four years we’ve had no less than five blockbuster superhero movies to tie in with 2012’s Avengers. It was worth it though. It was worth the hope that it would even happen; the wait for it to happen; and then the fear over whether or not it would be any good.
Avengers – changed in the UK at the last minute to the slightly less palatable title of Avengers Assemble to avoid confusion with the classic British TV series (yes, there are actually people out there who have got the two muddled up) – is just about the best you could expect from an ensemble blockbuster movie featuring all these different, established, superheroes. Indeed, the only disappointment comes in the fact that we have to sit through Iron Man 3, Captain America 2, Thor 2 and maybe even another Hulk movie before we’re going to get to Avengers 2 – the only film in the Marvel line-up that is likely to stand a chance of besting this kick-ass epic.
“Let's do a headcount: a demigod; a super-soldier – a living legend who actually lives up to the legend; a man with breathtaking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins; and you've managed to piss off every single one of us. Not a great plan.”
If you haven’t done so yet, then book your tickets now – straight 2D, and not IMAX. You won’t be disappointed.
Still here? Well read on to find out more about what’s in store when you watch this movie.
With the origin stories already done and dusted, and the four main characters therefore established commodities, Avengers Assemble jumps straight into the action – i.e. giving the heroes a reason to band together in the first place. After all, Nick Fury’s much-touted “Avengers Initiative” never really got off the ground, but it’s amazing what a common enemy can do to unite such a motley crew of unlikely allies.
Enter Loki, the villainous demi-God adopted brother of Thor, whose plan is to use the fabled Tesseract – a huge source of unquantifiable energy – to open a portal between Earth and his world so he can transport himself, and an army of warriors, to the planet with a view of conquering the human race and ruling them as a God.
Against the wishes of his superiors, Fury endeavours to bring the Avengers Initiative back into action, and promptly recruits all of the potential members with a view to sending a response team to combat Loki, but before they can confront their greatest enemy, the 5-man, 1-woman squad can confront their enemy they first have to learn to work as a team.
“There came a day, a day unlike any other... when Earth's mightiest heroes found themselves united against a common threat... to fight the foes no single superhero could withstand... on that day, The Avengers were born.”
There’s no denying that July’s conclusion to the Nolan/Bale Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, is one of the year’s most anticipated movies and – if the last two stunning, standard-setting chapters are anything to go by – promises to have all the character, depth, and Big Screen spectacle you could possibly want from a ‘superheroes’ movie, wrapped up in one (hopefully) satisfyingly epic package, and that Ridley Scott’s Alien tie-in/spin-off flagship franchise vehicle, Prometheus (the trailer for which is attached to prints of Avengers: Assembled) similarly promises to stun on an epic sci-fi scale, but Marvel’s ensemble superhero (s)mash-up, Avengers certainly should not go overlooked as a result. It may well be the surprise hit of the year.
Sure it doesn’t have a substantial story to support its near-two-and-a-half-hour runtime, nor does it give its characters the same level of character development afforded to DC’s equivalent headliners (I’m looking at Nolan’s Batman, of course), nor does it pack the same emotional punch as its DC counterparts, or have the same power, presence and gravitas, but it has more going for it than you might expect.
You want character development? You got it. It’s called Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America (and yes, you should watch them first – would you watch The Dark Knight Rises without seeing Batman Begins and The Dark Knight?)
You want a sharp and witty quality script? Try Joss Whedon, the guy behind Buffy, Angel, and his Big Screen Firefly spin-off Serenity.
You want decent actors? How about Robert Downey Jr. (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Sherlock Holmes), Samuel L. Jackson (The Long Kiss Goodnight, Pulp Fiction, Star Wars), Chris Evans (Push, Sunshine, The Losers), Scarlett Johansson (The Prestige, Lost In Translation, The Island), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), Gwyneth Paltrow (Contagion, Proof), and Mark Ruffalo (Shutter Island, Zodiac)?
And you want sheer spectacle? Well surely it doesn’t get much better than Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk all rolled into one movie.
Did you ever think you were going to see live-action Iron Man vs. Captain America? Or Thor vs. Iron Man? Or Hulk versus EVERYONE? It’s the ultimate smackdown contest; a fan-boy’s dream come true – and that’s before we even get to the hour-long epic finale which sees them band together over Manhattan Island to take on a demigod and his army of super-sized alien invaders.
It doesn’t get much bigger than this.
Whedon, who has recently found surprise success co-writing the sleeper hit The Cabin in the Wood, looks to have been a great choice for writer/director duties. Although he’s never had to handle anything remotely close to this in terms of scale, and although his half-prepped Big Screen Wonder Woman outing faced an untimely death, he somehow manages to hold everything together as these superheroes collide and collaborate, allowing each and every one of your favourite characters room to shine, bringing all of your ‘versus’ dream-fights to life better than you could have ever possibly expected, and providing an epic grandstanding conclusion that is sure to satisfy even the most cynical critic, standing out in an over-saturated comic book movie market as an ensemble superhero piece of epic, unprecedented and unparalleled proportions. I guess his work on actually penning numerous comic book lines (including many Marvel entities) helped prepare him in ways that conventional blockbuster directors would have surely missed out on.
Aside from adeptly handling the action, he also disseminates a surprising amount of genuine humour across the long runtime, breaking up – or lining – the confrontations with snappy one-liners and plenty of much-welcome pop trivia references that further distinguish this from just another straight comic book actioner. Who, but Whedon, would have chosen to include moments where Nick Fury is mocked for having one-eye, where Thor cracks a joke (arguably his first), and where Iron Man nicknames the other team members using film references (my personal favourite is “Point Break”)? You may have expected the Big Screen action – even the superhero face-offs – but who would have ever thought that this film would be laugh-out-loud funny? The audience loved it, and quite rightly too.
In terms of actor/character-management, no matter who you favour out of the superheroes, you’re going to see at least a couple of excellent scenes where they get to shine. Chris Evans’s Captain America manages to be surprisingly engaging, in spite being something of a tired relic (his scene barking orders at the City’s police force is brilliant); Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye gets just enough screen-time to make up for the fact that he hasn’t had his own origin story (his bow-and-arrow shots without looking are super-cool); Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury finally gets to see some combat (with a rocket launcher, no less!); and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow even attempts to bring some kind of character depth to her sexy assassin (her ‘interrogations’ stand out).
Chris Hemsworth (A Perfect Getaway, Snow White & The Huntsman) and Tom Hiddleston (War Horse, Midnight in Paris), reprising their roles from the earlier origin movie – Thor and Loki, respectively – manage to bring a huge amount of character consistency and continuity to bear, and even occasionally break free of their somewhat antiquated other-worldly “Norse God” prose, with Hemsworth reminding us once again that he was an excellent choice for Thor and Hiddleston making for a surprisingly strong lead villain. At once sneaky, cunning and deceptively fragile in appearance, but powerful enough to take on pretty-much all of the other Avengers in one-on-one combat, Hiddleston’s Loki might not have sounded like the Ultimate villain for these Ultimate heroes, but he actually works out pretty much perfectly in the end.
A strew of cameos from the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, returning as Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark’s love interest, Pepper Potts; Stellan Skarsgard (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), returning as the scientist who ‘discovered’ Thor (shame there’s no Natalie Portman!); and Clark Gregg, as Agent Colson, Nick Fury’s right-hand-man, only further cement the warm feeling that this is a great big family that has come together to provide the ultimate Marvel superhero piece.
“Big man in a suit of armour... take that away, what are you?”
“Uh... genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist...”
Of course – in much the same way that Hugh Jackman made Wolverine stand out from the X-Men – Robert Downey Jr. has made Iron Man the benchmark for Marvel superheroes (and thus adaptations), so it is no wonder that he not only gets the best lines, but also gets the most screentime and most showboating, having some real scene-stealing moments in the film. Thankfully it never once feels like a one-man show – not for a second – but, on the other hand, you never once forget the fact that Iron Man is the leader of this particular pack. Whether it’s standing his own against a demigod or a super-soldier, this human-in-a-suit really makes the party rock (literally, in a couple of scenes).
Fans of any one of the characters will likely still love this movie; and fans of more than one will probably be thrilled by what’s on offer.
But the surprise is in store for those who like the Hulk, and who’ve been dismayed by the way in which the character has been treated, cinematically, over the last decade. Not least in terms of continuity of actor, the role has been shown very little respect by the film studios, who hastily ditched Ang Lee’s alternative Hulk – featuring Eric Bana – in favour of a more mainstream Edward Norton vehicle, The Incredible Hulk, which clearly impressed audiences more than the earlier movie, just not enough to allow for a sequel. Now we find the Hulk played by Mark Ruffalo – who performs the human interactions and the ‘big green monster’ action elements (through Avatar-like motion capture), and he’s somehow, shockingly, the best Banner/Hulk we’ve seen thus far. Not only does he perfectly personify the super-intelligent, slightly nervous, eminently repressed scientist right down to a T, but this version of the Hulk is quite simply perfect. “Hulk, smash!”, means precisely that – this character’s animalistic behaviour finally being brought to the screen without restraint. He doesn’t shake hands with his team-mates, he hits them in the face; he doesn’t run from a fighter plane, he jumps on it and, literally, tears it apart; he doesn’t stand around chatting with his enemies about their plans for world-domination, he grabs them and smashes them like rag-dolls.
“Dr. Banner, your work is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.”
You may go into this movie to see Iron Man, Captain America and Thor kick ass – or see what Hawkeye and Black Widow can bring to the table – but it’s Hulk who really stands out as, without a doubt, the single best thing about this movie.
After all this, does it have flaws? Of course it does. Did you really expect a 143-minute superhero ensemble action epic blockbuster starring a bunch of competing leading actors and co-written and directed by a guy with no blockbuster experience to be perfect? I doubt even the great Christopher Nolan could have handled this beast of a movie better, even if his take on one specific ‘superhero’ is unparalleled. The film is unquestionably long – although thankfully it top-ends the weight so all the most stodgy exposition comes during the first hour; the MacGuffins threaten to bore you to death (seriously, who really cares about the big blue cube?); the invading alien race are generic as hell; and some of the supposed plot lynchpins don’t quite hold up (they never fully explain why the whole group loses their rag like a bunch of schoolkids, nor why they decided to take to the air in their floating death-trap helicarrier – other to visually impress – nor how they actually expected to kill anybody with the falling glass chamber, nor give credence to the supposition that what happens to one relatively minor character should spur them on any more than the 80-odd innocent lives taken the night before) – but this is still, without a doubt, the absolute best, ultimate, Avengers movie that anybody could have ever hoped for. It’s action-packed and frequently spectacular; with more big superheroes than you would have thought possible in one movie, and more than enough surprise humour to make it an unquestionably warm, fun-packed pre-summer Summer Blockbuster.
If anything, it’s so good that one has to wonder whether audiences will appreciate going back to single-man movies on the run-up to the already-announced sequel (hinted at during the extra end-credits scene). With Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and Captain America 2 – in that order – already in the pipeline, as well as The Incredible Hulk 2 now looking like a distinct possibility largely as a result of Ruffalo’s noteworthy interpretation of the character, are fans going to be satisfied by seeing outings with just one of these heroes when they can wait and get them all? Only time will tell, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe concept, ambitious as it is and has always been, just keeps on delivering, and one would expect that it won’t be too long before the DC Universe makes a genuine attempt at catching up with their own Justice League ensemble piece.
Indeed we may all be expecting The Dark Knight Rises to be amazing, but few expected that from The Avengers, and – surprisingly – it comes pretty damn close. It’s likely the biggest, and most colourfully fun blockbuster that we’re going to see this year, and they couldn’t even wait until Summer to show it to us.
Highly recommended for a great Big Screen night out.
While we may all be expecting The Dark Knight Rises to be amazing, few are expecting that from The Avengers, and – surprisingly – it comes pretty damn close. It’s likely the biggest, and most colourfully fun blockbuster that we’re going to see this year, and they couldn’t even wait until Summer to show it to us! Banding together a bunch of our favourite superheroes for a smackdown of epic proportions, director Joss Whedon gives us an action-packed epic ensemble outing which has just enough heart and more than a little bit of laugh-out-loud humour in it to leave you warmly satisfied by the end of it. Oh and Hulk kicks ass as an absolute scene-stealing showstopper. The first of several must-see blockbusters of 2012, and hopefully the first of several must-see Avengers movies, this baby comes highly recommended.
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