MARVEL AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
Matt C: This shouldn't have been possible. Even five years ago the idea of an Avengers movie seemed like a wild fanboy pipe dream. It was inevitable, given the popularity of superhero movies, that we'd see Iron Man, Captain America and Thor on the big screen sooner or later, but the probability of them all showing up in the same movie seemed very, very remote. And then Samuel L Jackson walked out in the post-credits scene of Iron Man, and suddenly the impossible appeared to be edging closer to reality. From there we've seen various characters get their own movies (or, in the case of Black Widow and Hawkeye, their own cameos) to introduce them to the wider world as a big team-up extravaganza began to loom larger on the horizon. And, finally, we're here: Marvel Avengers Assemble (its title in the UK to ensure punters don't expect Emma Peel to start strutting her stuff) has arrived, and even with the ridiculously stratospheric expectations, it delivers the goods, and then some.
The plot, without giving to much away, involves Loki (Hiddleston, last seen disappearing into the cosmos at the end of Thor) getting his hands on the Tesseract (last seen being fished out of the ocean by Howard Stark at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, and better known to geeks as the Cosmic Cube) with the intention of bringing an extraterrestrial invading army to take the Earth. The scale of the threat has SHIELD director Nick Fury (Jackson) restarting the aborted Avengers Initiative, recruiting some very special people to take the Asgardian god down. It's standard stuff really, something that's been recycled countless times in the pages of comic books, but to see it on the silver screen, handled with such decisive brilliance, is the kind of thing fanboys (myself included) have dreamed about for a long, long time. The fact that Joss Whedon, who's never attempted anything on this scale before, marshals the exhilarating, inventive action sequences with such confidence and style completely justifies the faith Marvel placed in him, and for that matter, the faith of his legions of fans who've watched him get a rough deal on a number of projects over the years. This is where Whedon emphatically proves his doubters wrong.
Of course, mere spectacle alone doesn't make a great movie, otherwise we'd be raving about Transformers: Dark Side Of The Moon being a modern classic. So, while Whedon's action chops may surprise, his juggling of a large of cast of powerful personalities doesn't. There were fears that this movie would turn out to be something along the lines of Iron Man & Friends as the Iron Man flicks have been the most popular (and profitable) of Marvel's cinematic output so far, and Downey Jr is quite a formidable onscreen presence. Fortunately this is far from the case; Tony Stark gets his fair share of screen time, but thanks to Whedon's expertise in writing for multiple characters and his ear for deliciously quotable dialogue, every member of the cast gets their moment(s) and a decent smattering of one-liners. It of course helps that the main players aren't new to the movie-going audience, so long introductions aren't required; instead, Whedon gets straight into bringing these guys together and having them clash and verbally bounce off each other (and anyone intimately familiar with the superhero genre will know heroes usually exchange blows before realising they're on the same side and teaming-up to fight evil!).
The not-so-secret weapon Whedon has here is a phenomenal cast. Downey Jr deploys Starks’s wise-cracking persona and genius to startling effect; Evans gives real potency to Cap's old-fashioned, wartime values, particularly in the climactic battle. You can see the responsibility Hemsworth's Thor feels for the situation simmering under the surface along with the character's warrior arrogance, and the subtle melancholia of Ruffalo's Banner results in the best take on the Angry Green Giant yet. Even amongst these icons, Johansson and Renner aren't short-changed, with Johansson in particular having more to dig into during her opening scene than she did in the entirety of Iron Man 2. Hiddleston absolutely owns Loki now, his lips-smacking evil turn still retaining the residue of a son who feels abandoned by his family displaying his anger on a catastrophic scale. Samuel L. Jackson now IS Nick Fury, Coby Smulders does a decent job as his second in command and the redoubtable Clark Gregg returns and provides the movie with its most poignant moment.
It's an incredible thrillride that ups the ante considerably from the previous single-character movies, laying the gauntlet down for the guys helming Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and Captain America 2. For now, Whedon wears the crown and it's very possible that no other film this year will match the blockbusting, grin-inducing maginficence he's corralled here. A genuine triumph in every respect and a reassuring example of how sometimes those impossible fanboy dreams can come true. 10/10