First things first. That title, that godawful title, Avengers Assemble, that we’ve been lumbered with in the UK, whilst the rest of the world gets The Avengers.
If you’re a puzzled foreigner (big shout-out to all my avid readers in Vietnam, Ecuador, and Venezuela, all four of you), then don’t panic. It’s just a rejigged title that’s come about because of a British TV show from the nineteen-sixties, called — believe it or not — The Avengers. The one where Diana Rigg famously wore a tight outfit and beat people up.
And guess what? In Avengers Assemble, Scarlett Johansson wears a tight outfit and beats people up. Some things never change.
Avengers Assemble is the result of 4 years worth of superhero movies (I’m assuming the original Hulk from back in 2003 isn’t really part of the Avengers canon), starting with Iron Man, and continuing through The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America. All of them, of course, complete with post credits teasers to whet our appetites for their eventual team up.
A supremely confident action epic
Joss Whedon, in only his second feature film as director (the first being Serenity, a whole seven years ago) dips his toe into the summer (Spring?) blockbuster pool. Does he do it nervously? You might expect so. You’d be wrong however. Avengers Assemble is a supremely confident action epic that doesn’t skimp on spectacle.
More importantly, and unusually for such a big film these days, it doesn’t skimp on character either. Despite all the pyrotechnics, this is no Michael Bay movie. With his films, there’s often a strange feeling during the talky scenes that he’s kind of pacing around behind the camera, fidgety, killing time until the next set piece.
Joss Whedon prefers to let the characters breathe a bit more. As a result, the first two thirds of the film feel surprisingly wordy for a superhero movie. The Avengers appear one by one, tensions rising in the group each time. There’s a lot of super sized muscles, and super sized egos. How on earth are they supposed stop Thor’s brother, Loki, from carrying out his dastardly plan if they’re too busy fighting each other?
But that’s probably more than half the fun, simply watching the Avengers exchange blows and withering quips (most of the quips coming from, yep you guessed it, Downey Jr. as Tony Stark). It never seems to get dull. Whedon has produced a well-balanced script that gives just about every Avenger enough screen time to make an impact. Even the least super powered of the team, Black Widow and Hawkeye, get their moments to really shine.
New York gets trashed (with style)
However, even with Whedon’s experienced handling of ensemble casts (see Buffy the Vampire Slayer), not everyone comes out of it okay. Captain America seems a bit too serious and whiney, maybe even a bit depressed, and out of sorts with his time and place. Whilst that’s understandable given he’s been yanked 70 years into the future, there’s a feeling that he could have done with maybe one more film under his belt before being plunged into the Avengers, to sort through some of his issues.
Whedon did in fact cut a scene where Captain America meets up with his now much older flame, Peggy Carter, because it interfered with the rythmn of the movie. It’s something that’ll now probably get shifted to Cap’s sequel. We’ll never know if that scene would’ve worked in Avengers Assemble (unless it ends up on the Blu-ray extras). Maybe it would’ve gone some way to helping out poor old Cap and his palpable lack of confidence that seems at odds with the fun, exuberant tone of the movie. When he assumes more of a commanding role in the group, it doesn’t wholly convince.
Mind you, it’s not like it spoils what is a pretty fantastic movie. Whedon gets so much right, and makes it all look so deceptively easy. You’d think he’d been directing blockbusters all his life. He’s done a far better job than directors who have been doing it all their lives, and trashes most of New York with style (give or take a few moments where the CGI feels a bit weightless and videogamey, but then such is the nature of CGI).
Spider-Man watches it on the telly
In fact, New York gets so comprehensively smashed to pieces, I did kind of think that Spider-Man’s spidey sense must’ve been tingling like crazy as a 300-foot alien ploughed through the tower block opposite his apartment. Was Peter Parker sat on his crappy sofa, a can of beer in his hand, watching the action unfold on the news? Wishing that he could join in and help out, if only his hands hadn’t been tied by the Hollywood legal system?
I like to think that an alien might’ve landed on his window sill. And that Peter Parker might’ve checked no-one was looking before whistling tunelessly, opening his window, and knocking the alien off it’s perch to it’s death.
I’d love to see Spider-Man battling alongside Marvel’s other heroes. I think the only way to secure this for the future, would be to send the Hulk around to negotiate Spidey’s film rights. A shout of “Lawyer, smash!” and a few pulped lawyer’s heads around the negotiating table would be a small price to pay for an Avengers sequel that might even top the original. But until that time, the likes of Michael Bay will have to try a lot harder with their busting of blocks. Good luck. They’ll need it.