Ugh, typing that name made me feel so dirty. Avengers Assemble. Ugh. There was nothing wrong with just The Avengers, no-one was going to go in expecting umbrellas, bowler hats and catsuits, and even if they had been, they'd have got something better anyway. Plus, 'Assemble' is possibly the least exciting word to ever appear in a movie title since The Adjustment Bureau.
Now chances are this isn't the first Avengers review you've read, hell chances are this isn't even the first Avengers review you've read that starts off by telling you it's not the first Avengers review you've read, seeing as this is one of those movies (let's not kid ourselves by calling it a film, this is for entertainment purposes only) seemingly designed to be discussed at length on the Internet. We've sat through 4 years of 5 prequels, and for literally years the Internet has been lying in wait to rip apart this inevitable car crash of a movie. Which makes it something of a surprise that not only is it not bad, it's bloody good.
No-one saw this coming. They said it couldn't be done. I agreed. The last few Avengers prequels hadn't been great, especially Iron Man 2 and Captain America (I don't know what everyone has against Thor, I thought Kenneth Branagh did a good job with a lesser-known character) and I firmly believed that throwing six superheroes at one another in the same film was going to look like something Hulk had sat on. The only things it had going for it were a stellar cast and a solid director in Joss Whedon, of whom I'm unashamedly a fanboy (other than I've never seen an episode of Buffy or Angel). Whedon is known for handling rambling, ensemble casts (Firefly) and has always managed to balance action with snappy dialogue, drama with romance and a hefty dollop of comedy, but I didn't think there was a great enough female presence here to draw his attention, with Black Widow as the only main girl. So, going in, my hopes were high but my expectations primed for mediocrity, so it's a pleasure to say that I honestly can't think of many ways the film could have been handled better.
Essentially, this is an origin movie. What's unusual is that most of the main characters have already had at least one movie of their own, mostly origin stories, so what we have here is the beginnings of a culmination of pre-established characters. You don't necessarily need to have seen all of the other films before watching this one, but I think it'd help, as the plot is partially set-up within Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America, in terms of the basis of the Avengers, the bad guy and the maguffin. I saw this with my girlfriend, who hadn't seen Thor but had all the rest, and she didn't need much explaining to her other than that Thor's devious brother Loki isn't played by Michael Fassbender, but is instead the brilliant Tom Hiddleston, who performs ably as the primarily sole lead bad guy against an entire team of heroes.
It would have been very easy, and very foolish, to have made this Iron Man & Co, seeing as Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark is undoubtedly the most enigmatic and entertaining character on screen, yet wisely Whedon scaled down the potential for the Stark Show into giving him just as much time on screen as everyone else. There is no lead character here, everyone gets their moments, no-one is our entry point into the team and there appears to be no jostling for the limelight. In fact, the first people we meet are the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill and the ever dependable Clark Gregg's Coulson ("Phil? His first name is Agent."). These guys, along with existing Avengers members Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) then set about recruiting the rest of the team from across the world (and a little bit further, in Thor's case).
Once recruited, the plot revolves around a Transformers-esque power cube known as the Tesseract that Loki has obtained, and intends to use to rule the Earth. Yadda-yadda-ya, it's not all that important, and isn't what you're here to see. No, we're here to watch some superheroes fight, bicker, argue and smash. I've heard arguments that there isn't quite enough action in this 142-minute movie to satisfy, but I found the dialogue scenes to be just as entertaining. As expected, the superheroes, all previously alphas in their own movies, don't initially gel together all that easily, and Iron Man keeps the insults flying at his comrades (Thor is referred to as "Shakespeare in the park," Captain America is ribbed for being an old man). It's clear this isn't just friendly banter.
When the action scenes do come along, including one mid-way through worthy of any summer tentpole finale, they will have you marvelling at everything. And the actual finale, involving a mass brawl around New York City, features an incredible tracking shot that finds all the Avengers showing off the only way they know how, that I can only fault by being not long enough. Granted, with such a large cast there are occasional incidents of characters appearing to be forgotten or sidelined temporarily whilst the others are front and centre, but this isn't too noticeable at the time, and doesn't distract from the action.
Unlike his previous films, here the Hulk is neither under nor overused, and is easily one of the best aspects of the movie. Mark Ruffalo, taking the giant green reins from Edward Norton, delivers possibly the greatest Hulk yet, portraying Dr. Bruce Banner as an amiable everyman only too aware of the situation he's in. He's rewarded with some of the best, and funniest moments from the film, not least his one-on-one meeting with Loki.
Whedon seems unable to let a few trademarks go, though discussing them could be delving a little too deep into spoiler territory, but look out for a couple of cameos from his other projects, as well as appearances from Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany and Stellan Skarsgard all reprising roles from the prequels. Natalie Portman, however, is conspicuous only by her absence. Bizarrely, the likes of Powers Boothe, Harry Dean Stanton and Jenny Agutter also crop up in tiny roles.
Some moments seem entirely shot for trailers, and I was a bit annoyed that my knowledge of Marvel's upcoming slate and a couple of shots from the trailers ensured that some of the would-be tense moments were obviously going to be resolved (albeit awesomely), but that's my fault for watching trailers. There is a scene to wait for after the credits, but unless you're a fan of the comic books there's really no point, as I had no idea what the scene was about when it appeared until I delved around the web once home. All-in-all, I've very little to fault about the film, other than the incessant use of ass-level shots as characters walks away from the camera. I'm genuinely tempted to go and watch it again at the cinema, something to this day I've never done before, and I'm not the least bit annoyed that talks are already being made about an Avengers sequel.
Choose film 9/10