Review: Avengers Assemble (2012)

Director: Joss Whedon

****

On their first meeting in Avengers Assemble,  Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), in his Iron Man guise, looks at Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) costume and asks in his trademark sardonic tones, “What is this, Shakespeare in the Park? Dost thy mother know thou wearest her drapes?” This can either be a neat nod to Kenneth Branagh, director of Thor, or just one of the many examples of one-liners and put-downs that distinguishes Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble as the funniest of all superhero movies, and a gloriously entertaining start to the summer season.

Between them, the movies that set up Avengers Assemble (that is to say, Iron Man and its sequel, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger) have earned almost $2.3 billion at the worldwide box office. To say expectations are high for Avengers Assemble is an understatement. But is there a risk that all these capes and weapons jostling for screentime could be a case of too many cooks? It would be if we didn’t know them already. Even though the preceding movies were just introductions and setups for these guys, it does help to have all the backstory out of the way (Watching those films is optional, but most of the Avengers’ audience will have seen at least some of them anyway). Writer/director Whedon keeps the narrative relatively lean as to keep the set-pieces and massive KABOOMS coming. Shallow? Not when it’s this much fun!

The basic plot follows on from the ending of Thor. Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) seeks revenge on Thor for his banishment from their otherworldly home of Asgard, and decides to bring an extra-terrestrial army to conquer Earth so he may rule the planet. If you’re not braced for how silly that sounds, Avengers Assemble is just not for you. Then again, you probably knew that already. When the scope of Loki’s threat becomes apparent, SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is forced to bring together Iron Man, Thor, Captain America (Chris Evans), Dr. Bruce Banner a.k.a The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and master assassins Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). When they are together, the sparks fly. Whedon applies both his sparky wit and in-depth fanboy knowledge to the dialogue, which is frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious. As our heroes bitch and snipe, they have to remember to compose themselves when vast amounts of inter-dimensional proverbial hits the fan. Indeed, the banter is emphasized by DP Seamus McGarvey, whose work on more dialogue-heavy films (Atonement, We Need To Talk About Kevin) lends itself to capturing Whedon’s ripostes and double-edged barbs.

As for the guys delivering the funnies everyone, from Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson to Johannson’s previously underused Black Widow to Captain America, gets their chance to shine. However, the most memorable performance is Ruffalo’s, as we finally get a definitive take on the less-than-Jolly Green Giant as he smashes through buildings, enemies and even some of his teammates. His appearance is the crowning glory on a MASSIVE third act rout as Loki brings his minions into New York to scare mankind into surrender. The newly-christened Avengers zip through the city chasing and being chased by all manner of otherworldly creatures. The action is cleaner and more memorable than any of Michael Bay’s Transformers, as our heroes are never lost amongst the barrage of CGI monsters and collapsing buildings. Avengers Assemble barely pauses for breath; you’ll either be on the edge of your seat or chuckling away contentedly.

If you’re looking for great emotionality or social commentary from your superheroes, you’re best to wait for The Dark Knight Rises. If you like your superhero movies to be frantic and fun, your flying battleship has come in (Seriously, there’s a flying battleship in this thing!). Marvel’s best film since X2 is simply, supremely, ridiculously entertaining.

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