Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Avengers Assemble (2012, Joss Whedon)

In the highly anticipated Avengers Assemble which has been steadily building momentum ever since that first post-credits snippet in Ironman (2008), writer/director Joss Whedon delivers a film that both adheres to the many egos of this ensemble piece as well as the fanboys' without having to pander them. An element that could have destroyed the film but is impressively made light work of by a filmmaker in love with his characters, breathing a rare breath of life into a $220million blockbuster.

The story is a thin one and brushed over with haste during the film's opening, with Loki (brother of Thor) allied with another world, he steals an all powerful and renewable energy source (the Tesseract) which has the power to open portals allowing the destructive forces to enter our world. We're given no insight into this other race who dream, like Loki, of Earth's demise. With a villain as magnetic a presence as Loki and in a film this rammed with characters it's frankly not needed or possible. The real story, after all, is about the avengers initiative and the separate members learning to play nicely in order to save Earth. With Bruce Banner still struggling to harness the power of Hulk, Tony Stark playing hero vigilante, Captain America adjusting to life in 2012, and Thor's judgment clouded out of love for his tyrant brother, it takes a bit of time for them to realise Earth hangs in the balance of their teaming. While successfully melding all these larger than life egos, Whedon has crafted a script full of the most entertaining of camaraderie; his clear understanding of the characters adds a warm friendly jeer to each joke instead of a desperate decent into adolescence, Avengers Assemble offers more laughs than most 'comedies' this year but juggles the stabs at humour and action in perfect harmony. Even the additions of Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye are integrated favourably despite being introduced as bit parts during Ironman 2 (2010) and Thor (2011) respectfully. They are tagged on, however this never amounts to a problem due to both being so damn watchable - bringing what they can to their as it stands, rather thin characters.

Whedon is clearly a talented witty writer but can he direct action? A huge factor of this megamovie. The answer is largely yes. Apart from a  few shoddy indiscernible moments here and there, mostly in the final battle, Whedon is a far more competent action director than those with more notches on their belts. A set piece taking place half way though the film, where Shield's floating HQ is under attack from Loki & Co would be the final act saved for the crowning glory of any other action film. With multiple jeopardise happening all around, the separate strands of danger are superbly handled and filmed with clarity. Though impressive, this was the only moment where the film could have come undone, after all, we know another battle looms much later that has to top this one. Luckily the film has more up its sleeve to keep us consistently thrilled throughout the CGI mayhem. Each character gets to shine in their own way when Earth comes under attack and Whedon manages to draw us into the warfare like so few films of this breed do. 

Tom Hiddleston plays villain Loki to perfection, never forgetting his pantomime roots but elevating his character into what might be the most interesting thing Avengers Assemble has on offer. Loki is both a venomous and spiteful man, but there is a pathetic vulnerability to him that is almost forgiving, he's relatable in ways that so few villains (not to mention of the comic variety) really are. When incarcerated by Nick Fury he's as sinister as Hannibal Lector at his best, though when confronted by Hulk he's ridiculed to such a degree that it makes for the biggest laugh the film has to offer, and it offers plenty! Mark Ruffalo finally gives us the Bruce Banner we've always hampered for, a task that previous performers have fallen short of despite their abilities. He plays Banner as a self loathing man, haunted and shamed by his demons and destructive capabilities. This plus his quiet, gentle, and bookish demeanour make him for a complicated man that will benefit from more screen time in the coming years. As Stark so rightfully says, "We have a Hulk", one we can now be proud of.

Avengers Assemble suffers from the expected array of difficulties but disguises them in the strength of its execution. With a film this cramped with figures having one or more films dedicated to them, there was never going to be a straight cut line through to the end as we follow a single character to triumph on a journey of self discovery. The film flits from one avenger to another and can never afford to settle, never favouring one over the rest. Despite an extra level of unneeded plotting involving Nick Fury's disapproval of higher orders, it can be safely said that Joss Whedon couldn't have done much to improve on what now doesn't seem like such an impossible task afterall. Avengers Assemble is everything a blockbuster should be, the Marvel culmination that everyone wanted, and a reminder of the results strewn from a filmmaker with passion for his craft.