Avengers Assemble (12A/PG-13, 142 mins)
Director: Joss Whedon
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
And so the most extended trailer in film history finally delivers on its years of build-up. We’ve been teased by The Avengers since Iron Man four years ago, since the first appearance of Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Samuel L. Jackson), who skulked about telling the likes of Iron Man’s alter ego Tony Stark that they were part of something bigger.
Through The Incredible Hulk and Thor, the seeds of the Avengers Initiative were sown, which would aim to bring together such disparate Marvel heroes as Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and new addition Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner to fight evil on a grand scale.
Last year’s Captain America (which starred Chris Evans as the First Avenger) was the most blatant piece of the jigsaw yet, a workmanlike effort that seemed little more than the first part of this. But never mind that, and never mind that its UK title has been changed to the IKEA-friendly Avengers Assemble, and instead revel in the indecent levels of entertainment provided by the first blockbuster of the summer season.
Once plans for The Avengers were announced, hope quickly grew that the unprecedented project would be in safe hands with Joss Whedon who, just like Star Trek’s J.J. Abrams, doesn’t have a whole lot of movie experience – Serenity is his only other feature - but has created some of the most innovative and definitive television of the last two decades.
So you’ve got a promising director, a marquee cast and a few hundred million to spend, but there ought to be a substantial threat to justify getting these guys together. You don’t need to be steeped in the Marvel universe to follow events here, but it really helps to have seen Thor, primarily because Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is once again the bad guy.
There’s also a strong connection to Captain America, since the shiny blue cube that was that film’s MacGuffin resurfaces here. Loki steals it from S.H.I.E.L.D. with the intention of using its unlimited power to open a portal to space to allow his alien hordes to come to earth and aid his quest for world domination.
It was also during Thor that we caught a fleeting glimpse of archery ace Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Loki wastes no time turning him and Stellan Skarsgård’s Dr Selvig (also introduced in Thor) bad in order to help him with his scheme.
That this massive collection of actors, characters and story threads comes together as something that is not only not unwieldy but truly cohesive is thanks to Whedon’s miraculous screenplay that manages to be simultaneously exciting, funny and spectacular while rooting everything in the characters.
Their interaction and initial mistrust is at its core, giving a chance for all the major players to square up against each other before they can team up. This provides almost as many joys as the main event, when they finally get to form The Avengers and take on Loki and his minions.
Everyone shines, unlike the X-Men where perhaps some characters get sidelined. Even the relatively dull (based on his first outing) Captain America comes to the fore, while mere puny humans Hawkeye and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson – cast your mind back to Iron Man 2) are also allowed to give their all in the action stakes.
Several big laughs that are as good as anything most comedies can muster are just a bonus. Some of Tony Stark’s one-liners, especially when he’s making fun of his teammates, are priceless, and his rapport with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) erases most memories of the disappointing Iron Man 2. And who knew the Hulk was so funny? It’s the best Iron Man film to date, and the best Hulk film by a big green mile.
The Batman may still have the edge when it comes to depth and darkness, and when the Dark Knight rises in a couple of months he may well steal his crown back as the ultimate avenger. But rarely, whether comic book or not, have the movies been this much fun.