First out of the traps in the start of the traditional silly season, Avengers Assemble is pretty much everything you could want from a summer blockbuster – a snappy plot, enough characterisation to keep things interesting and plenty of spectacle. After a week of deliberation I’m not quite sure that it’s at the top of the game – but that’s only because the very top now needs something else – but it’s certainly snapping at the heels and a worthy contender in the summer stakes.
A week ago I commented that part of the problem with “The Cabin in the Woods” was that it felt a bit too clever and that it had too many ties to that other Whedon creation, Buffy. Here there isn’t that problem, and given a new universe to play with (albeit one he’s written for in another media) he succeeds in crafting something fresh despite all of the historical elements he needs to weave into the mix. What is surprising is how he’s taken the disparate styles of all of the previous directors output on individual heroes, mixed them together but still produced something that feels more than the sum of its parts and yet familiar all the same. Robert Downey Jnr., still feels as if he’s in the same individual universe of the Iron Man films, ditto Thor and Captain America. Only The Hulk feels different – probably due to the lack of comparative success of the previous films – but this almost allows Whedon the chance to invest in a new character.
Whedon the director plays to his strengths as Whedon the writer – focussing on character, dialogue and humour at the extent of out-and-out spectacle. Whilst the latter half of the film hits the action beats perfectly, it’s not as awe-inspiring as many other directors working with similar material (for all of his faults, one could never argue that Michael Bay doesn’t know how to shoot an action sequence), but instead by making us care about the characters we invest more in them and this more than makes up for the fact. All of the characters feel slightly flawed and as such the (slight) moral regarding teamwork is reinforced, although never rammed down our throats.
The cast are uniformly good, although a little under-used in some areas. Remner makes the best of limited characterisation (as does Johannson, although I’ve never quite found her as good an actress as others have) and suggests he may be suited to a re-launched Bourne series, and Downey doesn’t dominate the film like I feared he would, but remains eminently watchable. The real surprise is Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner / The Hulk, who brings a real sense of black humour to the role. He’s a million miles removed from the Bana / Norton version, but finally here is someone who seems to get it. He’s the breakout star, both actor and character, and the film noticeably lifts whenever he’s on screen. Tom Hiddlestone is also great fun once again as Loki, part pantomime villain, part Hannibal Lector. All he needs now is a swashbuckler to twirl a moustache is as he’ll make a great cad / villain.
Problems? There’s a few – the secondary villains are weak and it doesn’t quite all make sense when it’s put together, but these are minor quibbles given how strong the rest of the film is. For once even the pace is spot on, building and building towards a conclusion that never feels forced and making sure that everyone gets their chance to shine along the way. This is pretty much perfect summer fodder and highly recommended.
And just in case anyone wonder’s what stops it being in the top league of summer films? The really, really good ones have started to make us think; introducing elements of social commentary and the like as well as solid entertainment, characterisation and witty dialogue. Hollywood is slowly raising itself out of playing purely for the 12-17 demographic and realises that some of us remember how good films used to be. This gets pretty close, but it just misses that final step.