I’ve been waiting for an Avengers movie for a very long time. Not for years or even decades, but pretty much forever. Back in the Seventies, when Marvel’s live action output was largely telly-based and crummy, I understood the time was not yet right. But after advances in special effects made the impossible plausible, and generations of superhero fans grew into powerful filmmakers, I allowed myself the luxury of hope.
When Marvel cracked the Fantastic Film Formula and bestowed upon us the likes of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and Bryan Singer’s X-Men 2, I felt we were approaching a Golden Age. And over the last couple of years, what with the perfect comicbook stylings of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, I dared believe the world had reached a level of Nerd-Movie Nirvana unparalleled by Human, Krell or Skrull history.
The secret to making the perfect comicbook movie, it turns out, is to respect and celebrate the original source material. To say out loud, “We’re comicbooky and proud!” While Christopher Nolan seems determined to drain every ounce of fantasy and fun from his Batflicks, dragging them into the real world as if he’s embarrassed of their pulp origins, Marvel movies are living, breathing, blasting embodiments of breezy comicbook goodness.
The final piece of the Avengers puzzle finally slotted into place when Geek God Joss Whedon, of Buffy, Firefly and Serenity fame, announced that he would be writing and directing Marvel’s first Avengers movie. Oh happy days! If ever a guy could be trusted to make the perfect comicbook movie, it was Whedon.
Assembling the casts of recent features’ past, with the addition of a new Hulk as the last couple hadn’t quite cracked it, Joss wrote his magic words, rolled his enchanted cameras and, like a movie Moses, delivered us unto a promised land of brash, bashing, bonding superheroes. Surpassing my already unrealistically stratospheric expectations, Joss elevated me all the way to Movie Heaven. Above that, even. If Heaven has a Heaven, that’s where I saw Avengers Assemble (12A).
In a phrase, this movie is pure, unadulterated happiness. The consummate crowd pleaser, for nerds and norms alike. For kids, God bless ‘em, and grown ups too, who want to recapture the joy of childhood. For pensioners even, who want to feel like they’re back in their fifties and, I suppose, finally for dead folk, eager to recapture the pleasures of assisted living. Me, I’ve seen it three times already, and I’m trippin’ out on the Whedon vibe.
Much as I love Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark/Iron Man combo, like most other fans I was initially concerned that his ego and star power might overwhelm the film a little. That Avengers Assemble might become Iron Man and Friends or The R.D.J. Experience. But while he is undeniably great in the role that he has made his own, really funny and sharp and smart and tough, every other character in the movie is equally well drawn and given their own time to shine.
As Captain America, Chris Evans is irresistibly old fashioned, a chiseled, stalwart hero looking for his place in the modern world. Lucky for us, that place is barking orders and pulverising alien invaders. As Thor, Chris Hemsworth is endearingly Shakespearean with the skills of a Viking god and the comic timing of Steven Wright. Joining the big three is Mark Ruffalo as both sardonic scientist Bruce Banner and motion-captured rage monster The Hulk. A newcomer to Marvel movies and Blockbusters in general, indie staple Ruffalo matches his fellow Avengers in every respect, sharp as a tack and charismatic beyond belief, while as the Hulk, he’s simply smashing, stealing many of the movie’s most memorable moments.
Supporting heroes are given equal consideration: Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury, a real ends-justify-the-means kinda guy with a neat line in manipulation and a knack for quotable dialogue; Scarlett Johansson’s lithe Natasha Romanoff, a kick-ass spy girl; Jeremy Renner’s understated Hawkeye, a master archer with a quiver full of tricks; And finally fan-favourite Clark Gregg as the ever-present Agent Coulson – loyal, sarcastic, nerdy and unflappably brave.
With so many heroes assembling to save the world from extra-dimensional aliens, this being the story of a disparate group of alpha-types who overcome their differences to form a cohesive fighting unit, this movie would have come to naught without a villain to match the combined awesomeness of Tony, Cap, Hulk and Thor. Three cheers then, or even four, to British up-and-comer Tom Hiddleston for his lavishly larger-than-life Loki, a supremely hissable, kneel-before-me sort of superfiend with the malevolent presence of a young Hannibal Lecter and the mischievous glee of a thousand gremlins.
In much the same way as the film perfectly balances the cast – and as wonderful as they are individually, together they are utterly irresistible – Avengers Assemble devotes equal care to each of the elements that makes it great, from eye-popping action and jaw-dropping spectacle to laugh-out-loud humour and dynamic drama. Swiftly paced with a precision-crafted screenplay, dazzling visual polish and endearing fondness for all things Marvel, Avengers Assemble is an infectiously enthusiastic work of wonder.
Besides all of the bigger, more obvious things to love about Avengers Assemble, the magic’s in the details, all of the fun little extras, memorable moments and sweet surprises that Whedon sprinkles liberally through the movie, transforming a film that was already, undeniably brilliant into an all-time favourite, superhero classic. I love it. Adore it. It’s put a great, big smile on my face and I can’t wait to see it again.
Here’s a brisk tribute video that I created this week, my regular Plastic Filmtastic podcast, only with a lot more Iron Man and Loki than usual! Plus I got to tamper with forces I didn’t understand after getting my little Lego hands on a Cosmic Cube…