Ever since Iron Man was released in 2008, Marvel have been building toward a huge ensemble film called The Avengers. Members of SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), notably Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), have appeared in all of the Marvel films involved, including Captain America: The First Avenger, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Iron Man 2. It has been years in the making, but the marketing strategy has been clear, throw everything that Marvel have created cinematically into one super-event film.
It seemed an impossible gig for whichever director took on the job and there was talk that Iron Man head Jon Favreau and Thor supremo Kenneth Brannagh were in the picture, but when The Avengers director announcement was made at Comic-Con, it was a shock, but also a delight for fanboys and girls around the globe. Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly fame was given the keys to Marvel’s biggest film of all time. It was a leftfield choice for sure with Whedon’s previous directorial piece Serenity having floundered at the box office. But when examined it made perfect sense, who better than the man responsible for three of the best ensemble TV shows in recent memory. If Whedon couldn’t tame The Avengers no one could.
Loki (Tom Hiddleston), having escaped capture at the end of Thor, uses an ancient technology called the Tesseract to summon an army to Earth in order to help him enslave the human race. Agent of SHIELD, Nick Fury (Jackson) assembles all of Earth’s mightiest heroes to team together to help defeat the mischievous God in an initiative called The Avengers. The team, consists of Steve Rogers AKA Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark AKA Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Natasha Romanoff AKA Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Dr. Bruce Banner AKA The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Loki’s brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth). With so much power, and ego comes inevitable conflict and The Avengers must overcome their differences to stop Loki and his mysterious army of invaders.
The plot of The Avengers is pure comic book storytelling of the most epic kind. The Earth is in peril and only with all the heroes uniting will it stand any chance of surviving. With the cast at his disposal, Whedon has every tool imaginable to make The Avengers a classic. What is surprising is not only that he succeeds, but does so with so much flourish. Every one of the heroes involved gets their own story arc, each ending in a satisfying and compelling way. Even Agent Coulson has an important role to play and gets time to get his geek on when talking to Captain America.
Downey Jr. and Ruffalo clearly have the most fun as ‘ol’ shellhead’ tries to toy with the doctor’s mood hoping to reveal his big green alter-ego. Ruffalo, the biggest triumph of any of The Avengers makes the Hulk character his own, nailing the angst and duality of the role in a way that so escaped Eric Bana and Ed Norton. He’s so impressive in fact, that a third reboot of the franchise is probably in order. The two members of the team without their own multi-million pound films also receive a generous helping hand from their director. Whedon, known for his strong female characters gives Johansson’s Black Widow a Buffy-esque make-over and she is a far deeper character than her mere eye candy performance in Iron Man 2 and she provides a welcome break from the endless biceps on display. Her opening scene in fact is one of the films standout action scenes. While Renner’s Hawkeye actually gets to do something, which is a step-up from his tiny role in Thor.
If there are problems with The Avengers, other than the ridiculous name change in the UK (Marvel Avengers Assemble is just an awful title and I will not use it) probably relate to the opening half an hour, which attempts to draw together all the disparate elements from the previous films. It sometimes drags, but within the confines of the narrative it is important and fans of comic books will recognise this as a prologue to the main story. Also having Loki as the main villain, along with a throwaway army leads to a lack of real threat to The Avengers, once they get on the same page of course. Luckily Hiddleston imbues his demi-God with a healthy dose of General Zod camp and is clearly having a riot throughout.
There is nothing hugely original about The Avengers, and there are scenes reminiscent from a host of action films and other comic book films, but Whedon has taken these influences and put his own stamp on them. On top of this he instills the film with a wicked comic streak and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments, mainly involving The Hulk that will keep you chuckling long after the credits have finished (watch the credits for a now expected stinger scene involving a cameo from an infamous Marvel character).
With a cast of charismatic leading actors, rippling dialogue and some memorable action scenes, The Avengers is one of the most cleverly crafted and funniest comic book adaptations going. Fans of the comic books and graphic novels will get a lot more out of it than everyone else, but there’s enough quality throughout to please the masses. Thank you Joss Whedon.