Avengers: chatty heroes assemble (review)

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Avengers Assemble, movie
Avengers Assemble: Mark Ruffalo as the Incredible Hulk, who delivers the film's funniest lines

After a record breaking $200 million opening-weekend in the US, it’s clear that despite my pleas and a mini-campaign across various social media platforms, that you, the millions, didn’t “Skip the Avengers” as instructed. In fact, you’ve obviously been attending in your droves. So, what with its sensationally-positive, critical-reception, I stumped up my own cash and begrudgingly stomped off to the nearest screening– while muttering curses under my breath.

The disdain felt – by this critic – for MARVEL’s comicbook adaptations is hardly secret. In one of my recent film previews, I called Joss Whedon’s film “awful-looking” and encouraged cinema goers to watch Werner Herzog’s Happy People, instead – a sentiment I stand by. But Whedon’s primary coloured spectacle isn’t the disaster I expected. However, just so we’re clear, neither is it the masterpiece that many are declaring it. Despite its box-office success, only a fool would argue that Whedon’s film is better than Sam Rami’s Spider-Man 2 or Bryan Singer’s X-Men 2 – the MARVEL benchmarks. I resist the temptation to compare it to Christopher Nolan’s Batman films because even if you combined all of MARVEL’s movies, they’d still pale in comparison.

Now, I shan’t bore you with a detailed synopsis. This site’s very own Sean Wilson provided a more than comprehensive description of the film’s narrative. I’ll cut straight to the chase. Avengers Assemble is not a 5* movie, heck, it’s not even a 4* film – it’s a 3* film! Whedon’s film may not be as honkingly bad as X-Men: First Class, Thor or even Ghost Rider, but that doesn’t make it a masterpiece. It’s just a better MARVEL film than we’ve become accustomed too. Quite simply, I think part of the reason behind the success of Avengers Assemble, is wrapped up in diminished expectations, but not just our low expectations from MARVEL films, but ‘Blockbusters’ in general. Watch the Pirates of the Caribbean films back-to-back and all of a sudden Howard the Duck looks likes Citizen Kane – and I’m fairly certain, despite being rather fond of the cigar-chewing duck, that it isn’t a masterpiece.

The most surprising thing about the Avengers was just how dull and bloated it actually was. The action sequences in general are ok – they’re the typical superhero fare. But there isn’t a really great action scene. The most memorable/enjoyable fights all take place between the good guys ie Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) vs Thor (Chris Hemsworth) vs Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor vs The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

The film’s finale turns into a rather generic fare, with standard doppelganger enemies, including Hollywood’s favourite villain – evil sausages from outer space! I’m not sure why Hollywood fixates upon space tentacles and sausages so much, because they really aren’t very threatening and they certainly don’t make for an engaging enemy. In all honesty, the conclusion reminded me of Skeletor’s invasion of Earth, in the Masters of the Universe. Although I’m certain that’s just coincidental, it isn’t a good thing when a multi-million dollar film, is comparable to Dolph Lundgren in a loin cloth – Eww!

One of the film’s other noticeable flaws is its juggling of its superheroes. But first, to give Whedon his due, he does do a commendable job of balancing out multiple characters, but only the ones who are popular. Both Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are incidental characters ie the fat which could have been trimmed. These characters don’t just play second fiddle to Iron Man and Captain America – even Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) gets more screen time than these dummies! What’s really irritating is that despite a strong introduction for Johansson’s Black Widow, where she’s ‘interrogated’ by some would-be murderers, it soon becomes apparent that she’s little more than window dressing, which is a shame considering Whedon’s penchant for female ass-kickers. It turns out Black Widow is little more than boobs and bum.

The film’s main strength lies in Whedon’s writing; whether that involves the collection of spandex rentboys bickering with one another or Loki (Tom Hiddleston) calling Black Widow, a “mewling quim” – which incidentally isn’t his first quim offence (see Firefly). In fact, these superheroes are at their very best when they’re stood around moaning at one another. You’ll forget the dull action sequences, but the dialogue will stick with you, which is something that can’t be said for the majority of comicbook films.

If Whedon’s film has a crowning achievement, then it’s delivering the definitive Hulk, to-date. Perhaps the character succeeds here because the film is an ensemble piece and not solely dependent upon that one character. But it beggars belief that MARVEL didn’t utilise the technology behind Gollum – motion capture – years ago. The film’s funniest moments are all delivered by Mark Ruffalo’s hulking behemoth; whether one-upping Thor or laying the smackdown on Loki.

I’ll be honest, I was surprised by just how much I smiled during Avengers Assemble, but the critical ovation it has received is undeserved – it’s just alright, nothing more nothing less. If you love MARVEL films, then it probably is a ‘classic’, but as far as the rest of us are concerned – pull the other one!