Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Avengers Assemble

directed by Joss Whedon


More is not always better. There's no doubt Avengers Assemble is an exercise in more and bigger, whether it comes to the number of superheroes, the special effects, the scale of the destruction or even the huge egos of the characters, there's nothing minimalist about this almighty battle to save the world (meaning, of course, America, because for the tight-wearing brigade all those other bits don't count. How come no-one ever rampages over Hull?) This follows on from Thor by having a lank-haired Loki (Tom Hiddleston) turn up and threaten Earth with alien invasion, with the help of a magic shiny blue cube and an army of evil, extraterrestrial grunts. He also has a sceptre that shoots bolts of energy or mind-control contact lens rays, depending on the setting.

So Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), faced with having to defend the world, decides that the best way to do this is to call in the Avengers team: the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). However they're very good at superhero quips and bickering, and not all that willing to play nicely together. This means they get to make wisecracks at each other's expense, and the film has some genuinely funny moments as a result, with a lot of the best lines going to Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark. And of course there are some very flashy costumes indeed as the champions compete to out-sparkle each other.

My favourite character by far was Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. She's more of a spy than a superhero, and she gets what she wants through a combination of psychological manipulation, good acting and martial arts. She's one of the most human of the set, but this vulnerability also makes her more interesting because we can never quite tell where the truth ends and the lies begin.

SHIELD are based on a massive aircraft carrier that can fly as well as sail, an impressive spectacle that's just a small part of the vast special effects effort. Giant centipede-things trash Manhattan. There are secret underground bases, airborne superhero fights, other worlds, Loki's illusions, and Tony Stark's AI-controlled tower. Every second of this movie has had money lavished on it, and it shows. The action is fast, shiny and overlaid with a pumping soundtrack. Why, then, did I find it so underwhelming?

One of the problems is the ensemble cast, none of whom get enough screen time to dominate the story. However all the heroes have to take their turn at breaking stuff, so there's too much fighting overall, and too much posturing in costumes. Frankly it's a bit dull after the first several. Then there's the issue of their adversaries. Loki is completely crazy, with an added bonus of narcissistic megalomania, so we're never invited to feel much sympathy for him. His alien allies are even less likeable, they ooze badness and corny evil lines straight out of comic book pulpville.

Since there are so many minor characters no overall theme stands out. Hawkeye looks like a high-tech Robin Hood, but other than that we aren't shown much about who he is and what he's about. The Hulk smashes, sometimes to comic effect, and the impression I got was of a movie relishing the violent bits rather a lot. Avengers Assemble glorifies violence with its snazzy costumes, its heroic pep-talks, and its massive, pretty destruction. Presumably people die, and occasionally we hear body counts but those dead people are rarely shown and the concept of the horror of war doesn't come across at all. The main characters appear indestructible, the aliens are too ugly to matter, and the little people who may get squished don't seem to merit our attention, that seems to be the message. I walked out of the cinema with an urge to hit the gym after watching all of this glossy turbo-charged action. But its effect is entirely visceral, and when you stop to think about the story it's clear how unfocused and light on challenging issues it is.

30th April 2012

Film Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Films

  Science fiction

Classification: 12

If you like this, try:

Thor cover    

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The god of thunder is cast down to Earth to learn a little humility.

Iron Man 2 cover    

Iron Man 2 by Jon Favreau
Iron Man faces threats from upstart technologists, the military, and his own health in this sequel.

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Iron Man by Jon Favreau
An arms manufacturer has a change of heart and builds a suit to help him fight injustice in the world.

3 star rating

Review ©