James Stewart stars as a railroad man hired to secretly carry a payroll despite his suspected connections to outlaws
Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) team up to defeat errant god Loki (Tom Hiddleston)
As a concept, Avengers Assemble was a huge creative gamble and potential disaster. Multiple characters drawn together from multiple films, each with their own fairly specific vibe and an A-list actor to boot? Surely it couldn’t be anything other than a frustrating patchwork of egos competing for screentime? Luckily, Marvel entrusted this particular roll of the dice to Joss Whedon, a writer-director known for his deft handling of character and his ability to judge exactly when to undercut pomp with humour and when to bring on the emotion, developed while overseeing several hundred hours of ensemble-based supernatural television.
Whedon’s Avengers Assemble is almost improbably good, considering the possible pitfalls. Enjoyable enough in terms of sheer adrenaline, where it really comes into its own is in how satisfying the whole thing is emotionally. It’s such a huge relief as a cinemagoer to be able to revel in a film like this without having to switch off your brain or check your critical faculties at the door (or worse, being told that disliking - say - a Transformers movie is somehow a failing on your part, because you didn’t dumb yourself down enough in advance before watching, and what did you expect?).
In contrast, if you watch Avengers without your brain engaged, you’ll still have a pretty good time, but you’ll also miss out, since this is filmmaking as smart as it is colourful and exciting. Smart yes, dark, no - Avengers Assemble is also bright and funny, skilfully sidestepping the nihilism fallacy, which seeks to suggest comic book movies are somehow more valid when they’re “dark”.
If Avengers Assemble has a weakness, it lies not with any of the principals, but with what they’re up against. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is of course absurdly brilliant, bringing the King Lear b-plot of embittered illegitimate sibling sharply into focus, giving Thor a personal angle on an earthbound conflict from which he might otherwise have felt distanced - what with being a god from another world and all.
It’s just a slight shame the MacGuffin Loki has to work with is a magical space cube that threatens to unleash forgettable hordes of reptilian chaps visually recalling Doctor Who’s Silurians. Oh well. It’s not like we really recall the individual mooks The Joker unleashed against Batman, either. And it’s certainly refreshing to find the focus here firmly on the heroes, in a genre which is always in danger of being seduced by the villains. You certainly can’t accuse the lizard chaps of glamorizing the way of the mook.
An unlikely wizard of Oz figure, Joss Whedon shows that a franchise hitherto slightly lacking a full complement of brains, heart and courage must have had them all along, as Marvel's finest heroes finally come together to set a comic book franchise gold standard that will take some beating.
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