There are several moments during Joss Whedon’s ecstatically awaited Avengers Assemble – the Marvel franchise mash-up promised since the Samuel L. Jackson-starring post-credits sting of 2008’s Iron Man – that you’re certain you’re watching, quite possibly, the greatest film ever made. This sensation doesn’t last too long, obviously (you’ll probably come to your senses during a post-film-wee moment of clarity) but, considering the extent to which the film pulls out all the stops in its relentless desire to simply entertain you as much as possible, is seems cruel and churlish not to hyperbolise just a little.
Whedon, of course, is currently enjoying success at the moment with the magnificently ape-shit The Cabin in the Woods, yet Avengers Assemble marks the ex-Buffy helmer’s first stint as director since 2005’s Serenity, the big-screen version of his so-brilliant-it-was-disastrously-unpopular TV series Firefly. That evidence of this directing hiatus isn’t present in Avengers Assemble is something of an understatement: Whedon has not only managed to tie together the disparate strands of the brands Marvel wanted to unite, he’s done so in a film which is bombastic, hilarious, confidently and – in places – exquisitely directed. Most importantly of all, it’s hard to recall another film released in recent years that is simply this much fun, from beginning to unapologetically preposterous end.
Of course, in order to get our heroes together in the first place we need an enemy worthy of their attention. Step up Tom Hiddlestone’s charismatic and deliciously evil Loki, last seen on the business end of a harsh bollocking in Thor, who teams up with a reassuringly nasty race of indiscriminate aliens to enslave the Earth (hey look, no one said it was The Wire). Whedon then wastes little time before re-acquainting us with those we’re here to see: Samuel L Jackson’s super-spy Nick Fury, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, stepping into the perpetually-torn shoes of Bruce Banner), Thor (Chris Helmsworth), as well as newcomers Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansen).
Most of the bit-players from each character’s solo efforts also get a look in, and it’s a real treat for those who’ve managed to see each of the separate hero’s films that have led to this one. Whedon doesn’t exclude those that haven’t, though - enough back-story is given for each to bring the audience up to speed, so if you haven’t seen The Hulk or Thor then don’t worry, you won’t have any trouble keeping up. Goodies, baddies, McGuffin, that’s all you need to know - the deeper layers are there for those who want them. And, when the ensemble is brought together, Avengers Assemble truly begins to shine.
Wedon’s shtick, if it’s not unfair to call it such, is sassy, witty scripts, and he’s on career-best, zinging form here. Downey Jnr is effortlessly droll, while no shortage of surprise laughs come from the unlikelier members of the group who, for the most part, each get their own golden chucklesome script nuggets. You just get the sense that everyone involved is having a rollocking good time, and this permeates into you through some form of chummy, good-natured osmosis. It’s only Renner’s Hawkeye that feels a little underused; this is, admittedly, for plot reasons which won’t divulge, but we may have to wait for the mooted Hawkeye spin-off to give him the cuss-quipping screen time he deserves.
When the excrement hits the propeller, which is frequently does, Whedon also orchestrates the vast action scenes with aplomb and joyous flair. Michael Bay, the leading purveyor of epic, mindless action, could learn a thing or two here: these scenes are thrilling and refreshing in their clarity, largely eschewing the shaky-cam and quick-cut histrionics that hinder so many films of this scale. Sure, there’s little in the way of genuine threat, but in giving an audience what it wants (seeing these heroes team up to lay the smack well and truly down) Avengers Assemble delivers, and then some, and then a bit more. Then it nips out for a fag, comes back, and delivers again.
The only real complaints are inherent to the plot itself, which is fairly standard, maniacal overlord fare. It’s serviceable and, certainly, never dull, but these are plot points that have been pounded into flat patties by countless films that have come before, and the sense that story had to be kept light in order to give screen time to the re-establishment of the characters pervades. The film’s also cheesier than a Wotsit fondue on occasion, but – crucially – it’s always aware of it, and we’re all in on the joke, whether you’re a Stella-guzzling comic-phobe or pale, seasoned uber-geek. Also, by way of minor gripe, Captain America is shit. Just saying.
Captain America’s shitness aside, Avengers Assemble somehow manages to be much more than the sum of its parts, making it the best time you’ll have a the cinema this week, and probably for a good few weeks to come.
Like a beautiful superhero’s game of soggy biscuit, only everybody wins and no one wants to cry afterwards. A mega-budget action extravaganza that succeeds on just about every level, and it’s one you should certainly go and see as soon as possible.