So, do you have be a full-on Comic Book Guy nerd to understand what's going on in Marvel's Avengers movie? Avengers Assemble, that is. They've retitled it for the UK (out 26 April), presumably so that nobody goes in expecting bowler hats and English whimsy. Thankfully a ponytail and complete mint run of Mighty World Of Marvel are not required to get what's going on here. The culmination of six interlocking predecessor adaptations, this is an initially talky but ultimately thoroughly enjoyable epic for which the term "blockbuster" seems hopelessly feeble. It exposes this month's other blow-'em-up megalaunch Battleship for the tin-hearted non-entity that it is. Avengers Assemble embraces the inherent ridiculousness of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk and a handful of second-string characters with love, care, humour and gigawatts of energy.
Avengers Assemble surpasses industry standards for spectacular property destruction - poor old New York gets it again - but it is also capable of moments thoughtful enough to interrogate the very notion of heroism. If the whole superhero genre is one big adolescent power trip, here is a movie smart enough to question that. Its story turns on a moment half way through when something entirely unexpected happens. Seeded in plain sight through the preceding movies, this development brings the whole enterprise down from the abstract heights of gods and monsters to a recognisably human level. For a moment this garish fantasy feels poignant and real.
Anyway, here's what's happening. Norse deity Thor's evil brother Loki, the God Of Mischief, is in league with aliens to retrieve a source of infinite power. Captain America, the WWII hero thawed from an iceberg, still can't come to terms with the modern world. Smart-alec dipsomaniac plutocrat Iron Man is just about clinging on to the wagon, Dr Bruce Banner just about has a lid on his anger issues, and monocular superspy Nick Fury just about cobbles them into a working unit. In true comic book fashion, everybody fights everyone else before becoming fast allies - the superhero team story is as strict in its structures as a medieval mystery play. But everyone gets something worthwhile to do, a big moment which explains the enduring appeal of characters who were for the most part simply knocked up over lunch in the 50s and 60s while Stan Lee was just trying to meet his deadlines.
The Avengers are cartoons for sure, but a cartoon doesn't work if there's nothing human behind it. In is case it's an enduring American theme: how do you build a team in a society that prizes loners? Avengers Assemble papers over that particular crack with a little-used tool in the action movie workshop: acting. It's indicative of how far the superhero movie has come in the past decade that we now take real performances by real actors for granted. If Chris Evans' Captain America and Chris Hemsworth's Thor are simplistic pieces of beefcake, at least that's true to their comics incarnations. Tom Hiddleston as Loki manages the surprising feat - by contemporary standards - of making villainy actually, properly villainous. Mark Ruffalo's twitchy Banner is the best Hulk yet (you wouldn't like him when he's Ang Lee). But Robert Downey Jr's ineffable turn as Iron Man holds the whole megillah, as Stan Lee would say, together.
Downey Jr's Tony Stark gets all the best lines. When a testy Captain America asks him exactly what he amounts to without his battle suit, he replies "um... billionaire playboy philanthropist?" His delightful interludes with Gwyneth Paltrow as his PA-girlfriend Pepper, before whom the Iron Man melts, could develop into a modern day Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn pairing if given enough screentime - although we're still holding out for a prequel entitled Tony Stark: Rich Asshole. Stark's the heart of the movie, a flawed and selfish character who understands how absurd the whole enterprise is but ploughs on regardless. That's the kind of heroism that animates Avengers Assemble. Your reviewer has been waiting for this movie since he was six years-old. Neither his grown-up self nor the part of him that's still six years old are disappointed.
Andrew Harrison @Nndroid
For more head to Marvel.com/avengers_movie/.
10:47 AM | 20/04/2012
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