Avengers Assemble REVIEW

"No Joss commentary? Hulk... pay Marvel's offices a little visit."


Release Date: 17 September 2012
2012 | 12 | 137 minutes | £18.99 (DVD)/£22.99 (Blu-ray)/£25.99 (Blu-ray 3D)
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner

You’d think we’d have learned not to underestimate Joss Whedon by now. In the battle for the summer’s biggest superhero blockbuster, few would have predicted that Earth’s Mightiest would topple the Big Black Bat, but that milestone was a footnote in Avengers Assemble’s record-breaking run at the box office. And it was all down to word of mouth.

Not just the effusive words of those who melted into pools of giddy delight at the sight of a big green smashy man tossing a puny god round like Stretch Armstrong, but the words Whedon puts into the mouths of his Technicolor superteam. Avengers Assemble may feature six superheroes, but the real hero is the script – a relentlessly witty, deliciously wry word salad that boasts people chatting in rooms among its more enthralling moments. Marvel has demonstrated smarts in the past with its choice of directors, but bringing Whedon into the fold has been its smartest move yet.

You probably all know the story by now: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye band together under Nick Fury’s SHIELD to save the world from Loki’s inter-dimensional invasion. Simple, effective. Perhaps wisely, the film dials back narrative complexity in favour of an unwavering focus on its characters; as New York crumbles around them the Hulk (in one of many film-stealing moments) still finds time to land a playground sucker punch on Thor, for example. Wrangling ensembles is what the Buffy man does best, but whereas the story soars from scene to scene because of the cast’s entertaining interplay, it doesn’t quite reach the same lofty heights on a macro level.

It starts slowly, an inevitable consequence of all that “assembling”, but once Loki’s plan kicks into gear aboard SHIELD’s incredible flying fortress it’s a non-stop joygasm: Tony Stark unremittingly teasing big blue boy scout Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff’s significant upgrade in kick-assery, Loki’s mischievous loose tongue… Amazingly, almost every major player gets their moment to shine, the balance near-perfect. The only character short-changed is Hawkeye, who’s difficult to care about after being turned into a meat puppet in the opening minutes.

When the action comes it’s bigger and better than anything Marvel has put on screen to date. Whedon and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey made the odd, televisual choice to shoot in 1.85:1 (to accommodate the vertical scale of Manhattan and the huge difference in height of the core group) which gives the film a slightly boxed-in feel, but the payoff is that it looks absolutely gorgeous filling every inch of  the TV screen.

Marvel’s success has come because of the way it’s embraced its filmmakers, but arguably the most Whedon-esque moment in the entire film didn’t come from the man himself – the entire third act hinging on the death of a relatively minor character – and while the successes of the film can’t all be laid at his feet, neither can all the failings. The biggest letdown is the score: a bland, forgettable, utterly un-hummable blancmange that sounds like the filler bits in between the rousing themes from other superhero movies. We challenge you to whistle any of it right now – bet you can’t.

But music is only one tool in a filmmaker’s arsenal, and as a whole Avengers Assemble emerges as a film that’s far greater than the sum of its already admirable parts. We’d pity the man who had to follow this up, but we’re not underestimating Whedon next time.

Jordan Farley twitter.com/JordanFarley

Extras:

There’s been considerable controversy about what’s not on the UK discs: the lack of a Joss Whedon commentary is a huge disappointment, doubly so given that there is one on the US release. Disney says Whedon didn’t record it in time for the UK release date, but we guarantee fans here would rather have waited another week. It’s also annoying that a 90-minute documentary (which, from the 10 minutes we were shown, looks stunning) is only on the two-disc Blu-ray available from Sainsbury’s.

What do you get if you buy the regular Blu-ray? Well, the principle treat is new short Item 47 (see below for a detailed write-up). There are eight deleted scenes. These include alternate opening and closing scenes, loads more of Maria Hill and Stan Lee’s cameo – they’re all great, but you can see why they were lopped. In the case of the alternate ending, it’s possibly a blessing in disguise – it features one of the cheesiest voiceovers Whedon’s ever written. The gag reel is genuinely funny (Smulders’s eulogy to Agent Coulson and Chris Hemsworth’s hammer juggling are highlights). Finally, there’s six-minute featurette “Assembling The Ultimate Team”. Buy the DVD and that’s all you get! That’s the format we always rate, hence the low score.

Jonathan Norton

ITEM 47

Marvel’s third one-shot short movie is a major evolutionary leap over its predecessors. The Consultant (which appeared on the Thor Blu-ray) and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer (on the Captain America Blu-ray) were mere vignettes, each barely four minutes long. Item 47, on the other hand, is a mini epic. At 12 minutes, it’s a complete little story. A slight story, sure, but fun. It even has its own end-of-credits extra scene… which is possibly the best scene in it.

Following the battle of New York, two slackers, Benny (Jesse Bradford) and Claire (Lizzy Caplan), manage to get their hands on the one piece of discarded Chitauri hardware – a gun – that SHIELD hasn’t managed to recover. But when they go on a Bonnie and Clyde-style crime spree, Nick Fury’s men soon take an interest.

It’s very silly, with Lost’s Titus Welliver playing a kind of long-suffering, slightly inept SHIELD boss, and Maximiliano Hernández as his not-exactly-by-the-book field agent. There’s also a very unlikely, and predictable twist. But it looks great (with the exception of some slightly stiff scenes back at SHIELD base, which have a filmed-in-the-last-10-minutes-of- the-day feel), has some genuinely amusing moments, and Benny and Claire are instantly loveable characters we hope we haven’t seen the last of.