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One Thousand and Two Hundred Word Review of Avengers Assemble

by Samuel Marlow. Published 3rd May 2012

I am breaking with my usual Five Word Review, as Avengers Assemble (which I saw last night) requires slightly more discussion than the quintet of lexemes would have permitted.

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I suppose I should start with a Five Word Review: "Much better than I expected".

I should stress, however, that my expectations were pretty low. From what I had seen of the trailer, the movie looked like it was going to be a two-and-a-half hour slug-fest tearing up New York. I knew this couldn't be it, but so little of the rest of movie was referenced, I worried it was going to simply be filler.

In general I approve of Joss Wheadon's work. He has the ability to take seemingly well-trodden material and find a fresh angle in it, his characters tend to be well-realised, and he has a dry sense of humour. But I worried that the source material would overload any script.

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Prior to seeing the movie, I said to a few people it would be interesting to compare notes. I had a suspicion as to how the movie would be structured, and broadly speaking I was right on the money, but there were a few occasions where it was able to surprise me.

My main suspicion was that the villain would be introduced early, then drop out of the picture for about half the story, only to re-emerge in Act III. In this way, the movie could concentrate on its heroes and their own ego interactions. The problem with this is that we run the risk of losing the sense of threat.

I was half right.

The person I thought was the movie's villain was Thor's (adopted) brother Loki. As it is we are introduced to a bigger, badder villain right off the bat, who then doesn't appear again for ages.

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Wheadon solves this by putting the cat among the pigeons, as it were, trapping the villain and heroes together for an extended period of time. While I can see the structural reasons for this, the characters' own various motivations are not quite clear.

The resolution of that part of the story and the motivations of the key players seems to act entirely contrary to their stated aims, however. I can't escape the feeling it was a narrative fix, and not driven by the characters' own goals and objectives.

Sure enough, and I don't feel I am giving away any spoilers here as it is the movie's title, at the start of Act III the Avengers do indeed Assemble for a clearly 9/11-inspired showdown.

Unfortunately, I didn't care. I was never in any doubt the heroes would win. Even though it is almost a dead certainty in the vast majority of movies, I can still feel concern for the characters' well-being. I didn't here - they were just too indestructible. Even the, supposedly, non-superpowered characters were brushing off injuries that should have killed any normal person ten times over.

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The fights sometimes felt contrived, and I felt it undermined some of the characters that personal differences were solved with violence, even though they share a common goal and values. I would also say that I felt the specter of 9/11 was too heavily invoked in this movie. Ten years after the fact, this felt a bit like New York's revenge against those who had tried to subdue it. The big-bad's parting shot that the people of Earth "cannot be ruled" felt like it was meant for someone else.

What saved the movie from being overly tedious was the non-punchy interplay between the main characters. My two favourites were Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner/Hulk and Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark/Iron Man. The two characters clearly had great respect for each other's intellect and there seemed to be a genuine affection between the two. It is a sad irony that while Bruce Banner is one of more nuanced heroes, his alter-ego (euphemistically referred to as "the other guy") is the most one-dimensional of all.

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Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, the only two Avengers I knew nothing of, felt the most Whedonian. Black Widow had the cool self-confidence of Whedon's other female leads like Buffy, or Firefly's River Tam or Zoe, while Hawkeye had the qualities of a bad-ass Xander or Mal.

It is fair to say Avenger Assemble has Whedon's fingerprints all over it. While this stops it becoming too ridiculous or saccharine, at times it also serves to undermine some of the tension. Captain Malcolm Reynolds was always a deadpan snarker, so his gallows humour never felt distractingly out of place in Serenity, but some of the genuinely funny lines in AA effectively killed the sense of menace.

There also wasn't the "Oh my god! If that character can die, anyone could die!" gambit in Avenger Assemble, making truly cathartic moments like this tricky:

imageRiver Tam keeps the bad guys at bay in Serenity

Ultimately, the reason I think this movie works is that, despite there being as many as half a dozen movies leading into this one, it still felt like an origin movie. Apart from prior knowledge of Captain America's very loose backstory, there wasn't a great deal in this movie to make it impenetrable to anyone who didn't have only the vaguest knowledge of the characters.

The reason I call it an origin story, is that it deals with the origin of the Avengers team. Rather than the heroes getting to grips with new powers, they are getting to grips with each other's powers. Working out how they fit.

In conclusion, then, it is hard to see how this movie could have been better, given what it had to work with. The cast were all excellent, and the special effects were brilliant. Ultimately, though, I never  cared about any of the characters, and only felt any sort of excitement or anticipation on two occasions - one where an elderly man stands up to Loki, and the moment before the Avengers finally Assemble.

As a parting shot, I would like to point out I paid £12.50 to see this movie (it would have been more had I not saved my 3D glasses), and that was for the pleb seats, not the premium ones. I think there was a £1 booking fee in there, but I seem to remember part of the argument for the (in my opinion still-noticeable) change to digital projectors was that it would decrease the cost of movie distribution and exhibition, so halting further inflation in ticket prices. Coupled with the fact the 3D presentation means the movie was screened in 16:9 aspect ratio, had I bought popcorn (or frankly anything) it would have been cheaper for me to buy the movie on BluRay when it comes out in (probably) six weeks from now. It seems ticket prices have continued to balloon as before with, presumably, the cinemas and distributors pocketing any saving along the way.

Distributors and exhibitors be warned - at a time when you are complaining of falling ticket sales, and with viable 3D television coming on-stream, you risk pricing yourselves out of the market. I like seeing movies in the theatre, but I am not a chump, and not inexhaustibly wealthy. People will stop coming to the theatres if this trend continues.


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