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Avengers Assemble (2012)
Director: Joss Whedon

review by J.C. Hartley

The two greatest Avengers stories I remember are, the one in which the team battle aliens, or something, within the hollow shell of the Statue of Liberty, and the famous final pages of the Kree/ Skrull War. Obviously, these titles hail from the late 1960s and early 1970s, when my introduction to Marvel Comics had opened up vistas my paltry imagination had not yet conceived of. The former comic I owned, in that now fabled comicbook collection my Mum told me to get rid of, which I subsequently discovered 20 years later could have been worth a mint. The second I bought as a kid in New York in 1970, and read in a room in the Dixie Hotel in Times Square, on the night my Mum went to Radio City to watch Airport, having shown me the brochures which suggested Radio City was some sort of Music Hall. I didn't know Airport was on and would have loved to have seen it; I loved movies even then. Also, I could have been murdered or worse in my hotel room; as it was I just got a mild electric shock messing with the sockets while watching Cornel Wilde's The Naked Prey on TV.

Around the time of the build-up to this movie it was suggested that the team wasn't as well known as other superheroes in the Marvel stable. In the UK, it was feared that cinemagoers would confuse Marvel's Avengers with John Steed and his highly-educated and high-kicking sidekicks from the 1960s and 1970s. Marvel, of course, did a very clever thing. Marvel educated the cinema-going public, by seeding a sequence of superhero films with references to the creation of a team of individuals with the kind of enhanced physical powers needed to combat an unspecified threat that might at any time threaten humanity. So, through Iron Man and Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, the surprise hit that was Thor, and Captain America, we were given the heroes, Colonel Nick Fury, the tactical genius behind the creation of the team, the mcguffin, the Tesseract or Cosmic Cube which gives its wielder unfathomable power, and a villain, Loki adopted brother of Thor. Finally, we get the culmination of origin stories and marketing operations in the greatest movie event since Gregg Toland told Orson Welles about deep focus. But is it any good?

The thing about superhero comics is, you get a lot of pages of fighting, but if you get a lot more pages of characterisation, and internal monologue, you end up thinking you've read a classic. Those fights in comics are preposterous, people swinging on cables and wires and aerials hundreds of feet up in the air, people flying between narrow buildings high above city streets, human bodies being struck and crashing through masonry and plate glass, all in gorgeous colours on the page. I used to read them and think if only they could do this on the screen. Now they can, and guess what, after a while it all gets a bit tedious.

Loki hires the Chitauri, Marvel's Ultimate universe's answer to the shape-shifting Skrulls, to aid him in an invasion and subjugation of Earth. Loki plans to achieve this with the acquisition of the Tesseract. Nick Fury assembles the Avengers and things follow the classic comicbook line. Soon-to-be friends needs must first fight, and when part of the team capture Loki they end up in a set-to with Thor. Loki, with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) under his influence, escapes and pinches the Tesseract in a sequence very like something out of a Bourne or Mission: Impossible caper. Loki uses his newfound power to open up a portal between worlds and his alien allies pour through it. The death of fan-favourite Agent Coulson motivates the superheroes, and then we have fights interrupted by chat and wisecracks, followed by property damage and more fights. Fury argues with a rather sinister World Security Council, reminiscent of the ruling council on Krypton in the first Superman movie but, in the face of mounting destruction, as wave after wave of Chitauri arrive, they decide to nuke Manhattan. Fortunately for Earth, and particularly New York, the warhead is successfully directed against the Chitauri base and we are all saved.

Maybe I was just too drunk, probably it was better on the big screen, but for this critic the big event fell some way short of the fanfare. Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony Stark's girl-Friday, Pepper, in her scenes with Robert Downey Jr, continues in the arc of irritation initiated by their annoying pseudo-improvised banter in Iron Man 2. I am not disheartened by my somewhat negative reaction to this film; rather I'm looking at it as a taster for the solo-hero sequels which its commercial success has assured.

There's a whole Marvel Universe of DVD versions available, the most awe-inspiring of which must be the all-father Odin or Galactus boxset, which features all the preceding movies and hoary hosts of Hoggoth makings-off, featurettes, blooper reels and more commentaries and extras than you could shake a billy-club at.

Avengers Assemble



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