The Avengers? Avengers Assemble? Marvel Avengers Assemble? Marvel’s Avengers Assemble? Marvel’s The Avengers? God knows what this movie is called. Different publications give it different titles depending who they listen to and where they are geographically. Disney reportedly changed the name to Avengers Assemble to avoid confusion with the television series The Avengers, although that doesn’t solve the problem as to where the ‘Marvel’ word fits in. For the sake of this review, I’m going to refer to this epic festival of many Marvel superheroes as Avengers Assemble.
The sad fact is that the debate about what to call this movie is more interesting than the film itself. Avengers Assemble, directed by Buffy and The Cabin in the Woods scribe Joss Whedon, is a boring mess of a picture. I know it has its fans, and I am sure many Marvel lovers are already addressing their hate mail to me, but I have to say that I was very bored through the majority of the film. And I’m not someone who dismissively labels superhero movies as silly nonsense. They have the potential to be silly nonsense, but generally speaking the large bulk of Marvel movies over the past of decade have been strong, compelling and wildly entertaining. Not this one.
If you don’t already know (or have managed to escape The Walt Disney Company’s enormous marketing campaign for the film) Avengers Assemble brings together The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans). All have had their respective movies, some with sequels and remakes. They are assembled by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to fight Loki, fascist brother of Thor who wants Earth for his own.
The biggest issue I had with the film was its diluting down of all the characters, with the exception of Downey Jr.’s Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark. Thor and Captain America feel somewhat sidelined and the characterisation is weak and underdeveloped. Bruce Banner (aka Hulk), now played by Ruffalo after Edward Norton dropped out, gets some good scenes, but in the end I felt I wanted more from all of them (apart from Tony Starke, who seems to think this is a dress rehearsal for Iron Man 3).
Plotting isn’t strong either. There’s a lot of flat, bland build-up, then some more talking, then a lot of shouting, running and jumping. During the sequences that were clearly intended to visually impress the audience, I found my mind wandering back to previous Marvel films. Last summer’s rather excellent Captain America: The First Avenger was a particular high point, blending action and intelligent narrative development together in a smooth, wonderfully enjoyable fantasy adventure. Sadly, Avengers Assemble left me cold.
It isn’t a dire picture. The script, although in desperate need of an overhaul, does have some amusing lines (a particular highlight is a joke based around a Wizard of Oz reference). The acting is, for the most part, watchable and strong, particularly from Downey Jr., although I got the feeling he was being deliberately allowed to steal the show.
The computer effects, although superb, don’t feel any more stunning that what we’ve seen before in numerous franchise movies of previous years. The showdown involved a big armoured machine monster-type-thing that smashed its way through Manhattan, but it looked as though it had wandered out of an inferior Transformers sequel.
In the end, this is fast food. You get a lot of it for your money, but it doesn’t fill you up. I really wanted Avengers Assemble to be a triumphant success. But I have to be honest and say that I checked my watch far too many times for me to want to experience it again.
Avengers Assemble, directed by Joss Whedon, is distributed in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures UK, Certificate 12A.