What I’ve Been Watching: Marvel Avengers Assemble

AvengersPosterIt is probably fair to say there’s never been a movie like Avengers Assemble before. A ‘sequel’ or continuation of four different series of films (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk).

It’s a film whose marketing machine started way back in 2008 when Samuel L. Jackson popped up as Nick Fury to ‘assemble’ Tony Stark as the first member of his Avengers Initiative.

Ever since then, each of the films in the series has made reference to the fact this film has coming creating the kind of hype fanboys love, but could surely only end in disaster.

Then came the hiring of Joss Whedon, a man whose last two TV series (Firefly and Dollhouse) had fairly terrible ratings, and resulted in them both being cancelled within a year of their respective pilots. A cult favourite no doubt, but hardly a director of the type mainstream appeal necessary for such a mammoth project.

The film opens, as so many films do, in a secret military base. Fury and Agent Coulson are trying to harness the power of a mysterious blue substance fans of Captain America will recognise as the Macguffin for that film.

Just as they’re testing it out, Loki (brother of Thor) appears from another dimension to steal it. He turns some of the good guys into his unquestioning minions before escaping and starting a project to take over the world.

So far, so every superhero movie ever. Then Fury says (or at least in my head he says:) “AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!” and the real fun begins.

The first act sees the Avengers getting together, the second them falling out, and the third them working together for the good of mankind. In theory none of this should work. In theory, the plot of the film is tired; in theory, there’s too many characters on screen to start forming any sort of emotional connection; in theory there’s too many set pieces and noise to let the film breathe; in theory…

Thankfully this film is more than just a theory, and I think the real reason it works is, like all of Whedon’s work (Buffy, Firefly, Dr. Horrible, Cabin in the Woods) the characters and world he creates are so enjoyable you’d probably have just as much fun watching them collect stamps together as you would watching them save the world from an alien overlord.

He has such a good ear for dialogue that the best scenes in the film contain the kind of screwball comedy cinephiles associate with rom-coms of the fifties and sixties. Tony Stark and Pepper Potts; The Black Widow and Loki; Thor and Iron Man; Bruce Banner and The Black Widow. If you’ve seen seen the film, you’ll know exactly the scenes I’m talking about, and probably remember lines like “Shakespeare in the Park”; “Just you and me?” and “Phil? Uh, his first name is Agent.”

Fanboys have long been asking the question “Who would win in a fight between Iron Man and Thor?” but Whedon shows us there’s so much more possibility in seeing them argue, tease, and outwit each other than there ever will be in a simple clash of shields, hammers and green muscles.

I think it’s fair to say that literally every classic visual moment in the film is followed up with an equally memorable line. And that, more than anything, makes it a film more than a sum of its individual parts.

The Avengers is not a perfect movie. It’s not a perfect movie because I think (especially in comparison to the rest of Whedon’s work) it does not challenge the viewer to think much beyond the world we are presented with on screen. There’s no underlying challenge or problematic we’re left with as a viewer, beyond the obvious “we work better together than we do apart”.

However, it is a great example of a film which, given exactly the same story and plot elements, could have been completely disposable and even a little mundane. However, the fact the characters all feel so vibrant, fresh, and grounded is testament to a writer who knows how to give audiences both what they want in terms of spectacle and what they need in terms of a team they can truly root for.

Best of all, its spectacular success at the box office means fans of Whedon, like myself, can look forward to plenty of his ideas getting funded for at least the next five years.

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2 responses to “What I’ve Been Watching: Marvel Avengers Assemble

  1. As you say, the miracle is that the movie works at all. It’s a testament to Whedon’s talents that he creates a coherent, compelling and often very emotional narrative out of all those pre-existing characters and elements. Which is, of course, a very useful skill in Hollywood, where many if not most writing assignments are sequels, prequels or pre-existing material.

    I look forward to seeing what Whedon does with his new A-list status. Please, please, please be Dr. Horrible 2!

  2. Dr Horrible 2 is on its way! ( http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/joss-whedons-reddit-ama-highlights-avengers-cabin-in-the-woods-310129 )
    As is “Much Ado About Nothing” and another film called “In Your Eyes”. Both are funded by him and his wife’s very own production company, “Bellwether Pictures”

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