Friday, 27 April 2012

The Avengers - Dir. Joss Whedon

With the success of Jon Favreau’s ‘Iron Man’ in 2008, calls started ringing out across the comic book universe for not only further comic book movies, but also for the ‘The Holy Grail of Cinematic Superheroes,’ which is also known as an ‘Avengers’ film. What followed was four more Marvel Universe movies, the introduction of many favoured and established characters and the continual teasing of fans across the globe with post-credit sequences. The introduction of Samuel L. Jackson as Commander Nick Fury inevitably announced to fans that an ‘Avengers’ movie would come to fruition and it brought forth the key question of when rather than where, who and why. The man tasked with throwing all these vibrant characters into a smouldering cauldron of excitement and pure unadulterated geekiness is one Joss Whedon. He’s already created three incredibly successful television shows and an incredibly successful tie-in movie in ‘Serenity,’ but this is undoubtedly his biggest challenge to date. Today sees the release of ‘The Avengers’ (or ‘Avengers Assemble’ in the United Kingdom) across the globe, and while it contains evident flaws, it’s nothing short of a two hour canonical ride across the Marvel Universe which provides everything to satisfy fans, nerds and casual cinema-goers alike. Buried deep beneath a Government facility is the mystical cube known as the tesseract. When it begins to mysteriously start operating by itself Commander Nick Fury, and his agents Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), unexpectedly come face-to-face with the Asgard deity Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The God is being seemingly controlled by a higher being, with but one simple, yet distinct aim, to control, enslave and destroy the Earth and humanity. With reluctance, Fury initiates the ‘Avengers’ protocol, which brings together the rag-tag team of superheroes consisting of: Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the Asgard God Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Clint ‘Hawkeye’ Barton (Jeremy Renner), the Black Widow Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and the unpredictable Dr Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Where ‘The Avengers’ had the ability to fall pretty darn hard was with the amount of material ready at hand. Joss Whedon could’ve potentially created a ten-hour-three-film epic without even scratching the surface of what drives these beings to do what they do. Instead, in the running time which extends to just over two hours, he’s created an intimate and humanised portrayal of six individuals who may be Gods, geniuses, super-human beings and destructive radioactive experiments on the outside, but all reflect deep, inner trauma on the inside. The initial meetings between the characters show an element of distrust and reluctance. Why should one be subordinate to others when, by all accounts in their own minds, they all have the better technology, powers or intellect? With their flaws prominently on show from the beginning Whedon doesn’t just show the audience superheroes, but he creates them before your own eyes. Building these characters from the inside, outside he allows the audience to empathise with their plights. After all, Thor is simply an Asgardian God with family issues, Dr Banner simply wants to be left alone in isolation to his own devices, and Black Widow and Hawkeye seem to battling those basic primal urges that come with humanity and prolonged friendship. But one character that does continually feel out of place is the antagonist of the piece, Loki. Despite Tom Hiddleston creating a superb maniacal villain with thespian traits who thrives on power and destruction, it’s hard to shake-off the fact that Loki he is constantly being undermined by those pulling his puppeteering strings. Yet, this should not detract away from his performance which constantly steals the show whenever he is on-screen with other members of the Avengers intiative, and which can be partly attributed to Josh Whedon and Zak Penn’s slick screenplay. The script contains some suspect writing in places, especially with regards to Dr Banner and some of the more unusually up-beat and intellectually void phrases he spouts. But aside from the odd sentence here or there, Whedon and Penn’s script manages to combine the right mix or humour, bravado and arrogance allowing, not only each character’s personality to thrive, but also the plot to be continually be driven forward. Whether it’s the blossoming relationship between two prominent superheroes or the developing nature of the narrative, the film is never stagnant, and it’s this plot development which gives Joss Whedon the ability to let his comic book geekdom roam free in the final act with an enthralling visual action-orientated conclusion. Starting in Manhattan, the action takes place on the ground, in the air, inside buildings and generally anywhere where there’s an enough room to photograph a glorious all battle of good versus evil. Explosions saturate the air, but there’s also an enjoyable emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, especially when the likes of Hawkeye, Black Widow and Captain America are left without their weapons. Beautifully choreographed, fast, frenetic and aesthetically pleasing the final thirty minutes are a fitting and welcome conclusion to an epic comic book movie. Joss Whedon hasn’t only managed to finally bring the six glorious superheroes to the big-screen. But he’s also also managed to do it well, very well.