Here we are at the first main event of the MCU Journey: The Avengers, or Avengers Assemble depending on whether you are in the US or the UK. I was confused for a while about why there seemed to be 2 versions of this movie. A friend of mine pointed out that here in the UK there is a TV show called “The Avengers” and they also made a film of it. So for UK release it is called “Avengers Assemble” which is also the name of the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for obvious reasons. Having cleared that point up I can get on with rambling about the actual film.
The plot of this flagship film is as light as most of the others in the series, preferring spectacular action and fantastic effects over deep plot and character development. By now we should be used to this and it certainly doesn’t lessen this film in relation to the others or many other films.
Warning: I talk about some aspects of the plot but try to avoid giving away specifics that you wouldn’t learn from the trailer.
Loki makes a reappearance as the main bad guy after his antics in Thor. This time he has fallen in with some bad alien dudes who want the power of the tesseract (the blue glowy mcguffin that is the power source for the bad guys in Captain America and is given to Dr Selvig to research in Thor). For unexplained reasons Loki is just the guy to get it for them. For equally unexplained reasons, Loki’s price for helping them is that they send him an army to take over the Earth so he can rule it.
It is hinted that this is in part due to the fascination with Midgard that everyone from Asgard seems to have and particularly because Thor has an affection for Earth but it is never actually explored. Also, Loki has been thwarted to in his attempts to become king of Asgard and thinks it will be easier to be king of Earth where there are only puny humans to oppose him. Of course Thor soon comes to oppose him too, which is probably what Loki wanted all along.
There is even less of Loki’s prankster persona in this film than in Thor which again is a shame. Here he is a much more vicious and vengeful character than he was in Thor, delighting not just in destroying things but also in the negative effect his actions have on individual people. His motives seem to be a bit muddled though. Almost everything he does seems to be calculated to provoke the Avengers into thwarting him and he even admits as much at points. But at other times he seems to be trying hard to avoid getting them involved so he can succeed in his plans. Perhaps this is his prankster tendencies or some internal conflict about whether he really wants to succeed. This is more noticeable early on but once he realises that they might be able to stop him he starts working harder to avoid them.
Despite the 5 origin stories leading up to this one, this film feels like it is now doing Avengers origin on top of all that. Most of the characters are the same as in the earlier movies with the notable exception of The Hulk. Not only is Bruce Banner played by a different actor (Mark Ruffalo replaces Edward Norton) but Hulk is back to his usual mindless rage persona despite the fact that he had pretty much learnt to control it in his origin film. Of course, in order to be an official Avenger he needs to learn to control the rage again. Banner spends most of the movie doing a credible impression of Dr Malcolm from Jurassic Park complete with nervous gestures and speech mannerisms.
Given that this film has to accommodate all of the stars from the previous movies, supporting characters don’t get a whole lot of screen time. Pepper Potts shows up briefly but really doesn’t do anything more than hang around Tony Stark and look pretty. She gets more time than Jane Foster from Thor though, she only appears in a picture on a computer screen. Captain America’s compatriots are only mentioned in passing too but there is a much better reason for them not being in this film, after all when we last saw them WWII was still on! Erik Selvig from Thor gets quite a bit of time though and it is always nice to see Stellan Skarsgård even briefly.
SHIELD Agents Romanov and Barton aka Black Widow and Hawkeye are both important characters and play key roles in this movie throughout. However, it feels a lot like they are treated as second class members of the team. Part of this feeling must be due to neither of them getting their own origin movie (Romanov turns up in Iron Man 2 and Hawkeye is briefly in Thor) and not having any obvious super powers or gimmicks but they are also often missing from key scenes or group shots despite being active in the action taking place.
Of course SHIELD director Nick Fury is an important part of this story but actually I find his character a bit weak in this film. He is stronger in his cameo performances in other films than the larger role in this one. Samuel L Jackson seems to not quite be comfortable in the role here and many of his scenes feel a bit stilted, especially where he has to deliver dramatic one liners. The less action heavy scenes requiring more subtle acting work better and most of the action centres around the Avengers team rather than Nick so it isn’t too much of a distraction.
As well as catering for all the existing main characters from the previous movies, this one introduces some new characters. Notably Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill. This is a bit of an odd casting choice for me as I have never seen her in anything other than How I Met Your Mother and I can’t get the character of Robin out of my mind when I see her. She is not helped by not being given a lot to do or say in this film and also has some pretty dodgy lines but she just doesn’t really pull off the image of a kick-ass agent of SHIELD. Perhaps if I had got round to watching the TV show then I would have a better feel for her character.
The whole film is really a set up for the final showdown with alien soldiers and massive creatures let loose on New York. Fortunately, this showdown definitely lives up to the hype with lots of spectacular action as the newly formed Avengers have to fight desperately to repel the alien hordes that Loki has unleashed on New York. There are some great set-pieces and all of the members of the Avengers get a chance to shine. The effects are well done and even though they are obviously everywhere they mostly serve to enhance the enjoyment of the action rather than distract from it.
I spent a lot of the film wondering if I had missed one of the earlier films as a lot of back story was not explained but seemed to be taken for granted. I suspect that this is simply due to them putting in references for the proper fans to pick up which I missed due to only having watched the films and not read the comics or watched any of the TV series.
The action is great, effects are great and everything looks cool although there are some bits where the actors obviously can’t see what is supposed to be going on around them. It would just be nice if there was a little more to it than looking cool having pretty explosions all over the place.