Super-hero tales walk a fine line: too serious and they get geeky, too flip and they lose that precarious credibility needed to sustain the special effects and world-saving hyperbole.
Happily, all is well in the land of Marvel Comics/Walt Disney Pictures marketing calculus. It looks quite as though the idea of teaming up Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man and Thor could actually be both a massive critical and popular success.
It all starts when head of the peacekeeping force S.H.I.E.L.D Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) calls in the Avengers to help retrieve the tesseract – a box-like object with the ability to open portals into outer space and create unlimited sustainable energy.
The cosmic cube has been snaffled by Thor’s evil adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – intent on eliminating a certain overrated concept known as freedom and subjecting earth to his dominion.
As S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters hurtle through space with an initially captive Loki on board, the big guys are retrieved from various corners of the earth and come on board. They are joined by MMA ass-kicking Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to begin the process of taking each other’s measure and that of the enemy (including temporarily rogue superhero Hawkeye) whilst working out some ego issues. And then it’s time for some pretty impressive tango.
In the build up to this joint venture, all four major figures featured individually in movies recently produced by the Marvels Cinematic Universe. Of the four actors playing them here only Mark Ruffalo is new as the Hulk: Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America and Chris Hemsworth as Thor have worn their suits before. Which might be the reason why, in a pretty solid ensemble cast, the unexpected Ruffalo has the edge.
Director Joss Whedon digs deep into the Hulk’s persona. In terms of character (un)dependability, his volatility is even more essential than usual to the storyline. And thanks to computer graphics, the transformed Hulk retains Ruffalo’s expressive features, giving the figure unusual consistency, depth and poignancy.
But this wouldn’t be a vehicle for superhero fairness if Whedon didn’t distribute the spoils evenly. One of the best things about this movie is that each character gets the chance to explore the current state of their personalities, their personal histories, and their (alter-) egos’ darker and lighter sides.
Retaining mega-ego individuality whilst insisting on teamwork keeps up the tension, and helps drive a plot interspersed with changes in pace and situational comedy.
There’s ample scope for gratuity in action movies but Whedon makes every second, every innuendo count. Each facet of these superhero personas is served up—and that includes the contextual history of their genesis: successfully enlisting the cool, calm war-time leadership of Captain America (conceived in 1941) to direct the nuclear age’s barely contained violence, atavistic moral criteria and a belief in technology (Hulk, Thor and Iron Man, all creations of the 1960s) is a wish-full constellation.
But it works well for world peace, in this story at least. Mix it all up in a juggernaut of special 3D effects and minutely choreographed action scenes: see it once – and then again for all the stuff you missed the first time.
The Avengers | Directed by Joss Whedon (USA 2012) with Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth. Starts April 26