Joss Whedon’s finely balanced superhero extravaganza is well worth the wait
The main issue facing the making of a superhero ensemble piece is balance: with so many strong personalities on screen, how do you ensure each of them get their due? It’s a problem Joss Whedon has tackled effectively in Avengers Assemble, keeping everyone’s screentime reasonably even over the course of two and a half hours, while simultaneously offsetting the big-budget set-pieces with some smaller-scale human drama.
The plot establishes the theme striking a balance, neatly tying together elements of all that’s gone before. SHIELD (the shady but benign organisation who have cropped up in each of the preceding movies) are fiddling around with the Tesseract, a mysterious energy-emitting cube last seen being chucked into the sea by Captain America (Chris Evans). They accidentally open a portal to another world, through which arrives Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) villainous brother Loki (a Cheshire Cat-like Tom Hiddleston), who proceeds to cause havoc: stealing the Tesseract and brainwashing SHIELD marksman Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) along the way. Tony Stark (a snarky-as-ever Robert Downey Jr) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) are drafted in to help with the recovery of the cube: the former for his knowledge of energy-harnessing (via the arc reactor in his chest), the latter for his familiarity with radiation (via... well, you know). Add in Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (who has an unspoken relationship with Hawkeye), and the stage is set for all of the Avengers to step up.
There’s immense satisfaction in witnessing the clash of personalities – Stark’s momentous ego, the Cap’s all-conquering altruism, Thor’s regal sense of entitlement and Banner’s stuggle to remain mild-mannered – ahead of the inevitable gelling together to take on intergalactic foes. The most enjoyable trick Whedon pulls off, though, is balancing the superhero antics with more human flourishes: at one point, we catch a SHIELD drone skiving work by playing Space Invaders; Captain America takes time out from the alien battle to save a handful of bystanders; and when cars are flipped over by explosions, the action is captured from inside the vehicle. These techniques not only broaden the scope of the film, but help to heighten the stature of the heroes – it’s easy to become inured to superhero antics when they’re all that’s onscreen, but less so when you see how they affect the general populace, a group that’s often forgotten underneath all the falling rubble.
The film’s not a game-changer in the same way as Chris Nolan’s Batman reboot, but then it never tries to be – it’s simply a well-executed, highly enjoyable summer popcorn movie, which is exactly what it should be.