Before I start, let me address something that’s been bugging me. The title. Here’s in ol’ Blighty The Avengers has been renamed “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble”. It just reeks of a last-minute bullshit marketing decision that doesn’t make any sense anyway. Did they really think that renaming the film to avoid confusion with the ’60s TV show (and the ’90s warcrime of a film) would boost sales at all? The target demographic for this film is far too young to know of the ’60s Avengers and I’m sure “the oldies” out there will realise this isn’t another big-screen adaptation of Steed and Peel’s eccentric adventures when they see a socking great photo of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man on the the cover. Plus, it’s hardly like the latest batch of Marvel films were only seen and appreciated by mouth-breathing greasy teens, considering their seriously healthy box-office numbers. Fuck that weak-ass title and more importantly, fuck the bullshit pie-in-the-sky marketing tossdrivel that forces awful decisions like this. Am I overreacting? I really don’t think so. If you think “Who cares? It’s only a stupid name.” or something similar, let’s change the name of The Godfather to “The Fartspunk” then, since titles don’t matter. Art, no matter how populist, should never be compromised by the clammy, inhuman hand of marketing.
Having been an unashamed Marvel fanboy since I got my first taste of comics when I was a tiny, annoying child, it’s no exaggeration to say that I have dreamed of an Avengers movie ever since I can remember. A shared universe was an incredibly exciting concept and I loved it when my personal favourite, Spider-Man would be visited by the X-Men or the Fantastic Four. Once X-Men kicked off the superhero adaptation trend back in 2000 and Spider-Man cemented it in 2002 by becoming a fucking megahit (technical term), I must admit that my excitement that all my printed pals were being brought to life was tinged slightly when I realised that all the properties were being snatched up by rival movie studios with all the speed and aggression of a particularly heated game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos. Studios aren’t exactly known for sharing their IPs and my hopes of seeing Cap popping up in Daredevil’s part of New York, let alone a massive superhero team-up seemed upsettingly unlikely. Still, once Marvel created Marvel Studios and started treating their properties their way, starting with 2008′s stellar Iron Man I could start to dream again. What I’m saying by this wanky, smack-in-the-face obvious paragraph is that I personally had a lot riding on this film, in the same way I’m sure millions of others had too. I’m not only relieved, but fucking ecstatic to tell you that (at least for me) The Avengers somehow met my unreasonably high expectations and then some. It’s truly amazing.
The Avengers focuses on the delivery of Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) much teased “Avengers Initiative”- a plan to bring Earth’s mightiest heroes together, (deep breath) Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Capt. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) or more accurately, their superhero alter-egos (Iron Man, Captain America, er… Thor, The Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow) to answer a threat to the planet’s freedom, namely Thor’s adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his army of alien invaders. I had initially feared that The Avengers would turn into The Tony Stark Show, but co-writer and director Joss Whedon manages to equally balance all the competing egos without letting characters fade into the background, something he’s already proved time and time again with his work on his various projects including the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly TV shows and his highly regarded run on The Astonishing X-Men comic series. Typical of Whedon, the script is damn funny and the dialogue is slick and snappy. Thankfully, there’s no significant disconnect between the heroes’ solo efforts and their presentation here. The Avengers’ Iron Man is just as sarcastic and egomaniacal as you’d expect from his two previous cinematic outings. This also means I get to save space by telling you to read my reviews of the preceding 5 films for specific actor comments. Of the new blood, Jeremy Renner is pretty decent as Hawkeye, giving us a solid, Daniel Craig-as-Bond type badass, Cobie Smulders is fine (in all sense of the word) as Maria Hill, but the talking point will be Ruffalo’s Banner who gives us the most endearing take on the character yet. I’m praying for a Ruffalo Hulk solo film after his performance here. Hiddleston’s Loki is undeniably nastier this time round and makes for a genuinely loathsome bastard for the Avengers to rally against.
The film The Avengers reminded me of most was actually the third Transformers film, Dark of the Moon. Before you run screaming, let me explain. The epic scale is similar, the astounding special effects have a Bay-esque tinge to them and even the third act is very Dark of the Moon. However- and here’s the crucial part, dearies- I actually gave enough of a shit about the characters involved to be impressed and involved by the sheer spectacle of it. The Avengers earns its epic finale with all the fantastic characterisation, witty dialogue and thrilling action sequences beforehand. Dark of the Moon simply couldn’t wait to shove its expensive pixels in your face and was perfectly happy to chuck lowest common denominator humour and bargain bin writing at you until it could justify another expensive set piece. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there are certain confrontations and team-ups between the various super-powereds that just make this movie. There’s a fantastic shot in the final act of the film that shows all of the heroes teaming up in awesome ways that nearly made me whoop with joy. If I wasn’t laughing at the choice lines, I was smiling at the sheer cathartic awesomeness of Cap and Ol’ Shellhead taking on Loki, for example. Suffice to say my face hurt coming out of the film.
I honestly can’t think of many negative things to say about the film. I would say the opening isn’t the best, with an uninspired car chase and some forced dialogue betraying the rest of the film. Story-wise, I wasn’t a huge fan of the way they merely skirted around Thor’s ability to return to Earth (people who have seen Thor will recall he was trapped on his homeworld) and I guess Black Widow and Hawkeye aren’t given as much to do as the superstar celebrity Avengers are, but these are minor, minor complaints. Also, whilst The Avengers works as a stand-alone film, I do feel you’ll get more out of it if you’ve seen (and more importantly, liked) the previous Marvel Studios titles. The film does a good job of characterising the superhero squad, but you’ll simply be more invested if you’re that much more familiar with the characters.
The Avengers makes all that teasing, foreshadowing and promising worthwhile. The big question I suppose is whether or not it dethrones the mighty Dark Knight in the “best superhero film ever” stakes. I’d prefer to sidestep that. It’s just as awesome, but in a different way. It’s part of a completely different spectrum of superhero adaptations. It’s certainly the purest superhero film out there, but I can’t see them using that on the poster any time soon. It’s been a long time since I left a film with my mind blown, a seemingly permanent smile on my face and my faith fully restored in the film-viewing experience. It’s just so rare to see a blockbuster that works this well and for it to be such an unmitigated success.
What isn’t such a success is the way the Blu-ray/DVD release of The Avengers has been handled in the UK. I know not everyone cares about bonus features and the like, but I and many others like me do – and that’s where Avengers Assemble falls down. Firstly, the extras have been split up to be used as retailer exclusives (a practice which I despise with every fibre of my being). Sainsbury’s managed to nab an exclusive 90 minute documentary called “Assembling the Ultimate Team” which comes as standard on the American release. Considering there are a few deleted/extended scenes, a gag reel, a short and some 5 minute fluff piece, that’s a huge chunk of bonus content to deny customers. Secondly, there’s no commentary from writer/director Joss Whedon. The guy’s a hero of mine and I wanted to hear about the writing process and all that jazz. We get nothing, despite next week’s American release coming with commentary included. The official comment from Disney stated that the commentary wasn’t finished on time for the UK discs. I don’t buy that though. The Avengers is a huge title. They could have delayed release a week and nobody would have cared, especially if it was to give consumers better value for money. Since they didn’t do that, an mp3 of the commentary would go a long way into convincing fans like me that Disney hasn’t just pulled a fast one.
Also out of nowhere, there is a scene on the disc that has been censored for no goddamn reason. Unfortunately, the scene in question contains plot important stuff, so I can’t tell you which one specifically. The scene wasn’t censored at the cinema, so why now? At the time of writing the BBFC are investigating this matter as it’s not the cut they approved for home release. It’s a shame that such a great film has been lumbered with such a shoddy home entertainment release. If you haven’t picked up a Blu-ray copy yet, import from the United States as the disc is region free and has all the extras intact.