Willing Suspension of Disbelief
The fullest cinema I have seen in a very long time and a much broader demographic than I anticipated turned out to watch the new Joss Whedon movie - Marvel's Avengers Assemble - on Saturday afternoon. Disney's marketing executives have been having a pretty torrid time of it of late, what with John Carter (of Mars... or not of Mars, as the case may be). Marvel's Avengers Assemble therefore is the rather clumsy title they have plumped for in the UK, to distinguish it from tongue-in-cheek British spy series of the 1960s and Hollywood box office flop of 1998, The Avengers.
There are a million different ways in which approach a review about this particular film. From a business perspective it is the culmination of a four-year long franchise film cycle that started with Iron Man in 2008. From a creative perspective it is the latest in a vast array of Hollywood superhero movies produced since they decided to start giving these hyper-real juggernauts to serious filmmakers, beginning with Bryan Singer and X-Men in 2000.
For this particular outing Marvel has turned to the talents of writer-director Joss Whedon, probably best known for his work on American cult TV series, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. His assured handling of witty repartee makes him an obvious choice to helm what is essentially a superhero ensemble piece and even his action sequences is surprisingly solid - shots that looked televisual in the trailers really come to life in movie.
What of the film itself?
At times Robert Downey Jnr threatens to unbalance the entire enterprise, so supple is his handling of the throwaway comic quip. But he is just about kept in check by Mark Ruffalo's quietly powerful work as Bruce Banner and his mean, green alter ego. There is a moment early on when Ruffalo threatens Scarlett Johannsen's Black Widow that made me immediately love his character, a darkly mischievous streak that leans heavily on the fact that he knows people are terrified of making him angry. I had never seen anyone explore that aspect of Banner's character before. Chris Evans deserves plaudits for portrayal of the earnest all American boy-cum-military athlete extraordinaire Captain America. Playing opposite Downey Jnr's wisecracking genius billionaire playboy philanthropist he certainly risks coming across as too good to be true, but Evans invests his characterisation with an honesty and a warmth that makes you root for him too. Chris Hemsworth as Thor is probably less well served than any of his compatriots in the gang, but he doesn't put a foot wrong with the material he is given to play.
Of course, heroes are only as good as their villain, and in the form of Tom Hiddleston's Loki, The Avengers are onto a real winner. I was not sure that his character would prove substantive enough to propose a legitimate threat to such a mighty gang but, as played by Hiddleston, Loki is everything he should be - a snivelling but oddly charismatic man-boy who happens to have the powers of a Norse God.
Yes, I know it is another Hollywood superhero movie. Yes, I know it is the centrepiece of a multi-platform multimedia movie-gaming franchise. Yes, I know it is predictable in places and cheesy in others, but Whedon writes with wit, directs with style and his cast have just the right mix of fun and fantasy threat. Check your cynicism at the door and just go with it, remember what is was like to wake up early on a Saturday morning and watch the Marvel Action Hour - pure escapism, if you've got sufficent imagination to embrace it.