I don’t need to tell you that “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” is the full-blown manifestation of many a comic-book nerd’s wet dream - I assume you’ve seen the film’s many marketing materials, which show Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk heroically assembling, and have come to the exact same conclusion all by yourself. What I do need to tell you is that “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” (I think I’ll refer to it as the slightly less clunky “The Avengers” from here on in) is a superhero film that will not just appeal to this acne-riddled, sweaty-pitted, inevitably drooling crowd, in which I will hesitantly include myself. It is in fact a comic-book nerd’s wet dream that should also appeal to all you non-geeky, non-spotty, non-heavily-perspiring norms, so long as you are fitted with the mental ability and physical capacity to experience earth-shattering levels of eye-popping fun. If so, “The Avengers" awaits your presence. If not, jog on, and go do some knitting or something.
“The Avengers” is a film five years in the making (with Samuel L. Jackson’s character Nick Fury unofficially announcing it at the end of 2008’s “Iron Man”), although some would say it is in fact almost 50 years in the making, the first official “Avengers” strip having debuted on comic-book store shelves all the way back in 1963. Either way, whether it’s half a decade or half a century in the making, the project has been eagerly anticipated, meaning the pressure was on for writer-director Joss Whedon (creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) to deliver the goods, lest he be flung between the fearsome fangs of ferocious fanboys. And gee whiz, the goods haven’t just been delivered: they’ve been painstakingly and vigilantly carried all the way from the glittering gates of Hollywood onto your local cinema’s doorstep by a determined courier who’s gone to great lengths to obey the package’s order of “handle with care.”
In case you don’t know, The Avengers is a team consisting of the universe’s mightiest superheroes. Assembled by S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, the team is as such: billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., “Sherlock Holmes”), aka Iron Man, who fights the badguys in a weaponised suit of armour; Thor (Chris Hemsworth, “The Cabin in the Woods”), a god from the world of Asgard whose weapon is a powerful hammer only he can pick up; Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”), aka Captain America, an all-American super-soldier frozen in 1943 and reawakened in the modern day; and last but most certainly not least, Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, replacing “The Incredible Hulk’s" Edward Norton), who, when anything less than happy, transforms into a mindless, green-tinted rage monster named The Hulk. Also on the team we have ass-kicking leather-clad Russian spy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, “We Bought a Zoo”) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”), the world’s greatest marksman, or at least when wielding a bow and arrow kit.
They have been assembled in reaction to a terrible threat against the Earth. After the Tesseract, a throbbing energy cube of unlimited power, is mysteriously activated in a remote S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, Thor’s exiled brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, “War Horse”), god of mischief, springs forth from a portal. As it turns out, Loki has plans to use the Tesseract to create a portal atop Manhattan from which a hostile alien army shall emerge and take over our world. As I’m sure you can imagine, Earth’s mightiest heroes aren’t too keen on just letting this happen, instead springing into action to put a stop to Loki’s abominable schemes and put the Tesseract back in its rightful place, all for one, and one for all.
The towering hurdle in making a film like “The Avengers,” of which there are very few, is the prospect of juggling such an enormity of larger-than-life characters: everyone must get their development, their stand-out moment, sufficient screen-time and no one must fall behind the rest. Luckily for us, it turns out Whedon is a highly skilled juggler, faultlessly fleshing out a whole gang of pre-established characters and granting each and every one of them a fully believable sense of humanity and purpose, much like he did in his cult TV show “Firefly.” And I’m not just talking about the central Avengers here: for example, Marvel regular Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”) gets a fully fleshed out character, as well as an appealing nerdy side added to his personality - we even learn his first name! “His first name is Agent,” quips Stark.
Among the Avengers, there’s much in-team squabbling and not-so-playful banter, with not just Cap’s shield and Thor’s hammer clashing with one another (oh yeah) but personalities too. And yet Downey, Jr., Evans, Hemsworth and Ruffalo don’t come across like they’re battling each other for the stand-out performance of the piece; much like their characters, they’re working as a team and seem to understand that it’s not “Iron Man and Friends” or “Cap and Pals,” but “The Avengers.” Having said that, Ruffalo’s Banner, which is the third and best big-screen incarnation of the character, is played with a subtle charisma that really makes him shine, even when Banner isn’t Hulking out, a treat held off for quite a while and paid off stupendously - Ruffalo, by the way, is the only actor to have played both Banner and The Hulk, the latter performed via impressive use of motion-capture.
On the antagonistic end of the spectrum we have Hiddleston in the role of Loki, as relentlessly oppressive and deliciously vain as any villain you’ve ever seen. Much like in “Thor,” Hiddleston charms with his eloquently pronounced English accent and steely glare, but here there are hints of a ruthless, nefariously nasty monster lurking underneath the calm and focused demeanour the wannabe-ruler so boldly wears - calling Black Widow a “mewling quim,” for example. His army of extraterrestrial buddies, skeletal in appearance, are fully CGI creations and lack characterisation, but provide satisfactory punching bags for The Avengers to get to work at.
And get to work they do, battling the seemingly unstoppable alien menace in an explosively destructive, notably lengthy climactic spectacle that calls to mind that of Michael Bay’s “Transformers 3,” only here it’s genuinely gripping, deservedly awe-inspiring and not starring the vapid black hole that is Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Gorgeously shot by Northern Irish cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, this New York-set, epic showdown grants every hero their moment in the spotlight, not least in a swooping tracking shot that takes us from a shield-thwacking Captain America to a spaceship-crushing Hulk to a speedily flying Iron Man to an arrow-firing Hawkeye, and so on, much like that elaborate tracking shot coming halfway through “The Adventures of Tintin.” It’s bloody marvellous, and is enough to make any major comic-book dork wet their pants in bladder-draining delight.
Then again, that should be the reaction any movie-goer will have to most of the film, which is so enticing, exhilarating and mouth-wateringly enjoyable it should charm the pants off anyone, nerd or non-nerd, though hopefully not The Hulk - that’d be quite the sight in 3D (which is perfectly adequate, though unnecessary). Fitted with a script dripping with the kind of snarky wit Aaron Sorkin would be proud of and the entertainment value of 1,000 superhero movies, “The Avengers" is one of the finest examples to come out of its genre so far and sets the bar toweringly high for the rest of 2012’s superhero outputs (your move, Spider-Man and Batman). Joss Whedon, you’ve done us nerds (and non-nerds) proud.