Everything I overheard said of Avengers Assemble said it was the best film since sliced bread. Sure, every film has at least one person who’ll swear blind it’s the greatest cinematic outing ever (indeed, I am that person for Sonic the Hedgehog: the Movie), but to garner such unanimous assent it must surely be something special.
But we all know I like to see things before I make baseless assumptions and jump to silly conclusions.
I like stories. I like lore. I really like internally consistent lore. I also enjoy thunderous action-blockbusters, but if they cross the fine line that divides acceptable hand-waving from incoherent mess, we have a problem. Superheroes, who tend to be born of radioactivity spontaneously causing incredibly specific adaptations, kind of fall on the wrong side of that boundary. Hands are thoroughly waved, but since we’re not in the 50s anymore their waving is in vain.
The recent Marvel films have, so far, been deftly avoiding the worst of the radioactivity by focusing on more technology-based heroes. People who have by some manner upgraded or been upgraded to something more, or are ancient space aliens with depthless reserves of technology. Heroes that are not the culmination of impossibly refined mutations, but rather the products of conscious direction.
Of course all of my rigid pragmatism can be quickly dispelled by the Rule of Cool, but superheroes, in all their spandex glory, tend not to hit that spot too often.
Iron Man, I can get. It’s a robot suit, it’s technology, there’s still a normal human being (even with an abnormally high IQ) inside it. Heavy-lifting exoskeletons are beginning to exist (and intelligent people do exist), so with the relentless march of technology it seems fairly feasible that one day soldiers might be carving about in armoured shells.
I saw Iron Man on DVD and Iron Man 2 at the cinema, and while both were fine I never really engaged with Tony Stark because he’s an irrepressible dick. In Avengers Assemble, he continues to be so, but even as I can’t rally behind him, he is relentlessly entertaining to watch — every single line, literally every one of them is prefixed or suffixed by some kind of quip. The audience erupted into belly-laughs on numerous occasions.
Thor, I can get. He’s an alien, and one from a fabulously ancient and powerful (and decadent) civilisation. As the old saying goes, any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic, and that’s where he’s at. The fact that the Asgaardians have got to this level of technology also lends credibility to Iron Man’s direction — sure, it’s a suit now, but one day it’ll be invisible (ubiquitous computing… shudder), so we can gloss over just how much he seems to fit into that skin-tight layer of metal.
I really enjoyed Thor because it had a huge mushy romance sub-plot with a bittersweet but hopeful ending, and Thor is in general a pretty cool guy. Sure, he does start out a bit of a dick, but with some divine intervention from Natalie Portman he becomes a total boss (she is mentioned in Avengers but makes no appearance — presumably too busy filming other stuff). Stunning art design for Asgaard itself pretty much sealed the deal.
Captain America, I can get. Aside from being an obsolete war symbol whose patriotic stylings make me a little bit quesy, he was made by steroids (or something). By SCIENCE. Hand-wavy pseudo-science, sure, but steroids and genetic engineering, like robots, do actually exist (and I can stretch to people making a Very Strong Shield). One can extrapolate at least the potential for a psysiologically-manipulated super-soldier, even if the human body would surely crumble at such speeds.
But that costume — god damn. Aside from a chestplate to hide his rock-hard fist-nipples, it’s pure spandex all the way. Give him some kevlar and a decent helmet instead of that awful hood, puh-lease. Aren’t all these gritty modern franchise reboots supposed to be an opportunity to cut out the embarrassing stuff?
I never went to see Captain America: The First Avenger. Word on the street indicates that nothing of value has been missed, but it does appear that everything relevant to the MacGuffin of Avengers Assemble was established there.
“Before time began, there was… the Cube.”
— Optimus Prime, Transformers
And then there’s the Hulk. Hulk is where I find the line is crossed.
Radiation causes you to get cancer and die, if you don’t just die right off the bat. It does not cause specialised and very targeted restructuring of your body. While you can argue how an individual bit of hand-waved technology actually functions, saying that gamma rays can spontaneously (without conscious direction) cause this sort of thing is the wrong kind of silly. It’s that random element that totally kills the likes of the X-Men in my mind — small random mutations occur and are selected over generations, yes, but collossal changes just don’t instantaneously come to pass.
And that’s not considering the bane of the Transformers — conservation of mass. Maybe I could get over the Hulk’s genesis if he was like that all the time, if the mutation was permanent as with most other heroes, but the transformation, especially as it’s a transformation that increases his mass ten times and makes him completely invincible, throws it right out the window.
If we ignore the Hulk part of the Hulk, though, Dr Banner comes across very well in Avengers Assemble, especially as the perfect foil for Tony Stark’s runaway performance in the earlier parts.
The cast of lesser mortals is a very mixed bag.
Hawkeye gets far too much screen-time for how un-heroic he is. He doesn’t have the bearing or lines (let alone delivery) to be anything more than a secretary, while his flipping-the-bow-out manouevre comes off as just a bit pathetic — a cheap plastic toy next to S.H.IE.L.D.’s arsenal of experimental weapons, of which he could surely have had his pick (he even eschews acquiring any number of dropped alien death-bolt rifles when he runs out of arrows).
Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is obviously a force of nature, calmly (but bad-assily) running the whole show from a safe distance in his crazy flying aircraft carrier (itself a simultaneously daft but singularly brilliant concept, completely unnecessary but tremendous fun).
Scarlett Johansson does some high-kicking stuff, but as she is unable to fly or jump, she becomes a bit impotent in the final fight (but Captain America is also useless at this point, and he’s meant to be one of the real heroes).
I’m not convinced it is, as the hype goes, the greatest film of all time (superhero or otherwise).
But it is a good solid thrill ride, and easily as competent across the board as any of the other Marvel offerings that have been steadily churned out over the course of the last few years — and with the obligatory post-credits bonus scene, the trend looks set to continue.