Oh Joy of all Joys! The moment the geek brethren have been waiting for for upwards of 4 years is here! The Avengers film, or Marvel: Avengers Assemble here in the UK, is finally in cinemas. By Lee’s beard. It doesn’t really have a right to be quite as good as it is. In fact, the whole series was far better than anyone expected.
Iron Man was an absolute triumph, and in my eyes is up there for one of the greatest comic adaptations of all time. Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Tony Stark was nuanced and note perfect, the script natural sounding and funny. And it was cool, very very cool. There also was some genuine character development, which rare for a superhero film. Sure, the almost bitterly disappointing sequel does away with any of that, making you wonder how much of the first they retconned out when they made it, but whatever. He goes from an almost evilly self-centered arms dealer and git to a vulnerable hero. Then back to git. He’s less git in Avengers, and they needed someone to make jokes, which he dutifully fills. Still, the involvement in the Avengers (and 2) does reduce the value of the first as a film in itself, which is annoying.
Thor and Captain America, which both came out last year, were also surprisingly good. Thor did seem too small, despite its galactic backdrop. The risks seemed relatively small-scale, and the action limited in size and length (except for a brilliant opening scene with Frost Giants). However, this was made up for by some excellent, very human, acting by the whole cast. It must have the only convincing superhero romance I’ve seen on film, and Loki (who returns as Avengers’ big bad) is eminently watchable. You do wonder on Odin’s parenting skills though. Cap provided good solid adventure, and genuine warmth. It was relatively pedestrian, sticking to a well worn formula, but did it exceptionally well. Like with Iron Man, the connection to the Avengers, though exciting at the time, seems to cheapen the experience in hindsight.
However, Joss Whedon’s final product is a thing to behold. It brings together all these massive figures, and they balance out exceptionally well, even if it takes about 3 hours. The characters don’t get much developed, but hey! That’s what the previous films were for! It’s funnier than those that came before, it’s cooler too. And the Hulk is finally realised in a way that seems right. I enjoyed Ang Lee’s Hulk (I think the psychobabble undertones made me think it was deep when I was 12), but even Ed Norton and Tim Roth couldn’t save the Incredible Hulk. Mark Ruffalo, however, does him perfectly, and the epic final battle seems designed simply to apologise for all the previous films. At one point, Cap instructs Hulk to “Smash”. Oh yayeah.
You do need an encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel Lore to get what’s going on half the time, but if you’ve got that, it’s a huge thrill. And already it’s gearing to an (inevitably disappointing) sequel. But hell! You see the bad guy in the post credits sequence! And he is an exciting prospect.