Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Avengers Assemble [2012]

In light of the new Captain America movie, the second instalment of Marvel's ensemble and a Batman Vs Superman flick all arriving at our big screens in the coming months (or year), I thought it high time I got round to ticking off the first of the Avengers pictures from my proverbial list.

The superhero franchises have very much become the back bone of the western world's summer blockbuster box office battles (love a good alliteration). But with so many of them being re-made, re-booted, 'sequalled' and now merged, it has become increasingly more difficult to keep up with affairs and know which ones are worth spending my hard earned pocket money on. As a non-comic book fan growing up, I was still keenly aware of the heroes and heroines we all wished we could emulate and have never failed to feel the tingling adolescent excitement when one goes into overdrive and saves the world (or New York city as is often the case one way or another). I still remember the excitement when Tim Burton's Batman re-imagining swooped awkwardly about to defeat Jack Nicholson and Danny Devito. I remember too the awe filled hours watching Christopher Reeve remove his thick-rimmed spectacles and plank in suspended animation in front of early special effects green-screens (even reversing the direction of the Earth to turn back time!). Then, of course came the addition of digital special effects, bringing a whole new look and realm of visual possibility.

Without going through my own history of superhero films in any detail, there have been some hits and many more misses, leading to a state of utter indifference as to the build up, hype and anticipation of any new release. I did not enjoy Elektra. Nor did I enjoy Daredevil. I have a vague recollection of Billy Zane in purple spandex too, equally un-enjoyable. But I like to remain positive where possible. The development and introduction of the Marvel super-people has been handled quite well. Though some of the individual outings of the Avengers ensemble have been just above average, none have killed the interest, contributing to an intriguing coming together and a financial winner for those backing it.

Enough of the introductory blurb and onto the film itself. I did not enjoy the beginning. It was a necessary opening, laying the foundation for the story to unfold in a logical and cohesive manner. My problem with it was that it was too quickly hiding behind special effects and not nearly dark and sinister enough to enhance the intrigue and impact of the wrong-doings of the nemesis. Several agents of S.H.I.E.L.D were killed in an opening sequence that saw Loki (adopted brother of Thor) pass through a portal in order to steal a sparkly, electric blue cube; all of which happened quickly and sharply in a prologue to his master plan of ruling the Earth. Little seemed to be made of these multiple deaths. They happened in a flash; in a puff of smoke and crack of lightning and precious little more is made of it (aside from a mention in later dialogue).

For me, this whole event could have benefited from being darker. And perhaps this could be said of events throughout the movie; though my preference for a Christopher Nolan trilogy may have a great deal of influence on my point of view. It may be fair to say that this film achieving a 12 certificate (allowing it greater market appeal and further box office potential) affects the level of attention paid to its 'fantasy violence'. What I personally crave in a 'good Vs evil' movie, are polar opposites; a jarring violence and disregard for others versus absolute morality and the quest to oppose all that is wrong (something touched upon during The Dark Knight series). This is what I toil with each and every time I come to view such a movie.

In fairness, not all comic book inspired movies want to go down the darker path and I am by no means claiming it to be the wrong choice. Marvel in particular, seem to have opted for the special-effects-heavy route; sharp, clean, hyper-real settings upon which larger than life enemies clumsily stomp like an age-impaired, small version of a human being traversing from point A to point B through a pile of crispy brown fallen leaves on a park pathway. Shiny (but later scratched up) heroes who lead with charisma and finish with party pieces, saving the day, saving the people; but never without leaving muddy footprints embedded in the white carpet post thwarting of bad-guy wrong-doing.

Tom Hiddleston's Loki is a bit hit and miss for me. On the one hand he has a caramel covered voice perfectly juxtaposed with his mischievous plans, paired with the ideal psychotic glare-under-the-brow needed for any convincing foe. He is a typical Hollywood choice for such a role, geographically evil much in the same way as Jeremy Irons, Anthony Hopkins and Alan Rickman. On the other hand, the character himself doesn't carry the same sort of threat as other villains, despite his Godly status, big magic wand and horned head-piece like some kind of Western world, 'techy' tribal leader. A bad-guy from London's silicon roundabout playing dress-up. Loki comes across somewhat feeble in the circumstances. Unable to physically impose himself upon any of the Avengers. Captain America is not phased by him and he is, as we know from a previous film, absolutely no match for Thor. The reliance is heavily upon his crafty manipulation of egos and their reluctance to trust.

I like Tom Hiddleston and along with Robert Downey Jnr (Iron Man) they weld everything together. The character relationships do feel secondary to the impressive special effects, but Loki's threat loaded monologues and the macho banter between Iron Man and Thor are more than entertaining enough to fill the gaps in action sequences. Captain (as he is frequently referred) is a bit dreary, infrequently allowing his facial expression to veer far from 'cool but confused' with lips slightly parted (pilfered from Scarlett Johansson). Hawkeye and Black Widow feel largely on the periphery despite a fair collection of screen minutes for each, while Dr. Banner in his attempts to subdue his angry green monster, does far too well and is a bit too 'boy in the corner of the playground' amongst bigger personalities. It becomes clear he has good reason when it is evident he cannot control his bigger self; though inexplicably finds the ability to do so during the anticipated assemblage. Most confusing was that Spiderman had decided to take the day off from protecting the massive apple. Surely it did not escape his notice that a portal to another world was open above Tony Stark's phallic dwelling? Or perhaps he received a text on a subtly placed product stating that: "The Avengers have got this one bro".

It isn't a film a would hurry to watch again. No Batman. Plenty of entertainment, satisfying heroics and what can only be described as an all round romp. I can see why it has been popular.


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