‘You’re part of a bigger universe, you just don’t know it yet,’ said Samuel L. Jackson to Tony Stark in the closing scene of Iron Man - and global dry-cleaning profits shot up 200% as fan boys and girls spaffed their denims. The Marvel Universe is of course famous for characters dropping in and out of each other’s adventures, but this year’s Avengers Assemble - the first time Stan Lee’s superhero supergroup have made it to the big screen - is less cameo heaven and more full-on fantasy bromance.
‘The Tesseract is misbehaving,’ says Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson),keeping a straight face while uttering the campest lines this side of Glastonbury. Jackson’s one-eyed super-spy is the public face of secret law enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Tesseract is a fancy name for the one and only Cosmic Cube, a throbbing blue plot device otherwise known as the Marvel Universe’s biggest MacGuffin. Last seen sinking to the bottom of the ocean in Captain America: The First Avenger and making a brief appearance at the end of Thor, the Tesseract could be a bunch of bananas for all it matters, but for the purposes of this story it’s an energy source, opens a portal to another world, and gets all our Avengers together in one place. Handy!
The Tesseract attracts villain Loki, played by Tom Hiddleton as Heath Ledger’s Joker meets a more chiselled Professor Snape. Loki has a flair for the dramatic, a reindeer headdress, a Hulk-sized inferiority complex and a magic spear which he uses to possess elite archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, next seen stepping into Matt Damon’s shoes in The Bourne Legacy) and steal S.H.I.E.L.D.’s favourite big blue ice cube. Ahem. I mean sustainable energy source. But Loki couldn’t care less about energy; he just wants a bit more respect from his family, via subjugating the entire human race. So who best to kick his skinny creepy ass?
Meet the A-Team! Hold on. The Avengers! With a collective rider which no doubt cost as much as the special effects, Samuel L. Jackson opens his little black book and gathers together Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America and secret agent Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. Whedon has been open from the outset about the difficulties of bringing these Marvel misfits together, saying ‘Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America don’t seem like they could co-exist and ultimately that is what intrigued me and made me go: ‘This can be done and this should be done.’ But Avengers Assemblehas a number of secret weapons and I’m not just talking about Thor’s hammer.
First up is Joss Whedon’s killer screenplay. Penned from a story by Zak Penn (X Men: The Last Stand, Incredible Hulk) Whedon’s trademark wit is stamped all over it. ‘You don’t know what you’re dealing with,’ growls Thor. ‘Shakespeare in the park?’ asks Stark, with a dig at Kenneth Branagh, the Shakespearean actor-turned-director who unexpectedly took up the reins on bombastic blockbuster Thor. Indeed no-one takes themselves quite as seriously as Thor’s muscle-bound hero who blows in from Asgard and steals Stark and Captain America’s thunder (no pun intended) by dragging Loki out the back of their helicopter, but Hemsworth is as enjoyably pompous as ever, with an added dose of comic timing. "He’s my brother!" says Thor. "He killed eighty people in two days," the Widow reminds him. Thor pauses a moment: "Hmm. My adopted brother’" Whedon’s whipsmart dialogue is tailor-made for Robert Downey Jr. who pumped new life into the Iron Man franchise and unsurprisingly steals the show. "Hi Phil," purrs Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) whose hotpants and tanned thighs do most of the.. erm.. legwork. "His first name is Agent!" snaps Stark.
It’s a sad fact of action movies that our attention tends to wander during extended battle sequences, but not so here; Whedon puts his characters in increasingly difficult situations and extricates them at the very last second, escalating the stakes at every turn. Whedon’s film assembles not only four iconic Marvel superheroes but an excellent cast who, with the exception of a bland Scarlett Johansson, make engaging and three-dimensional characters across the board. Mark Ruffalo’s sensitive Hulk is likeable, scary and funny in equal measures, while cynical Stark and wholesome Captain America are at each other’s throats from the start. It’s moving, too - a major character dies and another is called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice – and if you can ignorethe tally ofcivilian casualties, Avengers Assemble is at heart a feelgood ensemble piece employing the samebuddy movie staples which made X Men: First Class and 2009’s Star Trek such a joy. A stranger sitting next to me gave me a mid-battle hi five. I think that says it all.
Avengers Assemble is in cinemas 26th April (Ed - we originally stated that Avengers Assemble was released20th April, but this was overeager)