Duration: 142 mins
Joss Whedon seems to be the name of the moment right now after the initial success and hyperbole of The Cabin in the Woods. A mere few weeks on -- in only his second director outing (the first being 2005's Serenity) -- he sees his prowess aired on a much grander scale, with the $220m hugely anticipated blockbuster The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble as per the UK title).
Such was the scepticism surrounding the "unfilmable" Watchmen, the logistics of Marvel's ensemble adventure was given the same verdict. However, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator was the preferred choice, handed both writing as well as directing responsibilities. And credit where it's due, because The Avengers offers up more of what we've seen before in the likes of Thor, Captain America and Iron Man, only on a much more impressive scale. Indeed, The Avengers is bigger, louder and funnier than any Marvel superhero movies that's come before it.
Whedon tackles the unenviable task of crafting a film that not only juggles several big names (Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man), but must also tie in and offer a degree of back story for everyone involved before the film can really get going. This exposition is achieved competently and manages to introduce the characters without it feeling overly cluttered or clumsily rushed. With so many characters and intertwining stories, there's always the danger of the structure unravelling into an ungodly mess. Where the likes of the Transformers franchise fails, here the extended battles work a lot better due to a finely tuned narrative and direction.
Whilst the film lacks any genuine depth, it does do a lot of things right: the set pieces are thoroughly entertaining, as are some enthralling sequences, which make up a bulk of the lengthy duration. These elements form the basis for an action-orientated romp, yet the entire film does feel drawn out.
The plot is this: after a powerful energy source known as The Tesseract transports exiled Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddlestone) to Earth, he decides to steal it and plan an army invasion in the hope of world domination. S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Sam Jackson) begins assembling an elite group of heroes to battle this foe, thus saving the world from imminent destruction.
What takes place over the first hour is the initial hero assembling. It's not the most thrilling of times, but a necessary chore. This process is followed by Avengers bonding, bickering and then bonding some more on the battlefield. The interspersion of some great jokes makes this Marvel instalment feel more jovial and light-hearted, and is genuinely amusing throughout. However, that sums up the degree of engagement and intellect, as it ceases to opt for anything on a deeper or maturer level. This is not necessarily a bad thing though, as The Avengers ticks the boxes when it comes to creating a well-balanced, exhilarating and entertaining genre movie.
Showing in both 2D and 3D, the latter offers effective depth perception (which is, after all, the main purpose of the feature), but fails to generate any 'wow, that looks amazing!' moments. It works as (in)effectively as pretty much every other 3D conversion out there, so don't be duped into thinking the third dimension is a must.
VERDICT: The Avengers is a souped-up Marvel movie that's more balanced, structured, better written and far funnier than anything that's preceded it. It fits a lot into the long duration, too, but Whedon and cohort Zak Penn have conjured a tight script that offers whimsical excitement and some great CGI thrills, culminating in a spectacle that'll please existing Marvel fanatics, but may struggle to win over the non-converted.
N.B. Listen carefully for the marvellous line of "mewling quim!" Loki spouts in the direction of Black Widow. I take my hat off to whoever let that belter slip past the BBFC.