Review: Avengers Assemble / Cert: 12 / Director: Joss Whedon / Screenplay: Joss Whedon / Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffallo, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg / Release Date: Out Now
Avengers Assemble, the year’s biggest and best superhero movie (excluding Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, of course, right??) arrives on Blu-ray & DVD and whilst fans are likely to grumble about the paucity of the bonus content available (especially in the UK) the bottom line remains that this is a thrilling, explosive, amusing punch-the-air piece of modern escapist filmmaking.
Marvel Studios’ brilliant slow burn strategy of establishing each of the Avengers via a series of largely triumphant standalone movies pays dividends here. With the groundwork done the audience is allowed the luxury of being able to sit back and watch as writer/director Joss Whedon deftly pulls all the various established character strands together, tosses in a familiar villain and an army of ferocious aliens, lights the blue touch paper and watches his stunning two-hour plus fireworks display light up the sky. Whedon, an unashamed superhero geek, is absolutely the right choice to steer a ship as huge and unwieldy as The Avengers (sod the Assemble lark); he instinctively knows and understands all these characters - even minor players like Johansson’s Black Widow and Renner’s Hawkeye - and he knows how to make them all work alongside one another, playing to the strengths of each and every one of them and giving them all a chance to shine and they all get their moment in the sun.
It’s a ferociously mechanised movie - much of it takes place in huge underground complexes or else aboard S.H.I.E.L.D.’s breathtaking aircraft carrier HQ and the rest of the human race doesn’t get much of a look in except for the running and the screaming in the apocalyptic final half-hour. That said, you really won’t care because Whedon’s playful, lovingly-crafted script has so much fun with Downey’s twinkling Tony Stark/Iron Man, Evans’ slightly uptight Steve Rodgers/Captain America and Hemsworth’s pleasantly portentous Thor as well as a spot-on characterisation (at last!) of the Hulk with new boy Ruffallo making it third time lucky for the Jolly Green Giant on the big screen. Samuel L. Jackson’s eye-patched supremo Nick Fury oversees his loose cannon heroes like a slightly-exasperated father and whilst Johansson channels Whedon's earlier ass-kicking heroines as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner gets a bit short-changed in a role which sees him under the control of the malevolent Loki (Hiddleston returning from Thor and giving as good as he gets, never overshadowed by the good guys) for most of the movie.
Avengers is a movie packed with moments to cherish - the wonderful circling shot of the Avengers, fully assembled, on the devastated battlefield streets of New York; Loki’s attack on the S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ; that death and come on, who knew The Hulk would get the movie’s biggest laughs? With quibbles being few and far between - the alien Chitauri are little more than convenient faceless aliens drafted in to set up a big battle scene - Avengers is ultimately a love-letter to the whole superhero genre and everything fans of the comic book could ever have hoped for and surely a whole lot more. How long again until the next one, Joss?
Extras: UK fans are right to feel short-changed. Joss Whedon’s commentary hasn’t made the trip across the Atlantic so DVD purchasers are left with just a paltry six-minute puff ‘behind the scenes’ piece. Blu-ray purchasers get a better deal with interesting deleted/extended scenes (some of which develop story strands ultimately excised from the final cut), gag reel and watch-once 'Marvel One-Shot' short Item 47. There’s a two-disc Blu-ray set available from Sainsbury’s which includes a ninety-minute documentary which chronicles the history of the previous films leading to The Avengers. We suspect the in-depth stuff we really want to see is being lined up for some ‘Ultimate Edition’ somewhere further down the line…