Back in 2008 both fans and Hollywood probably thought Marvel Studios was crazy (probably smoking crack), or perhaps had their heads up their arse because their grand master-plan seemed completely ludicrous. Fast forward to 2012 and fans and Hollywood are actually baffled by what is going on. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk were about to share screen-time within a feature length film. And it’s fair to say from that point on Marvel Studios broke the fucking Earth in half, holding what was left of it in the palms of their hands stating, “We now own you!”
I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t go and see this film on its original release (fucking blasphemy, I know, I wear the t-shirt well!) and didn’t completely follow the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, it took me until Guardians of the Galaxy to be completely invested (to which I mean I would go faithfully to the cinema upon a new release and become overly excited by the slightest bit of new news regarding upcoming films and television programmes).
Prior to Avengers Assemble (or Marvel’s The Avengers in the US [which I honestly think is the better title – so fuck the UK for changing the title you prick!]) the Marvel Cinematic Universe was on stabilisers trying to find its footing, even going through some shaky territories with strange deals, convoluted narratives, or films that didn’t really make much of an impact apart from, “Here’s a new Avenger!” This was the film that reshaped everything and proved to the world that Marvel Studios weren’t insane, along with the simple fact that they took the world by storm, reasserting their dominance in the eyes of the fandom.
Now Marvel owns the superhero genre, making the fandom finally realise that Marvel characters were only good on the big screen when they were under the careful care of Marvel themselves. This sent shivers down the spines of both 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures Entertainment because now they’re films weren’t great anymore, they were deemed underdeveloped and lacking Marvel Studio’s warmth and care, along with the simple fact that their films were (all along) shit and they didn’t actually give a damn about the characters or their respective narratives.
Honestly, Avengers Assemble is a landmark film because of everything it accomplished. It single handily changed the face of Hollywood and filmmaking. Sure, some of you might say that I’m over-praising this film, maybe even worshipping it, (heck) some of you might just think it’s overrated. But I ask you this, “If you can still watch a film years after it’s release and still get the same thrill, excitement, and enjoyment out of it as your first viewing, then surely it must be because that film holds something special?” Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best way to get my point across but you get what I’m trying to say. Plus, you can’t deny the facts of Avengers Assemble‘s huge success and impact.
What is massively impressive about Avengers Assemble is how it brings all the pieces together, making this massive build-up of characters and events actually mean something. After being introduced to the Tesseract in Captain America: The First Avenger, and seeing S.H.I.E.L.D. employ Erik Selvig to look at the Tesseract in the post-credit scene at the end of Thor (along with Loki’s motivation and interest within the mythical device) we now finally get to see the fallout. Shit happens! Nick Fury’s schemes to use the Tesseract backfire so fucking hard after Loki storms in and (without any sweat whatsoever) takes it from him and makes S.H.I.E.L.D. look like a bunch of ants that the God-like being can simply stomp-on.
I think it’s so brilliant that the previous instalments allow Avengers Assemble to speak for itself. It doesn’t need any backtracking, or explanations, because the information we need has already been told to us. We know Captain America’s connection to the Tesseract and why Nick Fury would bring him on-board, we know the struggle and rough life Bruce Banner has been living since he became The Hulk, we already know about Iron Man’s connections to S.H.I.E.L.D., his connections to Captain America, and his overall attitude (developed from his first two films), and of course, we know about Thor and Loki’s complicated relationship and what has brought on Loki’s thirst for world domination.
So the film has plenty of space to breath and simply progress everything that has already come before it, making this phenomenal event more than just a simple crossover – it’s an expansion to the universe.
The first act is neatly paced to allow each hero to be introduced accordingly, but of course the narrative doesn’t have to spend half-an-hour on each character filling in their backstory (because we already know it) and instead cuts to the chase to explain their involvement (as well as picking up the pieces of their last appearances). Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, (for instance) is struggling with the fact that he’s slept for nearly 70 years and the life he once knew has faded from existence. And now he has to face a reality where the morals he once thought were right have been replaced by secrecy and corruption in the name of preserving order.
His response to the new world is a really fascinating journey, watching him adjust and try to be the man he once was before quickly realising that his way of thinking no longer holds a place within the war he now fights, along with facing the reality that the world isn’t simply “black and white” as the superiors he should be loyally following are holding back important information, to which begins to make him question whether or not being the loyal soldier actually applies anymore and that he needs to formulate his own opinions on the events around him in order to follow his own agenda instead of someone else’s.
This carries over to his later appearances and builds-up to create a really engaging story-arc that practically changes the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it all begins here as he confronts Tony Stark, who’s opinions of him are less than kind. I guess you could say that this is where my opinions on Tony shifted from, “He’s awesome,” to, “He’s an arsehole.” Steve brilliantly calls Tony out on his bullshit, showing his true colours to which he’s not a real hero, it’s all a game to him. He might think he’s doing the right thing but it’s all there to add to his over-exceeding ego, pumping him up to be this “superhero” that supposedly makes a difference to the world.
Even his attempts at creating “clean” energy goes towards making his name that bit more impressive (hence his fucking name being plastered all over his new Stark Tower smack bang in the middle of New York). Basically, he’s nothing without the Iron Man suit. And when Tony tries clarifying his awesomeness from just his name alone it further goes to show that Tony is short from being anything but a self-absorbed billionaire, play-boy philanthropist who happens to be a genius. And all he ever does with that genius is try to be the “biggest” man in the room and call people out on their bullshit (thus making him a further hypocrite).
Maybe Steve’s abilities came from a bottle but Tony’s certainly wrong when he has the nerve to say that everything “special” about him came from that serum. Steve was already special because he understood what courage, loyalty and duty meant when the world didn’t take him seriously as a scrawny runt from Brooklyn. The serum merely enhanced those qualities, meaning Steve is quadruple the man that Tony will ever be. Of course this is where one of the core story-arcs takes shape and moves key events along for future instalments, i.e. Steve and Tony’s friendship.
They obviously have to end up working with each other and eventually realise each other’s strengths and good qualities, forming a close and respecting friendship (but not without it’s issues over viewpoints). What makes this journey that bit more well-crafted is how this first encounter changes everything. Their views within their first instalments are very much plastered all over Avengers Assemble like, “this is who they are”.
Steve is the noble soldier who follows orders blindly, the boy-scout that does what he needs to in order to save the day. Tony is the loose canon who does as he pleases, disregarding rules in order to find the supposed clever short-cut. Both characters essentially point this out and ultimately inflict each others ideologies onto the other person, making Tony realise the true dangers of being a hero (i.e. sacrifice) and Steve begins to realise that following the rules doesn’t always give you the honourable result.
Of course one of the harder aspects to swallow with this film is Mark Ruffalo now being Bruce Banner and The Hulk. It was very clear watching The Incredible Hulk that Edward Norton wasn’t the right man for the job, resulting in this awkward transition where the character’s face unexpectedly (without explanation) changes appearance (with the film itself trying to say, “Yeah, yeah, this is still the same Bruce Banner you saw in the last film, don’t worry about it, just roll with it and trust us.”)
It probably would’ve just been easier to say, “The Incredible Hulk isn’t canon,” and just go from there because (quite frankly) you don’t need to see that film in order to understand Bruce’s presence within this film (and I should know because I didn’t see that film till long after viewing Avengers Assemble, showcasing how little impact it made to the Marvel Cinematic Universe [until of course elements from the film were added to later films, which just made things that bit more fucking confusing]). But, to all intents and purposes, Ruffalo pulled it off and delivered a great interpretation to the character, adding in this lonely factor that appeared far more subtle, and well balanced, than actually showing his constant isolation like within The Incredible Hulk.
Yes, we saw he was living in the back-of-beyond at the beginning (clearly on the run and trying to hide because of his condition) but we didn’t need much more than that. Plus, his clever dialogue added so much to this complicated, and personal, conflict that he has with The Hulk, constantly referring to him as “The Other Guy” like he acknowledges that he’s apart of him but that he isn’t apart of him.
And then you have the shocking moment were he reveals that he tried committing suicide. The poor bastard got so desperate in his struggle for control that he popped a bullet in his mouth, to which The Hulk simply spat it back out, making his overall character that bit more emotional because not only do we get this deep understanding of his personality issues, but also, that he can’t actually die and end his suffering (let alone live a normal life). And how can we forget the iconic revelation behind how he manages to keep calm, “because he’s always angry”.
The two characters I do feel sorry for though are Thor and Hawkeye. These two characters certainly come first for the short-straw because they either lack appearance, purpose, or just undergo terrible creative decisions. I mean, poor Thor has had two badly received films (although I don’t actually mind Thor: The Dark World all that much – that review is certainly going to be interesting, I hope you have the correct measurements for my coffin) and Hawkeye is just absent from the Marvel Cinematic Universe outside of The Avengers films (until Captain America: Civil War, but that felt more shoehorned than actually aiding his character).
At least with Hawkeye his character is mostly redeemed for Avengers: Age of Ultron (even having a line that insults the fact that he spent the majority of this film under the control of Loki) but Thor just gets given some bad material half the time, almost as if the writers just don’t know what to do with him, making his presence onscreen feel really awkward at times. And that’s no fault to Chris Hemsworth, I really do think he does a fantastic job in the role, I just feel sorry for the guy because he isn’t allowed to reach his full potential.
But, at least when they do get his character right we have some terrific scenes with him, particularly with his ongoing struggle with Loki (also, his scenes with The Hulk are fucking awesome too). This is my favourite aspect about his character because it is such a personal battle. You can see his desperation to make Loki see reason, he wants him to come home, but as the narrative goes on he begins to truly understand that the brother he once knew and loved has faded into the shadows. Like Loki himself, it was just a massive illusion.
Black Widow certainly got a lot of attention within this film, moving her past her questionable portrayal within Iron Man 2. Now she has more edge and weight to her. She feels far more organic and badass, added by her deep past and personal connection to Hawkeye (who spared her assassination after seeing something good in her, allowing Black Widow to start redeeming herself for all the fucked-up shit she did growing up in Russia). No longer was she just the pretty face that could kick arse, now she was a force to be reckoned with filled with one of the most interesting backstories within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I even loved how Nick Fury got a lot of attention to detail, adding to his previous appearance in Iron Man 2 (and his numerous cameos in the other films). You get a real idea who this character is and where he stands in the world. You see that he is the man of mystery, holding back the secrets like a good spy does but he’s also much more than that, seeing a world where he needs to be prepared by any means necessary, but not always necessarily in the way you’d expect. It’s made abundantly clear that he doesn’t care much for the opinions of The Council (who are more inclined to bank the safety of the world on killing civilians and using alien technology to build more weapons of mass-destruction). Nick Fury instead wants the “Avengers Iniative” to work and build a new world of hope through the inclusion of heroes.
As for Loki, my God Tom Hiddleston is amazing! I felt that he was underused in Thor, with his character feeling too bratty and underwhelming (not to mention non-threatening), but here, he was a totally different ball-game. He’s ruthless, determined, and quite frankly fucking mental. Loki doesn’t give a shit who he kills and has lost all sense of honour and nobility (and yet still waves around his status like it’s supposed to mean something, so I suppose we can add arrogant and pompous to the list of new traits).
Feeling betrayed for his poor choices in Thor, Loki feels it’s his right to conquer the Earth, stabbing Thor where it hurts in a desperate attempt to prove himself better. And, honestly, this works really well in developing his character further. His exile has clearly made him more delusional. He’s become more destructive and cruel within his nature, to which even Thor no longer recognises him. Plus, Loki fails to see the errors of his ways. He wants nothing but to become king, a right he felt was wrongfully taken from him in Thor and he blames his brother for this. Loki is fed-up of being trapped in Thor’s shadow and wants nothing more than to rise above him and ultimately be victorious, making him the perfect villain for The Avenger’s first outing.
Wow! I have well and truly waffled on in this review (and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the narrative – I do like me some character study). Avengers Assemble has such a great pace, to which a lot of it is slow, building-up this crossover event as it pulls the pieces together and allows characters to develop further from their previous instalments (some of which even being improved on). Every time I watch this film I often wonder why such a slow, dialogue driven narrative can be praised so much. Essentially I’m enjoying these characters being brought together to sit and squabble. The action is far and few, and doesn’t really kick off properly until the last half-an-hour.
But it’s the attention to detail that shines here. It all comes together so perfectly. None of the scenes are wasted. They have the purpose of not only progressing this plot, but the plot of future instalments. Plus, the characters really get their fair share of evolution, pushing them further along in this expansive universe. And it’s really neat how all the different elements and plot-points from different films are carefully put together to make everything blend together naturally (thus proving that this universe was a success and could expand even further).
And come on, who doesn’t enjoy watching that triumphant moment where all the heroes come together (and that fucking music!) to which I’m sure everyone in the cinema jumped-up and screamed in excitement (waving their fan-boy boners around as they swore their allegiances to Marvel Studios).
Avengers Assemble wasn’t just a simple crossover event. It was a massive operation. A expansion project to formulate the structure of the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The introductions were now over, now came the point where the films would move forward in radical ways and Marvel Studios would push themselves further than ever before, testing new grounds in order to bring the comic-books to life in the most expansive cinematic universe ever dared conceived. And the key factor within all of this was the introduction of the Infinity Stones, a plot-element that has ingeniously linked these films together, bringing them closer and closer to the cinematic event that is Avengers: Infinity War.
Loki was just a pawn within a grander scheme, over-watched by the fearsome, and destructive power of Thanos. To think we were first introduced to this terrible foe with an evil smile during this film’s post-credit scene, and as time has gone on his presence has become more and more apparent, until he finally decided it’s time to step in and destroy The Avengers himself. The Avengers may have finally assembled and shown the world that the age of heroes was upon us but this first encounter was merely the start of something greater, a journey of discovery as our beloved heroes are challenged in the most personal ways possible, preparing them for the actual threat that brought them together in the first place.
And if any of the above didn’t reinforce why I think Avengers Assemble was so fucking awesome, here’s a Hulk smashing Loki…