Avengers Assemble (2012)

This year’s Spider-Man reboot may have cornered the market when it comes to superfluous adjectives, but that hasn’t stopped Joss Whedon delivering what is surely 2012’s loudest, funniest and warmest superhero movie.

That’s a pretty (yes) amazing feat when you consider Avengers Assemble is essentially a sequel to the towering likes of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s been in the offing pretty much since Robert Downey Jr first strapped on a metallic super-suit and branded himself Iron Man. Four years and as many Avengers-assembling Marvel movies later, it’s up to Whedon to unite various plots, subplots and cameoing characters in the Avengers’ first movie outing. You almost feel sorry for him.

Except after years championing stellar ‘ensemble’ projects like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, Whedon makes rallying The Avengers look like a stroll in the park. Even being slapped with a whopping budget ($220m) doesn’t seem to bother him. Whedon, see, is a character man, and handing him a collection of superheroes to play with is like locking Dr Frasier Crane in a room with a sex maniac who has mummy issues.

And what characters they are. With Iron Man (Downey Jr), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Captain America (Chris Evans) all clashing egos and – at times – fists, the characters are what we’re here for. Whedon gleefully shows us the world’s shiniest superheroes scrapping (Iron Man vs Thor!), bonding (Black Widow and Hawkeye!) and sniping (Tony Vs Everybody!), and Whedon’s a generous leader, granting all of our colourful combatants numerous funnies. Better still, Black Widow finally has something to do, transforming into a well-rounded heroine under Whedon’s mindful gaze, and Ruffalo’s is easily the best movie Hulk yet.

In a movie with eight leads, though, it’s no surprise there’s not much to go on in terms of plot. The film doesn’t even have its own villain, instead plucking Loki (Tom Hiddleston) out of 2011’s Thor and giving him some beefed-up domination designs. The absence of a particularly exhilarating plot, though, is more than made up for in the spectacle of having so many superheroes crammed into a room together. The resultant snippy banter is as thrilling as the film’s two main set-pieces.

Character is key, then, but thanks to that Hulk-sized budget, Avengers is big with a capital BIG. The film’s final 30 minutes are a maelstrom of apocalyptic action as an entire city is brought to its knees by Loki and his minions. Meanwhile, a second act aircraft siege is just as exhilarating, with each of our heroes forced to show what they’re made of. This is no soulless Michael Bay action-fest, though, because throughout the set-pieces we’re glued to the characters, each of whom has more wit and humanity in their little finger than any of the leads in Transformers.

Avengers Assemble is a staggering achievement. Though it sacrifices complex plotting and a memorable villain for more time with the titular fighters, that’s a sacrifice we’re willing to accept. A nimble, massively entertaining blockbuster that has everybody involved bringing their A game, Avengers is big and beautiful. Spider-Man has a lot to live up to. 4/5

Buffy Season Eight, Vol. 4-5

A couple of weeks back I began thumbing my way through Buffy’s comic-bound season eight. Needless to say, I consumed Volumes 1-3 like I’d not eaten for a month (c’mon, the seventh season finale was way back in 2003, and now I suddenly feel very old). Despite wolfing those first volumes down in a handful of sittings, I didn’t get indigestion – instead I reverted back to the Buffy junkie who’d been starved of a good meal for eight years. A quick Amazon order later and Volumes 4 and 5 had landed on my doormat…

Pros (aka That’s hot!)

  • I mentioned the words ‘bigger and ‘outrageous’ in my review of Vol 1-3, and I’m going to mention them again here. Not because I have nothing new to say, but because as it goes on, Buffy S8 starts to develop the “Hey! We don’t have/need a TV budget!” approach in really interesting ways. Whereas Vols 1-3 featured grander fights and some destination hopping, Vols 4-5 organically unravel their stories on a bigger scale than we’ve ever seen. Which, funnily enough, coincides with another returning character…
  • Harmony! Of course she’d end up being a reality TV celebrity. Of course she has a legion of PR minions doing her bidding. And of course she ends up kick starting one of the big topics Buffy’s never really properly explored – exposure. With vampires and slayers now hitting the headlines, what can possibly happen next?
  • The covers continue to be peerless in design. Not only does cover illustrator Jo Chen perfectly capture the likenesses of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Eliza Dushku et al, his compositions are practically works of art in their own right. And that’s not unbackupable hyperbole – just look…
  • Clem. Is. Back. This makes me happy inside.
  • Of course, talking of epic, the Buffy writers aren’t above getting back to the basics for a little ‘old time’s sake’ reminiscing. Which results in the comic’s most daring and brilliant story to date, ‘After These Messages… We’ll Be Right Back.’ As well as functioning as a pseudo-sequel to season four ep Restless, it resurrects the character designs from the defunct Buffy animated series and gives us a season one yarn that splices into the season eight continuity. Fan. Gasm!
  • Studio Ghibli have Totoro. Toy Story has the little green alien things. Now Buffy has… Vampy Cat! Adorable and deadly – the perfect combination. Where can I get one?
  • The Adventures Of Faith And Giles continue. I can’t wait to see this story strand fold into the main season eight arc.

Cons (aka Sheesh, Loser Parade!)

  • Where’s Tara? Alright, she’s dead, but that hasn’t stopped Warren. We know Amber Benson didn’t want to come back for Buffy’s seventh season, but there’s nothing stopping Tara being drawn/written in comic form. Scrap Kennedy, give us a Tara cameo!
  • I’m all for crazy new budget-free demons and hi-jinks, but sometimes the writers aren’t quite sure where to draw the line. So far, Dawn’s been a giant, a centaur and a doll (yawn), while she and Xander encounter silly tree things straight out of Lord Of The Rings.
  • Twilight. He’s the big bad this year (sorta), but for all five volumes he’s had nothing to do except hit Buffy with a church spire and tell her she’s doomed. Which we’ve pretty much already seen before a gazillion times over (minus the spire part).
  • Riley. So Riley’s back, and he’s still being a doofus (albeit a vaguely helpful doofus). It surprises me that the Buffy writers bring back certain characters even though they know the fanbase hates them. Riley and Warren are just two. Hopefully they’re both heading for sticky ends.

And that brings us right up to the end of Vol 5. Without getting too gross and fanboyish about it, Whedon and co should be commended for managing to retain the essence of Buffy in comic form, even though they’re playing in a whole new sandbox.

Free from the 40-minutes-per-episode format, they’ve fully embraced the comic-book medium, effectively mixing one issue stories that fit into the greater arc (‘Safe’) with multi-issue stories (‘Time Of Your Life’). If anything, Buffy could even work better in comic form – one notable plus is that it gives the writers freedom to devote an entire issue to a character who might otherwise get short-changed by a TV episode.

Now if anybody needs me, I’ll be waiting Scott Pilgrim-like by my letterbox for Volumes 6 and 7 to drop into my life. Until next time…

The Cabin In The Woods is on its way

What’s Cabin In The Woods, you ask? If you’re asking that – fie! Fie and shame! A new-except-it’s-not-really-new-because-it-was-shot-in-2009 horror movie from Buffy pals Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (the latter also wrote Cloverfield), Cabin is a post-modern chiller set, uh, in the woods. Where bad stuff happens. Like screaming and blood-letting.

That’s about all we know for the moment. Except that it’s going to be awesome, because how could it not be? We should know more very soon, though, because Cabin’s finally been snapped up by Lionsgate for distribution after sitting in a film canister for over a year (it was caught up in MGM’s undignified financial crisis).

Though a release date’s yet to be set, it’s looking likely that Lionsgate will unleash Cabin in October – the slot that they usually reserve for their latest Saw movie. Cue butterflies in stomach, fainting fits and Friday The 13th marathons.

Previously Whedon had this to say about the film:

It’s an old fashioned horror movie, it does involve young people going out into a cabin in the woods, which is never a good idea, but it’s also me and Drew Goddard sitting around with our thoughts about why we love these movies, and what’s weird about them and what’s awesome, and I think it’s very original.

So essentially it’s sounding like a Scream-esque take on wood-set slashers. Hopefully. And if that doesn’t get your juices flowing, nothing ever will.

Buffy Season Eight, Vol. 1-3

I’m aware that this nudges me even higher up the Richter scale of ‘scarily geekified’, but for the past few weeks I’ve been reading the Buffy season eight comics. I’m also aware that I’m a little slow hitching myself onto that cart – a quick Wiki trawl tells me they’ve been around since 2007. But whatever. I’m here. And I’m in Buffybliss…

Pros (aka Neato! Points For Me!):

  • It’s penned by Joss Whedon and his brood of witty wordsmiths, which means punchy dialogue, recognisable characters, and complex storytelling.
  • The big selling point with the comics is that they’re free from the budgetary restraints of TV, and boy do Team Whedon take full advantage of that. Globe-trotting escapades include a new base in Edinburgh and a trip to Japan, while the fights are bigger, the demons more outrageous. There’s also a lot of flying – something Joss was clearly desperate to do on TV, but the bean counters wouldn’t let him. Plus: giant Dawn.
  • It’s a direct continuation of the show dealing with the ‘what say we awaken all the Potentials?’ fall-out from season seven. That fall-out is huge, of course.
  • The art is fantastic.
  • Faith! Working with Giles! Fangasm.
  • This:

Just because it’s an amazing slash shout-out.

  • Xander finally has a purpose! And not a “I’m the heart of this operation” cop-out, but an actual purpose. He’s also shed a few pounds (funny how that’s easier when it’s just a drawing), which means he’s hunky again…

Cons (aka Gaaah, Hater!):

  • So Buffy’s enrolled in the KD Lang school of lesbianism. Uh, what?! I’m all for taking characters in new directions, but this development felt about as organic as a BK burger.
  • Constantly thinking, “Oooh, that would look so good as a movie.” Cos, let’s face it, never gonna happen.
  • Willow suddenly has issues with Buffy that she must’ve kept under wraps for the whole of season seven. Yes, those issues make sense, but they smack of ‘let’s create some drama to keep the relationships spicey after eight years’.
  • So over Amy. They already completely assassinated her character in season six, now they’re just dancing around in her entrails. Wrong.
  • They can’t do a sequel to ‘Once More With Feeling’ in a comic (hint: comics can’t hold a tune). Which is sad for all kinds of reasons.
  • It’s just as addictive as the show.

Volume 4 and 5 are already calling to me from my antique night stand, and I’m unable to resist their siren song.

Continue to Volumes 4 and 5

Joss Whedon: "Tomorrow we start shooting The Avengers"

There’s pretty much nothing I can add to Joss Whedon’s announcement that shooting on comic mash-up The Avengers is kicking off within the next 24 hours, other than ohmygodgeekloveheslikesoamazing. That’s how a) excited I am that this movie is getting made and b) by demigod Whedon.

In a time when sanitised press releases about movies entering production read like really unfunny backward obituaries, the Buffy brainbox has shown why he does what he does with a breathlessly scattershot announcement shpiel that induces nervous hiccups and throaty guffaws in equal measure. I would follow this man off the edge of a cliff. Here’s what he had to say in all its glory…

Hi Pumpkins, joss here.

Tomorrow we start shooting (I THINK I’m legally permitted to say that). Day one. That’s right. We’ll be shooting the pivotal death/betrayal/product placement/setting up the sequel/coming out scene, at the following address:

[Marvel Lawyers rush in, take Joss’s keyboard, blowtorch a picture of his family like in “Stormy Monday”, drink his milkshake, leave the seat up, fluff his pillows, violently unfluff his pillows, leave]

Went too far. My bad. Anyhoo, it should be a fun day, followed by the eighty thousand other fun days it will take to finish this. I’ll be checking in from time to time, if there’s news or I crave attention (i.e. am awake) . None of it will be Avengers news — I have some very denty pillows to remind of that — but I may have tidbits. (They’re not about Firefly. I should say that up front, if only to protect Sis Mo from the HATORZ.)

Some of you may be saying, Joss! Why this link, here, now, why, huh, howcum? My friend Allyx turned me on to these guys, and I’ll tell you, they’ve gotten me through this intensely pressurized, preply time. I strongly recommend checking out their other vids — I’ve watched them many many times, and I have a very special place for “Teamwork” in my heart. These guys are the guys. And IS there a better movie title than “Eagles Are Turning People Into Horses”? I thought not.

So wish me luck. DO IT! LUCK! NOW! I’m off to finish some Buffy pages, and then figure out what the movie is about already. I’m pretty sure it’s about the Justice League [Marvel Lawyers re-enter, unspeakability occurs] or possibly something else. I’ll get it. I’ve been looking forward to this. For about 46 years.



Via Whedonesque

The Avengers

How many superheroes does it take to change a light bulb? Umm, never been tested. How many does it take to change the face of comic book movies forever? Roughly six (plus a few friends), if The Avengers has anything to do with it.

“Marvel Studios are going to take all their top superheroes and put them all together in The Avengers?!” guffawed Robert Downey Jr. at this year’s Comic-Con. “That’s the most ambitious movie [concept] I’ve ever seen!” You don’t say. Uniting the iconic figureheads of Marvel’s best-loved stories was always going to be a tough task – damn near heroic in itself. Which perhaps accounts for its tentative slouch toward inception.

With Avenger stalwarts Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk all being introduced in their own individual movies (with helpers Nick Fury, Black Widow and Agent Coulson in the mix), Marvel’s plan was to ultimately smash them together in a tag-team big-screen blockbuster. But like the jazzy plotlines that said heroes spring from, the creation of the super-flick was never going to be straightforward.

Even Downey Jr. was dubious. “If we don’t get it right, it’s really going to suck,” he vexed in ’08. “It has to be the crowning blow of Marvel’s best and brightest, because it’s the hardest thing to get right. It’s tough to spin all the plates for one of these characters.”

Like DC’s long-winded hunt for an individual to reboot Superman (and they arguably didn’t get the movie they expected from Bryan Singer), Marvel struggled to land somebody who could boil so many clashing egos – not to mention hammers, metal suits and anger management problems – into a satisfactory two-hour film. But this July’s Comic-Con finally brought with it the announcement that Buffy man Joss Whedon had taken the throne.

“The thing that made me excited to do it was just how completely counterintuitive it is,” Whedon revealed. “It makes no sense. These people should not even be in the same room, let alone on the same team. And that, to me, is the very definition of family.”

Not only will Whedon be directing, he’ll also be polishing Zak Penn’s script. Meanwhile, the geek guru revealed his feelings on the sticky issue of 3D. “Honestly, I’m totally into it. I love it,” he enthused. “I think the technology is really good. It kind of puts you in the space. The thing is, if you are making an action movie, 3D lends itself to that anyway.”

Not content to simply divulge he was directing the film, Whedon also united his entire Avengers cast on stage for the first time at the Con. Alongside the expected regulars, he also wheeled out Jeremy Hurt Locker Renner as Hawkeye, while Mark Ruffalo confirmed that he is to tag the role of Bruce Banner from the departing Ed Norton. “I have had a dream all my life,” frothed Whedon. “And it was not this good!”

Which just leaves the villains. Is there even room for any? Onliners are currently debating whether The Skrulls (mean E.Ts) or Loki (Thor’s bad bro) will be stirring up trouble for the Avengers. Meanwhile, Whedon seems wholeheartedly up for the challenge. “When I write Tony Stark, or Steve Rogers, or any of these people, they sound like them, particularly because I already know who’s playing them.” So, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye… How many superheroes does it take to change the face of comic book movies forever? Six. Definitely six.

Via Total Film