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

Thor (2011)

Watch out DC, Marvel just upped their game. After teething problems with the likes of Fantastic Four, Hulk and The Punisher, Marvel Studios have a definite game plan, and they’ve set it well and truly in motion with Thor.

Whereas DC’s Green Lantern adap has been mucking around with silly CGI suits gone wrong and truly apathetic responses to early footage, Thor knuckles down and gets on with it. That’s not to say it doesn’t have ambition – it does, in spades – but the brains behind Thor know what’s important; story, character and, yes, visual spectacle.

Marvel’s real genius here was hiring Kenneth Branagh as director. Though he’s new to the big budget CGI scene (save for that ‘90s Frankenstein adap he directed), it’s clear that Branagh’s strength resides in his ability to craft compelling family drama – something he’s honed through the course of his numerous Shakespearean adaps.

So where lesser superhero movies might paint their domestic drama in the laziest of broad brush strokes, Branagh tackles it with the courage of a true Bardian, infusing family fractures with the kind of Earth-quivering gravity that the story of warring gods deserves. When characters argue, they BELLOW. When they’re angry, they SEETHE. When they’re downtrodden, they’re BROKEN.

Barrelling out of the starting gate, Thor plummets us headfirst into the godly world of Asgard, where the Norse rulers of legend all live. In a breathless 30 minute segment entirely set amongst the stars, we’re introduced to their world, their leaders (Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, his two sons Thor and Loki), their enemies (the Frost Giants), their protectors (Idris Elba’s brilliant Gatekeeper) and everything in between.

It’s a boggling, pulse-raising opening that, though action-packed and overloaded with theatrics, makes sense in the greater context of the film. Once Thor’s been banished to Earth, stripped of his godly powers, the film settles into a more talky mid-section that’s handled with Iron Man-like wit.

Tone was always a concern. How do you reconcile the high camp setting of Asgard with the gritty real-life Earth segments without tipping the scale too far either way? To Branagh’s credit, he manages it with few niggles. Though Asgard is at times more ‘CGI epic’ than truly breathtaking, there’s no faulting the stunning production design. A glimmering green and gold paradise, there’s no doubt this is a place built for heavenly beings. Meanwhile, Branagh cleverly infuses even the Earth scenes with a comic-book kilter, keeping his lense half-crooked even in the most serious of moments.

Crucially, Thor has time for its characters. Though it’s busy, stirring in everything from references to The Sword In The Stone, a cameo from Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and even a Terminator 2 nod, we rarely feel short-changed. The trio of scientists comprised of a spirited Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård are a delight, championing keen chemistry and a fun sense of dry humour.

As for Hemsworth, he is Thor; built like a Viking, massive in every sense of the word. His Thor is a sort of amalgamation of other superheroes, bundled into a He-Man, Superman, God-like mass of flesh and charm. His fish out of water moments are truly hilarious, and when he gets his “fuck yeah!” moment, you’re punching the air alongside him.

Most enticingly, we know we’ve only got to wait another year to see Thor back in action. With Joss Whedon’s The Avengers currently shooting, Thor acts as a compelling prologue to that epic adventure. Unlike Iron Man 2, though, Thor also stands completely as its own entity. A thunderous, magnetic, often warmly tongue-in-cheek thrillride, it has the power to awaken the fanboy in us all. 4/5

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.

Catchphrase!

-j.

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