It's the mother of all ensemble films, and a fangirl's wet dream: throw together four of the world's greatest heroes, put them in a confined space together and send them off on a mission to destroy a mighty supervillain capable of bringing about the end of the world as we know it. It had the potential to be either a massive disaster or a stunning hit, and I'm pleased to report that Avengers Assemble is most certainly the latter.
(Side note - do you realise how hard this was to write and keep free of spoilers? Incredibly, that's how hard. But I think I did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself. It was expecially difficult to keep one big thing a secret, but I did it!)
I won't go into huge detail over the plot, because it would take me bloody ages, but here's the basics for those who didn't already know. The ever egotistic Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), the newly-unfrozen Captain America (Chris Evans) and the reclusive Dr Banner, aka the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. to retrieve the Tesseract (a shiny cube thing from Asgard - that's Thor's home planet to the uneducated - which contains unlimited amounts of energy... blah blah blah) which has been stolen by the nefarious Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as part of his plot to take over the world and rule as its king. Well, as you can imagine, there are ups and downs from the get-go, and a lot of butting heads over how to deal with Loki and the brainwashed Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). But hang on, isn't there one missing? Oh yes, as if things couldn't get more complicated, in flies the aesthetically-pleasing Thor (we forgive the hair, Chris Hemsworth) to take his brother back to Asgard, and the situation becomes more action-packed - and hilarious. Just FYI, it's a lot more complicated than it looks in the trailers, which suggests that a lot of the film is spent in the increasingly apocalyptic-looking Manhatten but actually is mostly spent on board a "helicarrier" (which is essentially a big flying aircraft carrier-slash-strategy base-slash-prison-slash-laboratory). Quite rightly, the fighting all comes to a head in an action-heavy finale which maybe feels slightly too long and drawn out but is pleasing all the same.
Ok, where to begin? A lot of people were concerned that this was going to be 'The Iron Man Show featuring other Avengers', but I'm very pleased to report that this really isn't the case; they all really get their moments to shine, even those who would be considered more supporting roles such as Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (can we please see an origins film for these two?). The humour in this film defies belief, and again everyone gets their comic moment, even the lovely Marvel stalwart, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). As ever, Robert Downey Jr. is brilliantly charismatic and delivers all his lines with wonderful dryness that undercuts everything and everyone. Chris Evans may be slightly stiff, but plays the "man from a different time" very well, and since he's the one who gets exasperated with everyone easiest, we also relate to that when we want to bang everyone's heads together and shout "JUST PLAY NICELY, CHILDREN!" Chris Hemsworth is likewise very good at playing his part of someone who doesn't really fit in with the rest, and maintains his "I am a God" swagger whilst working out some sibling rivalry issues and trying to protect the Earth. Naww. The revelation is Mark Ruffalo, who finally manages to prove to the world that the Hulk can be a success! He brings such an endearing, sweet and sensitive vulnerability to Bruce Banner that audiences should like him very quickly and very easily, as well as also having great banter with the rest of the team. I would gladly go and see a Hulk film if he were to star in it again.
As for the "supporting" cast members (I use inverted commas because really they all play such a large role that they are more than just supporting), they too also bring great depth and layers to the film. Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury gets to do more than turn up at the end of a film, swish his coat and ramble about "The Initiative" as he has done in all the prequel films, and audiences will either like him or dislike him a lot more after seeing the film - I was the latter, because really I saw him as just a smug prick in this, though some would say he proved himself finally by getting it together and not just standing there. Whatever your opinion, he's still no more interesting, really. Note to Marvel: don't make a Nick Fury origins film, please. As for Black Widow and Hawkeye, they are lovely, and it would be wonderful to see more of them in the future. Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, redeems herself after her mediocre performance in Iron Man 2 by integrating some actual emotion into her character, and she's actually really likeable. Her chemistry with Hawkeye is also really nice - I could sit there and watch them for hours (read: make a film!). And as for Hawkeye himself, it's nice that we finally get to see him in action, since all he had before was an uncredited cameo in Thor. He is so unbelievably cool with a bow-and-arrow, even better than Katniss. There's one particular shot, and you'll know when you see it, that I felt like applauding. I wanted to cry with envy at how cool he was. But the one who actually made me cry and stole every seen he was in was Agent Phil Coulson. If you've seen the other films you know how amazing he is anyway, but here he really shines. Whether it's being a total fanboy over Captain America (so adorable) or standing up to Loki, he gives a really wonderful performance that makes him one of the best characters in this whole franchise.
And last but certainly not least, is the one, the only, the Asgardian reject, Loki! My first question is: why would anyone oppose a world ruled by Loki? I'm definitely on his side in this one, I would welcome this, but I may be biased because I absolutely adore him. He's developed further in his emotional and injust situation of being the illigitimate brother, though maybe trying to take the world by force wasn't necessarily such a good idea - I'm sure everyone would have come round if he explained his plight nicely. Yes, he apparently hasn't cut his hair since the Thor and he looks ill most of the time, but his mischievious ways are still so charming, and I still held out a tiny bit of hope that he would win in the end. Funnily enough, when his plan comes to fruition and the Chitauri (some form of aliens to you and I) come to Earth through the magic portal (don't ask), it's actually then that he becomes most... dull, for lack of a better word - he's obviously not dull, because it's Loki, but his spark has kind of gone by the time his plan is in motion. Loki is much better at ranting manically and riling up every character he comes across rather than putting any plan into action.
Really what is great about this film is the interaction between the four heroes. There's a lot of bickering which often results in hilarious one-liners and one hero making a jab at another, escalating into fights some of the time (the Thor and Iron Man one is both great action and comic genuis at the same time). And really, Total Film were right when they said that it isn't the best superhero film ever (duh, Christopher Nolan's Batman films, anyone?) but may well be the funniest, and not just in dialogue but also in action - see: Loki and the Hulk... actually a lot of Hulk moments. It had me in stitches an insane amount. But also the bromance between the characters when they finally come together as a team is really something special. Bruce and Tony have a very touching moment where the two genius minds come together and form an endearing bond - and watch them at the end, it's almost enough to make you go "awwwww" (I actually did, silently). Even the relationship between Black Widow and the Hulk is nice. It's so heartwarming to see them working together when they finally pull it off.
There are only two small things wrong with the film: I don't particularly care for Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill, who doesn't do anything really except strut around in a catsuit and be Nick Fury's lackie. And secondly, Loki's alien army are threatening, I suppose, as a whole, but are kind of forgettable and seem to be taken out very easily. It's only the giant... flying... creature... things that you've all seen in the trailer, that seem like they could actually cause quite a bit of damage.
The film redeems itself from these small niggles by doing something that most films can't, which is to make the clichéd moments fun and to twist them into the unconventional. There's a particular sign on the side of a particular building at the end, which instead of being cheesy is just cool, and moments like Loki bringing forth a deep, dark moment in Black Widow's past is turned on its head to become something entirely different than angsty. Even the jokes that come after Bruce being discovered naked in a barn after a round as "the other guy", as he likes to call him, are funny rather than done-to-the-death.
It could have gone so wrong to have four big characters like this all in one film, but it did so well to pull off being an actual ensemble cast, with each character getting their deserved amount of screen time and nobody (read: Tony Stark) hogging the limelight. And nobody is made to feel unimportant or unnecessary; they all have a role to play and writer/director Joss Whedon hits the nail dead on the head in getting it so right. All of the different backstories are hinted at and the different plots fit together seamlessly where it could have been disastrous otherwise. It's also not just a showcase for the heroes' talents, as we also get to see their weaknesses and vulnerabilities - there's a revelatory moment when Tony is talking to Bruce that makes us see him in a different light than we might have in his other two outings, and we also get to see Steve "Captain America" Rogers trying to adjust to a new life he is so unfamiliar with, among other moments. It's clever, and though it's been compared with the Transformers films for the levels of destruction it causes, it isn't daft and bland like that particular franchise - this actually has brains and uses them. There's a lot more talking that one would expect, but that's really a good thing, as we get to know each and every character better than we did before. This feels like just the beginning.
Verdict: A film which is visually stunning, intelligent, endearing, hilarious and, at times, heartbreaking. It more than lived up to my expectations. You really have to see the other films before this to properly appreciate it, but for fans, it doesn't get much better. On behalf of fans everywhere I can only say one thing: Thank you, Joss Whedon. Please come again.