Since the brief debut of Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury in a scene following the credits of 2008’s Iron Man, internet forums have been alight with salivating fanboys attempting to divine which of their favourite characters would be making an appearance. With each new release focusing on a member of the super-team, this fervent contemplation only intensified, up to a point at which some audience members held the appearance of the monocular man of mystery in the film’s closing moments with greater anticipation than that of the titular hero himself.
For many, this intersection of the paths woven through five productions of massively varying quality will not disappoint. Identikit aliens will flood the streets of New York, bulky heroes and a token buxom heroine will deliver their pre-attack quips and Hulk will, indeed, smash. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the Norse God of lies and mischief who was thought vanquished at the close of the 2011 title, Thor, has formed an alliance with an extraterrestrial race known as the Chitauri and is plotting an invasion of Earth. With the Tesseract, the item of seemingly limitless power which drove Captain America’s narrative, stolen, the planet is in desperate need of the protection that only a team of extraordinary beings can provide and so, the Avengers assemble!
As a production driven by four well-loved characters portrayed by high-grossing actors, Whedon’s script, rather than paying equal tribute to the heroes in a somewhat coherent fashion, appears on screen as something more akin to children vying for the approval of a parent. One liners come thick and fast, with emphasis on the thick. Truly amusing demonstrations of the two displaced heroes, Thor and Captain America/Steve Rogers (a wonderfully hammy Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans in a saddeningly understated performance, respectively) attempting to adapt to the world as it is today are trampled by the throwaway playground insults of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man. In a manner befitting his ego of Charlie Sheen proportions, Stark attempts to quash any character development that may exist outside of himself through his supposed bad boy antics, much as he did in his native film series.
A green, muscular, glimmer of hope is provided, however, in the form of Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) also known as The Incredible Hulk (voiced by Lou Ferrigno). Ruffalo’s mellow genius provides a haven for the viewer from his squabbling teammates, making the eventual release of “the other guy” all the more spectacular. The Hulk sequences are a delight to behold, with his opening showdown with a fellow Avenger being sure to elicit whoops from every viewer who as a child would endlessly pit fictional figures against one another in their minds. It’s a shame, then, that at the climax of this brief battle, which takes up a small portion of Avengers Assemble’s second largest set-piece, the Hulk (and therefore also his “host”) is cast aside until he is next required to pulverise something.
The greatest damage to the world of Avengers Assemble is not wrought by giant green knuckles, however, but by a complete lack of explanation of the Chitauri’s origins or motives. Seemingly created just as cannon fodder between the group and Loki, the moments leading up to the final unleashing of the invading force are completely devoid of suspense, making the heroes’ dispatching of them in droves all the more tiresome. While Avengers Assemble fails in achieving its primary goal as a fantasy action film, its few outstanding characters prevent its 123 minute running time from becoming wholly unbearable.