Al­most mar­vel­lous

The much-trum­peted comic su­per­hero col­lab­o­ra­tion is here at last, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

THANK HEAV­ENS. The blasted thing has fi­nally ar­rived. Un­less I’m mis­re­mem­ber­ing, Sa­muel L Jack­son made his first post-credit cameo in the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion of The Ten Com­mand­ments. Over the suc­ceed­ing eight decades, he has spurned no op­por­tu­nity to stick his head round the door and alert view­ers that some sort of su­per­hero coali­tion was in the works.

De­spite Sam’s ef­forts, it seems as if Mar­vel is not en­tirely sure the mes­sage has got through. Ter­ri­fied that teenagers might con­fuse The Avengers with a 50-year-old TV

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se­ries (or its 15-year-old movie ver­sion), the comics com­pany has done some pro­phy­lac­tic mon­key­ing around with the ti­tle.

The seed-gath­er­ers of the up­per Zam­bezi now know that Mar­vel Avengers As­sem­ble brings to­gether a col­lec­tion of Mar­vel su­per­heroes (those not still li­censed to stu­dios other than Dis­ney) to save the world one more time. Thor swings his ham­mer. Cap­tain Amer­ica waves his shield. Hulk makes like Moe in The Three Stooges. Some­body called The Black Widow re­dresses the gen­der im­bal­ance.

Hard­core comic fans were de­lighted when Joss Whe­don, one of their own, was se­lected to take charge of di­rect­ing du­ties. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, more re­cently, The Cabin in the Woods, Whe­don has demon­strated a gift for de­con­struct­ing mod­ern myths while keep­ing the nar­ra­tive zippy. For the most part, he de­liv­ers the goods in Avengers As­sem­ble.

De­spite a flabby mid­dle-sec­tion and an over­long, bang-heavy de­noue­ment, the picture keeps its many plates spin­ning dizzily for more than two hours. But it’s hard to es­cape the no­tion that Whe­don is not run­ning on full steam. For­bid­den from re­ally pulling apart the sa­cred ma­te­rial (Mar­vel was never go­ing to al­low Joss to make his own Kick Ass), he is re­duced to plas­ter­ing wry quips over a fairly fa­mil­iar uni­verse-in-peril drama.

The di­a­logue cer­tainly crack­les. Re­turn­ing as Tony Stark, al­ter ego of Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr con­tin­ues to play with his char­ac­ter’s mega­lo­ma­nia. Chris Hemsworth has fun with Thor’s Wag­ne­r­ian pom­pos­ity. The fre­quent out­breaks of self-ref­er­en­tial hu­mour do not, how­ever, es­tab­lish enough blue water to prop­erly sep­a­rate The Avengers from its ser­vice­able pre­de­ces­sors in the Mar­vel sta­ble.

Much of the open­ing act is taken up with ef­forts to gather the he­roes to­gether. Mar­vel fans of this writer’s gen­er­a­tion will fume at the ab­sence of quaint founder mem­bers such as Ant-man and The Wasp. In­stead, the rel­a­tively ob­scure Black Widow (Scar­lett Jo­hans­son) has been in­structed to track down Bruce Ban­ner (Mark Ruf­falo), The Hulk’s less green per­sona, while Cap­tain Amer­ica (Chris Evans), re­cently un­frozen, is pre­pared for life in the 21st cen­tury.

There are rea­sons to be fear­ful. Loki (Tom Hid­dle­ston), Thor’s spoilt brat of a brother, has cap­tured a ter­ri­fy­ing power source and plans to open a por­tal al­low­ing an army of grey aliens to an­ni­hi­late New York.

In truth, the story is no less per­func­tory than those that hung around Richard Don­ner’s Su­per­man movies. Whe­don is se­ri­ously ham­pered by the need to find some­thing for ev­ery­one to do and by the vast dif­fer­en­tials in the mag­ni­tudes of the char­ac­ters’ su­per­pow­ers.

The final apoc­a­lyp­tic bat­tle (a lit­tle too close to a Trans­form­ers set-piece for com­fort) sees an im­plau­si­bly com­pli­ant Hulk and a gor­geously fu­ri­ous Thor cleav­ing whole build­ings while Black­widow and Hawk­eye (Jeremy Ren­ner) pa­thet­i­cally dis­charge re­volvers and fire ex­plo­sive ar­rows. Why not just throw water bombs at the in­ter­ga­lac­tic in­vaders?

Still, as early sum­mer block­busters go, Avengers As­sem­ble will do well enough. True, it’s not the game-chang­ing epic that many en­thu­si­asts had hoped for. It lacks nar­ra­tive fo­cus. Even the best jokes are scored to sit­com rhythms.

But Avengers As­sem­ble def­i­nitely plays like the work of a film-maker in love with his source ma­te­rial. For that it de­serves at least one raised fist.

Abs fab: Avengers Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Cap­tain Amer­ica (Chris Evans)

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