THE FIRST-TAKE CLUB
Filling in those filmic blind spots, one person at a time
#16 NEIL GIBBONS ON AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
THIS MONTH’S FIRST-TAKE Club inductee is Neil Gibbons, screenwriter and the man who, along with his brother Rob, has breathed life into the second phase of Alan Partridge, across film (Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa), TV (Mid-morning Matters), and the printed page (Nomad). He’s been far too busy, presumably, to watch the film Empire readers voted the 16th greatest of all time in 2014, so we assembled Avengers Assemble for him. And…?
Avengers Assemble — known alternatively in my house as ‘Avengers Congregate’, ‘Avengers Muster’ or ‘Avengers Coffee Morning’ — isn’t a film I’ve struggled to avoid.
I have a blanket rule to avoid any and all superhero movies. First, to spite my university flatmate Simon Bather, a man who adored comics even more than he loved pissing in the kitchen sink (ie, a lot), but who I’ve not seen or spoken to for 19 years. And second, because there are too many of them. Studios — like Partridge pitching Norfolk-set detective series ‘Swallow’ — argue that ‘people like them, so let’s make more of them’. But there’s only so much budget to go round. Every dollar spent on another comicbook film is a dollar not spent on a new idea: a Back To The Future, a Groundhog Day. Buying a ticket to the latest X-men sends a message to a film studio that says, “Don’t finance something new, finance ‘Thor 6’ instead.” Not for me.
But Empire readers have voted it the 16th best film ever made, it’s well-reviewed, it has a cast of brilliant actors plus Tom Hiddleston. Who knows? Maybe I will enjoy this film. I did not enjoy this film. The avenging started about an hour in and made me wish I could watch more assembling — an hour of interminable, WWE fight sequences, with weirdly harm-free consequences. The combatants take it in turns to lamp each other, flinging opponents into a tree or bus or whatever, at which point they get up again, inconvenienced not by agonising back pain or a popped eye, but by having to walk 20 yards to return to the fray.
And that’s my issue with it. The filter through which every creative decision was made seems to be, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” It’s painfully cool. Tony Stark has designed robotic arms to remove his Iron Man suit as he walks. Of course he has. Standing still is for losers!
The superheroes I can get on board with are the likes of Kick-ass or The Greatest American Hero: skin-of-their-teeth, how-does-this-work-again reluctant chancers. But the Avengers are manicured, sharply dressed, have ripped torsos, wise cracks, steeled jaws. No-one is apprehensive or afraid or inept. Everyone is ept. I know, they have to be. They’re superheroes. But their superness means nothing seems super to them. They’re freaks who never freak out. Instead of screaming about what the holy Christ they’re doing, they exchange snappy but professional barbs like a team on The Apprentice arguing about what name to choose.
Still, at least they knew what was happening. The film assumed a level of knowledge I did not, and still don’t, have. I spent the first half-hour consulting Wikipedia every time a new character was introduced and still struggled to orientate myself. Is it sci-fi or fantasy? Science or magic? Maybe it’s just me. Twelve-year-olds get it.
Eight-years-olds get it. It’s snappily written, well shot, with a great cast (plus Tom Hiddleston) but — and I’m braced for the inevitable Empire readers’ fatwa here — it wasn’t for me. Soz.