THE FIRST-TAKE CLUB

Fill­ing in those filmic blind spots, one per­son at a time

Empire (UK) - - RE.VIEW -

#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.

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