Superhero Summer is upon us.
Apocalyptic images are pounding our TV screens and our advertising hoardings, depicting foreboding city skylines, collapsing football fields, exploding cars and crumbling Manhattan buildings.
Our multiplexes have already had Joss Whedon’s ‘Marvel Avengers Assemble’ which has amassed so much at the box office, it is now officially the third biggest grossing movie of all time.
We have just had Marc Webb’s ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ hit the screens, with Andrew Garfield shooting spider webs.
And now we’re just days away from the most eagerly anticipated superhero movie of them all, Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ – the final instalment of his Batman trilogy.
Nolan’s previous two films, ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ very much raised the bar for the superhero genre.
With the ‘Batman’ movies and ‘Inception’, the Londoner has proven very adept at making cerebral multiplex blockbusters which appeal both to arthouse audiences and the shoot ‘em up and smash them to smithereens brigade.
Nolan’s ‘Batman’ films have built on the intelligence Bryan Singer showed in his first two ‘X-Men’ movies.
Like the ‘X-Men’ series, the ‘Batman’ trilogy boasts strong casts, dark themes and has enough political subtext to intrigue filmgoers who simply won’t settle for stunts and stunning visual effects.
But will the spectacular performance of the muscular ‘Marvel Avengers Assemble’ spell the end of the brainy superhero blockbuster if it outperforms ‘The Dark Knight Rises’?
On paper, ‘Marvel Avengers Assemble’ must have seemed a Hollywood movie mogul’s dream.
Take a bunch of superheroes whose movies have performed decently at the box office, throw them into a situation where the world is under threat and get them to fight a slimy evil villain with an English accent.
And so we have a coming together of Robert Downey Jr’s (pictured above) playboy turned superhero Tony Stark/Iron Man (subject of two blockbuster movies), Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America (another box office hit), Chris Hemsworth’s Thor (a Kenneth Branagh directed hit), Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (featured in Iron Man 2) amd Mark Ruffalo’s Dr David Banner/The Incredible Hulk.
Add into the mix Samuel L Jackson’s eye patch wearing Nick Fury, Jeremy Renner’s bow and arrow wielding Clint Barton/Hawkeye and Tom Hiddeston’s evil Norseman, Loki and you’ve got potentially the ultimate superhero movie.
The movie begins with Nick Fury’s shadowy agency, SHIELD grappling with a situation where a precious energy source, the Teseract – a blue looking mass with the potential to destroy world – is misbehaving.
It soon becomes clear that this is all down to Loki (Hiddleston camping it up to 11) who raids SHIELD’s secure facility, hypnotises Barton (Renner) and the scientist Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard, again going through the motions) into joining his team and stealing the Teseract.
Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and his sidekicks Special Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Agent Maria Hill (Coble Smulders) set about assembling the Avengers team to stop Loki and his crew from using the Teseract to destroy New York and then the world.
At first the Avengers bicker while Dr David Banner (Ruffalo) struggles to tame his inner green beast but when Loki and his crew storm Fury’s aircraft carrier turned spaceship, the scene is set for a climactic smash everything in sight showdown in Manhattan.
At a running time of two hours and 22 minutes, Whedon’s movie is far too long and takes some time to kick into action.
The performances are also uneven. Ruffalo impresses as Banner/the Hulk, suggesting a future for the franchise after the disappointment of Edward Norton and Eric Bana’s outings as the superhero.
Johansson and Renner are dependable enough, while Jackson turns in the kind of performance he has pulled out many times before.
Evans and Hemsworth are simply too bland to engage the viewer and Hiddleston is a bit too fey to impress (the Silence of the Lambs style analysis of Romanoff is timesome) but the most irritating character is Downey Jr’s. The movie is so obviously designed for him to be the star of the show but it is hard to love this wiseass.
To be fair to Whedon, the movie is a technical triumph and the climactic section of the movie is a tour de force for CGI and thrilling.
But the screenplay is weak, with a ridiculous plot and cardboard dialogue.
But like the ‘Transformers’ series, this movie is not really concerned about the inner turmoil of its characters or any big issues like the War Against Terror. Granted, there are some throwaway lines about sustainable energy from Downey Jr but it feels tacked on.
A superhero blockbuster movie for the WWF generation, ‘Marvel Avengers Assemble’ shows there is an appetite from brawn with little brains.
Give me Nolan’s complex and dark superhero movies, any day.