Michael Moran wrote a review of Avengers Assemble for Bleeding Cool yesterday. He only saw it in 2D. Ha.
I walked up the red carpet with my good lady wife last night, for the premiere for Avengers Assemble held in London’s biggest shopping mall, Westfield. We passed Jenny Agutter (playing one of Nick Fury’s mysterious semi-bosses), and several reality TV stars trying to get recognised. Jonathan Ross was on the stage introducing members of the cast, but we were shuffled up the escalators to our seats. Where we got Iron Man and Hulk-themed 3D glasses. They are totally going on eBay.
Ours was a rather short journey. Marvel Studios have been on it for years. On the bus to the cinema I loaded up a few YouTube-sourced cameos from previous movies, to give us both a quick refresher course. Seeing Iron Man and Thor are pretty much the essentials to get the most characterisation out of the film, Captain America for the MacGuffin.
The lights came down, the glasses went on. I have a slight stigmatism in my eye which, apparently, makes 3D films an issue for me, especially with fast paced action. Guess what there was a lot of in this film. But my eyes adjusted eventually.
There was lots of good. There was some bad. Some people are calling this the best superhero film of all… but I still feel like keeping First Class above it. And, naturally, it’s not a patch on Misfits. But it is a stunning piece of work.
With Avengers, as with most things, I want to talk about it in terms of Doctor Who. There’s a prevailing sense that Steven Moffat is kind of structure and dialogue, but his work often remains emotionally unrelateable. Whereas Russell T Davies had people down pat, but can’t string a coherent or logical plot together if one of his thirteen lives depended on it. Neither of these things are true, but each of certain strengths. But in this film, both were knitted together.
Because, yes, there is an extended battle scene where people do little more than hit things. And, just as in Whedon’s Serenity, there’s a a faked-one shot, tracking from character to character to character all across Manhattan. New Yorkers are going to love this film so much for that, a fully realised destruction of it, street by street, avenue by avenue. It both culminates and complicates a series of Machiavellian plans, and tight structure. But underneath it, are personalities and people informing every twist and turn. That is probably the centre of what will make this film successful, massive amounts on inner-city kicksplode, but with many human hearts beating at the centre.
The fights, internal and external, do go on for a long time, this is a battle, this is war, and for some that’s going to chafe. It did for me a little. But there is so much variety within that, and a change on focus from power base to power base, from space, to sky, to street level. A massive flying monster knocks against a sky scraper, this film is as concerned with the skyline of Manhattan as it is the people below getting hit by shrapnel.
Here’s where 3D both wins and fails. It undoubtedly places you within the action, successfully. You are on those streets, the Hulk towers above you, Captain America leads you to the perimeter of 39th street, you are inside Iron Man’s suit with him… but there’s a problem with some of the 3D elements that just look fake. I don’t think the studio convincingly mix fast action CGI with live action convincingly enough as you can in 2D, and there are a number of scenes, especially with the Chitauri, where they fly in front of the action and it looks as real as green screen on Doctor Who in the 1970s (told you). When it was still blue screen. It’s the modern equivalent of Chroma Key and it pulled me right out of the film. Also there’s a flip that Cap does on the Helicarrier, where he just looks like he’s in the XBox. Just saying.
But constructing the story is always more important that constructing the 3D elements. One recognisable piece of structure is showing a scene and then retelling it in a diferent fashion. The capture and imprisonment of Black Widow and the capture and imprisonment of Loki, for example, it makes the film feel fractal in nature, reflecting and refracting previous scenes and then twisting the ending. That’s true especially near the end, one scene with Nick Fury and the trading cards is particularly strong, when you see exactly the game Nick Fury is playing, which who and just how his Machiavellian scheme may have subsumed Loki’s all this time. A dangerous game, and those cards are blood stained for a reason. That scene is probably my favourite in the whole film, over and above Ragdoll Loki, Stand Up Germany, Hulk Smash, Side Punch Hulk, Ten Bucks, Scared Widow, Shakespeare In The Park, Unconsciously Holding The Staff, Hulk Catch and Emergency Armour. Like I said, there’s lots of things to love about this film. But what does it all mean?
First Class set itself against the Cold War and gained a huge amount of gravitas and meaning for free. Avengers, with its Helicarrier, gods, alien races and other planets has to earn every grain of respect, and it probably doesn’t quite do it. The film is brutal in putting its protagonists together, there’s very little fat or redundancy on this film, it has been expertly crafted. Characters are portrayed with great delineation, their separate agendas and attitudes clashing, but finding focus and purpose through their journey together, elevating secondary characters such as Black Widow, Hawkeye and Agent Coulson to equal places alongside the more familiar names. But in the end, its a film about people fighting and blowing shit up. Much of Joss Whedon’s previous work is, at its heart, generally about far more than what you see on the surface. The purpose here rarely elevates above playing with toys. It’s closer to, say Batman: Killing Joke than Civil War in that respect. Much of recent Marvel Avengers comics have been about the world, politics, what we value in ourselves and in others, and how we could change the world. Those moments are far and few… there’s a few references to the ideal of being free over being ruled, ideas about being proactive rather than reactive in war, but it seems rather pat, a little too easy and simplistic. The plot of Avengers is closer to the game of chess being played by Stan Lee at the end and I wonder if that is an acknowledgement of the film’s limitations. But if its a game of chess, it’s one with beautifully realised, emotionally complex pieces.
You’re going to love this film. So many great scenes that will burn into your retina (in 3D, natch), such great dialogue, so many moments that will live with you and and that you’ll be quoting at length afterwards. Avengers 2, however? It needs to be about something much bigger than itself.