Dir. Joss Whedon, USA, 142 mins, rated 12A

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner

Believe the hype, Avengers Assemble is one of the greatest comic book movies ever and certainly the most unashamedly fun. The ultimate superhero team-up has finally hit our cinema screens; the culmination of what is possibly the most expensive teaser campaign in movie history, that began with 2008’s Iron Man, and continued through The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2010) and last year’s Captain America. For the past 5 years, fans have delighted in Marvel’s carefully laid groundwork – the post-credits codas and the subtle and some not-so-subtle in-film references of characters and MacGuffins that have led to this momentous and gloriously epic cross-over movie.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, making his fifth appearance in the series and the most recurring) has a plan to pull together “Earth’s mightiest heroes” in order to defend the world against outside threats. His timing is spot on, as renegade Norse deity (of sorts) Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has just reappeared to prepare the way for an alien invasion. Together with S.H.I.E.L.D. stalwart Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and new face Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders off of How I Met Your Mother), Fury sets about recruiting his team of ‘Avengers’: genius billionaire playboy and inventor and wearer (or should that be pilot?) of the Iron Man suit, Tony Stark (Downey Jr), and recently defrosted supersoldier Captain America (Evans) are soon joined by genius scientist and occasional “green rage monster” Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) and Loki’s goody-goody hammer-wielding brother Thor (Hemsworth). Bolstered by shapely spy Black Widow (Johansson) and master archer Hawkeye (Renner), the team bickers and even comes to blows before an attack on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying Cloudbase-esque HQ brings them together for a final destructive showdown against Loki and his alien army in New York City.

To say there was a lot riding on Avengers Assemble is an understatement; never before (to my knowledge) has such a massive cross-over of characters been attempted. And thankfully what could have easily gone so wrong in so many ways instead works on just about every level. The key to the film’s success is writer-director Joss Whedon’s utterly fantastic script that manages to neatly tie up the threads from the previous films, fill the screen with several larger-than-life personalities and have them interact perfectly, and also flesh out the supporting characters. And above all it’s just so damn funny. It is no surprise that Stark gets most of the best lines; his withering and inventive putdowns find easy targets in the earnest and lycra-clad Captain America and the Shakespearean godlike Thor and allow us to briefly acknowledge how ridiculous these characters might appear in the ‘real-world’ setting and moments later totally accept them as a part of it. But it is Whedon’s stroke of absolute genius to position the Hulk as the visual comic relief – giving Ruffalo’s performance-captured green giant two particular scenes towards the end of the film that had the cinema audience in hysterics, shamelessly whooping and cheering, so much so that you risk missing Hulk’s hilarious pay-off line during his faceoff with Loki. And speaking of Loki, Tom Hiddleston delivers a magnificent and menacing villain that hopefully heralds a renaissance of well-spoken English villains of the sort we enjoyed in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. His Dr Lecter-like exchange with Black Widow (including a by-now-famous use of a Victorian-era obscenity) is one of the film’s quieter highlights.

Marrying a great ensemble cast with no-expense-spared special effects and, most importantly, a brilliantly funny script written by someone with a true love for the material, Avengers Assemble is blockbuster popcorn cinema at its best.

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