The latest in our look back at the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) reaches the mighty Avengers Assemble...
Earth's most powerful superheroes must come together and learn to fight as a team if they are to stop the evil Loki and his alien army from enslaving humanity.
The seeds of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (overseas the movie was known simply as The Avengers, but due to the ITV spy series The Avengers and its accompanying 1998 film, it was retitled for British audiences) were sown in the very first MCU movie in 2008 when Samuel L Jackson's Nick Fury approached Tony Stark with a proposition. “I'm here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative…” he said, teasingly.
Despite The Avengers being one of Marvel’s top-tier comic-books, Marvel were in no hurry to bring their dysfunctional supergroup to the big screen. Instead, their plan was to introduce each character in their own movie before bringing them all together.
It could so easily have not worked. There’s a lot of faces vying for screen time in Avengers Assemble and it takes a one-in-a-thousand writer and director to be able to juggle seven egotistical superheroes, not to mention a scene-stealing villain and an army of supporting characters.
Thankfully Joss Whedon had previous form with ensemble casts, having showrun the character-heavy Buffy the Vampire Slayer for seven seasons, as well as being something of a god-figure for sci-fi fans.
It’s not a stretch to call Avengers Assemble probably Marvel’s most satisfying movie. Not only does it have a brilliant, funny, charismatic bad guy in Loki (written even better here than in Thor), but it successfully brings the seven Avengers together and creates some hilarious, thrilling sparks between them.
Certainly the wittiest Marvel flick, the script crackles with some classic Whedon one-liners (we love Stark's line to Thor: "Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?"), and some of the most beautifully choreographed action sequences of any MCU effort.
Of all the Avengers cast members, Mark Ruffalo probably had the hardest job.
Every one of his front-row comrades were coming in having either starred in their own movie or guested in one (even Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye had popped up for a tiny cameo in Thor a year earlier), but this was Ruffalo's first MCU film, having inherited the role from Edward Norton.
The MCU’s first Bruce Banner/Hulk was, ahem, 'let go' by Marvel over on-set problems during 2009’s The Incredible Hulk and Ruffalo was introduced by Marvel main-man Kevin Feige as “an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members" Norton's representatives hit back, calling Marvel's statement "an inappropriate attempt to paint our client in a negative light."
Luckily, Ruffalo is a snugger fit with Whedon’s version of the Avengers than the more method-like Norton might have done.
It’s just a shame that Marvel don’t appear to have any plans to create a solo Hulk movie around Ruffalo, instead they seem happier to have him guesting in his fellow Avenger's movies (he’s next up playing second fiddle to Thor in Thor: Ragnarok). Come on, Marvel, he deserves it!
Best special effects moment
It doesn’t last very long but it’s got to to be the last Hulk-out of the movie.
We’d never really seen a full, uninterrupted Banner-to-Hulk transformation, and in Avengers Assemble we finally see it, along with a very cool punchline to the question of how Banner controls the ‘thing’ inside him.
“That's my secret, Captain,” he says, just before the big green giant makes an appearance, “I'm always angry.”
It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but it’s probably the best remembered scene of the entire movie, when Hulk casually punches Thor after fighting off an army of Chitauri.
So brilliant you can almost taste the Whedon.
Loki (to Black Widow): “I won't touch Barton. Not until I make him kill you. Slowly. Intimately. In every way he knows you fear. And when he'll wake just long enough to see his good work, and when he screams, I'll split his skull. This is my bargain, you mewling quim!”
(In case you’re wondering, the phrase ’mewling quim’ was Whedon’s way of getting a VERY offensive insult in the movie under heavy disguise).
Alan Silvestri’s music (his second MCU score after Captain America: The First Avenger) is one of Marvel’s best.
It’s a satisfyingly old-fashioned score that, unusually for a Marvel film, creates an instantly recognisable theme for the supergroup.
Stan Lee cameo
“Superheroes in New York?” says an incredulous octogenarian on the TV news. “Give me break!”
Yep, that’s Stan the Man there, playing chess with a fellow OAP, and seemingly sceptical about the media stories of costumed heroes on the streets of his home city.
Mate, you CREATED pretty much all of them!
In Marvel’s first MID-credits scene, the Other informs his master, Thanos, of Loki’s failure at procuring the Tesseract.
In the POST-credits scene, however, the Avengers sit silently eating in a diner after Battle of New York. Love it.
Did you know?
The movie had the working title of Group Hug.
Joss Whedon’s original script didn’t feature Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts at all (Whedon had reasoned, "You need to separate the characters from their support systems in order to create the isolation you need for a team"). It was only Robert Downey Jr’s insistence that had Pepper included.
To prepare for the role of Hawkeye, Jeremy Renner was trained by Olympic archers.
Sadly, we said an MCU goodbye in this film to Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson. One of the quieter, more self-contained heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he was impaled through the heart by Loki. He did eventually resurface (it was revealed he was revived using an alien drug named T.A.H.I.T.I.) as the lead in the spin-off TV series Agents of SHIELD, but he’s never made it back (or his revival even acknowledged) in any of the movies.
Hulk only has one line in the film (“puny god!”), but, brilliantly, it’s a mixture of Mark Ruffalo’s voice with that of Lou Ferrigno’s (who played the Hulk – completely mute – in the 1970s TV show).
After Loki is brought on board the Helicarrier, Tony Stark can be seen wearing a Black Sabbath T-shirt. The Ozzy Osbourne-fronted metal group are famous, of course, for the song Iron Man.
There’s a cameo in the movie from Harry Dean Stanton, who appears as a janitor who discovers Banner after he falls from the Helicarrier. “Are you an alien?" Stanton asks. (The actor’s most famous role is in 1979’s Alien)
According to Vulture, this is the amount of screen time each superhero has in the film: Captain America: 37:42; Iron Man: 37:01; Black Widow: 33:35; Bruce Banner/The Hulk: 28:03; Thor: 25:52; Hawkeye: 12:44.
Perhaps the biggest surprise face to see in Avengers Assemble is Railway Children star Jenny Agutter as a member of the World Security Council. God bless Joss for his leftfield casting. (Agutter would go on have a bigger role in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
The biggest disappointment of the movie (and certainly to Jeremy Renner, it seems) is how little Hawkeye has to do. Given that he’d only had a miniscule cameo in Thor before this, the fact that he’s under Loki’s spell – and thus acting out of character for the majority of the movie – must have felt like a real kick in the pants for Renner. Thankfully, Whedon gave him a meatier role in Avengers: Age of Ultron, as a kind of apology.
What the critics said
“Joss Whedon's ensemble comic-book outing has a sparkling script and a tremendous villain.” The Guardian
“As the first of 2012's three superhero movies, Avengers sets the bar impressively high, and that it does it with a smile is all the more refreshing. Comic book blockbusters have been a summer mainstay for what feels like eons: this is one of the rare few that’s authentically comic.” The Daily Telegraph
“The Avengers have been assembled and, for the most part, they fit together superbly. A joyous blend of heroism and humour that raises the stakes even as it maintains a firm grip on what makes the individual heroes tick.” Empire
“It’s the blockbuster I saw in my head when I imagined a movie that brought together the idols of the Marvel world in one shiny, stupendously exciting package. It's Transformers with a brain, a heart and a working sense of humour.” Rolling Stone
“But this is a superior example of its kind, with sequences on a par with the best Spider-Man and Batman movies. And technically, it’s a real marvel.” Daily Mail
Next time: Iron Man 3
The current MCU movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, is currently screening.