Avengers Assemble: Superior Blockbuster, Disappointing Joss Whedon Film.

What you think of the new Avengers Assem­ble film will depend on whether you too are a fel­low Joss Whe­don groupie. Whe­don was the brains behind the cult clas­sic Buffy, which ran for 7 series from 1997–2003. Remark­ably, the spin-off fol­low-up Angel was a pret­ty impres­sive stab at repeat­ing the magic.

The lat­ter tend­ed to lose its way when­ev­er it veered off onto oth­er plan­ets, but for the most part Angel was as air­i­ly con­fi­dent and sure-foot­ed as Buffy.

Con­sis­tent­ly com­pelling sto­ries about impec­ca­bly delin­eat­ed char­ac­ters who all spoke in effort­less­ly smart dia­logue, and almost all of whom were giv­en three glo­ri­ous dimen­sions by the near per­fect cast (not with­stand­ing Drusil­la and her accent, which clear­ly came from anoth­er dimen­sion entirely). 

Some­how, Whe­don had man­aged to casu­al­ly tap into the vein of that all-impor­tant demo­graph­ic, youth cul­ture. Inevitably what fol­lowed was, box office wise, some­thing a of a dis­ap­point­ment. First up was Fire­fly, which was can­celled by Fox before it had even com­plet­ed its first sea­son – though not before he’d man­aged to shoot a fea­ture pre­quel, Seren­i­ty. Then there was Doll­house, which last­ed just two sea­sons before being axed.

So Whe­don was very much of the fall­en vari­ety and on some­thing of a retrieval mis­sion with his lat­est effort. Which cer­tain­ly goes some of the way to explain­ing quite how safe Avengers Assem­ble feels. But the truth of the mat­ter is, the very nature of the project pro­hibits nar­ra­tive ambition.

What we are talk­ing about after all is a film with (at least) six heroes. So on the one hand, you need to give six dif­fer­ent pro­tag­o­nists equal weight and time. And on the oth­er, the fran­chise demands of sequels and mer­chan­dis­ing mean that they all have to sur­vive and live to see anoth­er day. So nec­es­sar­i­ly, there can nev­er be any­thing real­ly at stake. Unlike then Buffy, or indeed Seren­i­ty, where it’s han­dled bril­liant­ly, there can be no death.

If you want to see what Whe­don is capa­ble of when not shack­led by the con­fines of a fran­chise, have a look at the ridicu­lous­ly under-viewed Seren­i­ty.  Seri­ous­ly, watch it. 

The script bril­liant­ly bal­ances the per­son­al and the uni­ver­sal, the big and the small, and the sto­ry pow­ers for­ward with an elec­tri­fy­ing pace (has any­one ever pro­pelled nar­ra­tive using dia­logue with such gay aban­don and dev­as­tat­ing force?). Whilst the care­ful­ly placed fight scenes boast a bal­let­ic inten­si­ty com­plete­ly alien to your run-of-the-mill, bog-stan­dard, sum­mer blockbuster.

And that ulti­mate­ly is all Avengers Assem­ble real­ly is. And as such it could com­fort­ably lose 15 or so of the open­ing and clos­ing 20 min­utes. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, all the reviews have raved about it. And undoubt­ed­ly, in a sea of medi­oc­rity it clear­ly stands out (even more so if you see it in one of those fab­u­lous new Isense cin­e­mas, reviewed here). But there’s no get­ting away from it, as the new Joss Whe­don film, it’s ever so slight­ly dis­ap­point­ing. Let’s hope all those brown­ie points he’s now accu­mu­lat­ed can be used by him for some­thing a bit more personal. 

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