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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