Ladies and gentlemen, Marvel proudly presents the World’s Mightiest Heroes.
The Avengers (2012)
The main bad guy is renegade Asgardian Loki, who steals the power source known as the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D. and makes an alliance with the alien Chitauri, though there are signs that an even more powerful entity is pulling his strings. In response director Nick Fury reactivates the Avengers Initiative, assembling a team of super heroes to counter threats to the Earth’s security when normal measures won’t work. These include Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America, the Hulk, and Thor, later joined by Hawkeye, who currently is under Loki’s mind control. After an interlude in which Loki visits S.H.I.E.L.D.’s heli-carrier to spread strife, the Tesseract is used to open a wormhole and a full-on alien invasion begins. It’s up to the Avengers to defeat the Chitauri and close the wormhole. And yep, as super hero films go this one is the business. It has the epic scope and sense of wonder that I found wanting in the Fantastic Four outing, and the special effects were excellent, especially in the end battle scenes, though the alien invasion did seem to be evolving at a rate slow enough to suit the heroes who were knocking their craft out of the sky and their weapons weren’t as powerful as I’d expected. The cast were superb, with everyone well-drawn and fully rounded, and it was a pleasure seeing these actors settle into their roles and take on the mantle of the character they played. Far more than with the FF, there’s the sense that these people form a team, one in which each individual stands out and all have something unique to contribute in creating a gestalt far greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, they argue and they have fallings out, with differences of opinion about how to proceed, but when the chips are down it all comes together. In amid all the action there were moments of humour, with the best quips inevitably coming from Downey as Stark, and I laughed out loud at the Hulk’s bashing of Loki. Underlying everything is a current of manipulation, on the one hand that of the Earth’s unseen enemy (Thanos, I believe) and on the other that of Nick Fury, splendidly played by Samuel L. Jackson, who has his own agenda, one that the others may not entirely agree with, and will use any trick to forward his plan believing that the ends will justify the means. Fury’s duplicity is part of what makes the character interesting and credible, conferring similar qualities on the film as a whole. Yep, I loved it.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
We start with an opening sequence that put me in mind of the Bond franchise, with the Avengers attacking a Hydra base to recover Loki’s sceptre. Stark, with Bruce Banner’s help, uses the sceptre to achieve his ambition of creating an artificial intelligence that will be capable of defending the Earth from future alien threats. Unfortunately Ultron interprets his mission statement along somewhat broader lines than Stark intended, deciding that the greatest threat to Earth is mankind and so they must be eliminated. Game on, with the super team supreme beefed up by the late addition of mutants Wanda (the Scarlet Witch) and Pietro (Quicksilver), and the creation of the Vision, Stark having learned nothing from his previous attempt to produce an A.I. but this time around having limited success. The final battle takes place in the city of Sokovia, turned into a floating space bound island by Ultron, and in many ways is a replay of the first film’s ending with the added threat of a Global Extinction Event. This film has all the virtues of its predecessor, with some of them cranked up to the max, plus a few new frills. The action scenes speak for themselves, with every penny of the sfx budget up there on the screen, and the final showdown providing edge of the seat excitement as the Avengers take on Ultron’s robot army while trying to save as many of the innocent civilians caught in this war zone as they can. There’s all the humour of before, with a scene in which the others try to lift Thor’s hammer especially memorable, and laying groundwork for the Vision. The characters are developed further, with Stark’s determination to go his own way regardless of what everyone else thinks a foreshadowing of events to come further down the line in the Marvel Universe franchise, while Natasha/Black Widow develops feelings for Banner/Hulk, an unlikely pairing that has about it a certain poignancy, not least because the viewer knows that it is fated to end badly. The Vision, as played by Paul Bettany, conveys the right combination of compassion and machine gravitas, rather like a more colourful and less likeable (but more convincing) version of Star Trek’s Data. Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch is a young woman with powers she can barely control (and again, the way in which these cause the Hulk to run amok with maximum destruction is a foreshadowing of things to come) and trying to do the right thing, tormented by what happens when that goes wrong and innocent lives are lost. It is Hawkeye the family man, the one who tried to walk away from all this and have an ordinary life, and in many ways the most grounded, who helps her pull through. It’s a super hero film, but also a film about what it means to be human, to be part of the most basic human unit – the family. The difference between the Avengers and their end-foe, the powerful Thanos, is that they have each other, friends who they care deeply about even when they don’t agree, whereas he has only himself, and thinks that is all he needs, that his power and unity of purpose will make him invincible. What Thanos sees as a weakness in the Avengers, their differences and divisions, their dependence on each other, will I think ultimately prove to be the key to defeating him. So, how long do I have to wait for the next film?