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The Avengers

Year: 2012
Studio: Marvel Studios
Director: Joss Whedon
Producer: Kevin Fiege
Writer: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow, Clark Gregg, Paul Bettany, Lou Ferrigno, Cobie Smulders, Jenny Agutter

You don't need to tell fans of Serenity, Buffy, Angel and a host of other shows and movies that Joss Whedon's a smart guy who puts good writing above spectacle and special effects. Of all the creative people in Hollywood who make commercial entertainment he's the last one you could accuse of taking the money for a popcorn blockbuster and running.

But in a film of The Avengers' sheer magnitude, he'd have had the least amount of creative freedom of his career. With $220m of money from the fledgling Marvel studios, the marketing executives and focus groups lining up to tell Whedon what to include would have gone around a few Hollywood blocks. His challenge was never going to be writing a good story – he can do that in his sleep – it was going to be telling a story that slotted into a very strict studio rulebook and still rose above the mire. Say what you like about Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, the stories in each film were as disposable as those of any other blockbuster.

It would have been easy to snaffle up a bunch of cool superheroes, give them a completely unrelated villain and have them squabble until they find common ground. But Whedon gives everyone a reason to be there and has made a huge contribution to making the Marvel universe as richly detailed as the Whedonverse. The Avengers is much more than a tagline.

SHIELD boss Fury (Jackson) has the Tesseract – the power source revealed in Thor's post credits sequence – under wraps at a top secret facility, but it soon captures the attention of Asgardian demigod Loki (Hiddleston), who needs it to bring an alien army to Earth and enslave humanity for his pleasure.

Turning several of the good guys – including Selvig (Sarsgaard) and Hawkeye (Renner) – into drones to do his bidding, Loki makes off with the Tesseract to bring about Armageddon. Fury recruits his best agents, including the smoking hot Natasha (Johansson) to bring in the people he needs to get it back.

Among them are Bruce Banner (Ruffalo), the gamma radiation scientist who can track the Tesseract but who has a destructive alter ego he assures his coworkers he can keep in check; Captain Steve Rogers (Evans), whose super-strength serum was based on the same technology; and smarmy Tony Stark's (Downey Jr) genius to help put it all together. With Loki behind the fiendish plot, Thor (Hemsworth) shows up to put his errant brother back in his place.

The group bonds, bickers and blows things up aboard SHIELD's airborne aircraft carrier (maybe Whedon hoped we wouldn't remember Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) while they try to get along and track down the Tesseract.

But it wouldn't be a blockbuster if the giant alien invasion didn't happen, and with the Avengers scattered and apparently having failed, Loki opens the portal to the far reaches of space and the flying motorcycles and gigantic, fishlike spaceship/monster things of the alien race pour out into the sky over New York to wreak havoc.

During the climactic battle it seems Whedon goes to lunch and they call Michael Bay to fill in, so gleeful is the orgy of fiery destruction. We even get Bay's signature shot of cars flipping over and over under the billowing cloud of an explosion. It's in the sequences of spectacle where Whedon the writer disappears a little but Whedon the director can handle the action scenes effortlessly and there's plenty of the jaw-dropping violence you expect in a film like this.

With Downey Jr headlining the cast as Tony Stark and Whedon scripting, humour was always going to be a big part of any Avengers movie, and there are several laugh out loud moments that are very welcome. In fact it was a very smart move to have the film laugh at itself. Comic-loving fanboys might take this sort of thing extremely seriously, but if you stop and think about how ridiculous these grown-ups look running around in silly costumes it will resoundingly torpedo your suspension of disbelief. Thankfully Whedon and his case give you little time to dwell on it and The Avengers will be no less enjoyable for casual movie fans.

The bad news? It's another movie with completely useless post 3D conversion. Whedon tested the 3D camera rig filming the post-credits Thor sequence but shot The Avengers in 2D, leaving it to Disney to reverse engineer it. Maybe distributor Disney is desperate to make some money back after the very visible failure of John Carter and maybe not, but The Avengers is sure to join the billion dollar box office club.

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