I don't know, but I suspect Joss Whedon is a long time Avengers fan. There's bits in this that feel like Whedon's wanted to see then since he was reading comics aged 12. Thor landing on the roof of the plane, Hulk vs Loki, Hulk vs Thor, Thor vs Iron Man, Nick Fury with a bazooka, Captain America killing aliens by deflecting Iron Man's repulsor beams off his shield. But it's not just a film of moments and set pieces. I laughed more at things like Hulk vs Loki, the ten dollar bill, the Space Invaders game or Hulk's left turn signal than - well, I can't remember the last film I laughed at so often.

And there's the character moments. Bits like Captain America's reaction to a pissed off thunder god stealing his prisoner, the Norse god of mischief. Matter of factly he takes a parachute and prepares to dive out after them. Black Widow warns that they're gods and probably out of his league. His response - "There's only one God, ma'am, and I don't think He dresses like either of them" - seems to sum his character up as a form of idealised Americana - God-fearing, down to earth and oddly courteous. Or Bruce Banner relating how he once tried to kill himself with a bullet to the head, only for "the other guy" to spit it out. Neither of these moments are necessary for the flow of the film, but they add to it. They're like grace notes giving a little more depth to the world Whedon's building.

There's a pivotal point in the film where we have to care about the death of - by my reckoning - the 10th most important character in it and for that death to motivate characters for the rest of the film. That's quite some achievement, to have sketched in relationships and for it to be credible that the remaining characters would be so affected by someone who was only on screen for perhaps 15 minutes of the film.

Something the film gets completely right is Banner and the Hulk. Neither of the two previous Hulk films really set the world alight. And they pretty much took the relationship between the two characters from the TV series - he's Bruce Banner until he gets angry and then there's a transformation of a couple of seconds and he's a different person - the Hulk. This is different. The first time he Hulks out, for about five or ten minutes beforehand, Banner's body language has been gradually changing into a different person. There's a moment in an early confrontation with Black Widow where Banner's facade vanishes and there's a sudden moment of rage. During the first transformation there's a shot of a fully changed Hulk with Banner's eyes. Banner's line during the final battle - "That's my secret -I'm always angry," seems to confirm it. This Banner/Hulk is not a case of two separate personalities, of Jekyll and Hyde. Banner and Hulk are the same personality, the difference being loss of control. It's portrayed as being like a mental illness.

Despite all of this, this is a superhero film. People have come to watch it for the action scenes. It doesn't disappoint. The characters have their own abilities and they get to display them fully. Hawkeye and Black Widow convince as two greatest assassins in the world. CAptain America is agile and lethal. Iron Man is suitably high impact. Thor is a combination of muscle, brain and a really big hammer and Hulk - well, Hulk is 8 foot of muscle in a pair of torn jeans, capable of downing a 100 foot armoured killing machine with a single punch, tearing a plane to pieces with his bare hands and leaping a hundred feet straight up to slap an alien space ship out of the air. Hulk is positively intoxicating.

Two weeks ago I was fimly convinced that Dark Knight Rises was going to be the big film event of the year. It's got a lot to live up to.

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James Brough

March 2017

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