So, you’re in a team of superheroes. You need to gather together, and for that it would be good to have some kind of…slogan maybe. Something of a clarion call. A call to arms. Note, the words for these things are pretty baroque, as was the writing of some of the comics. The medium is too easily dismissed as being for children, implying the inky pamphlets are an easy read. In fact, the ones I read as a child often stretched your vocabulary as much as your imagination. Here’s a random bit of dialogue from Roy Thomas, put in the mouth of one of my favourite characters, the ‘synthezoid’ known to fans as The Vision: “It took only the technology of Edison to locate the Serpents’ Studios — But it will take the wisdom of Solomon to decide upon our next step.” Strewth. No wonder I was seen as a precocious child. All of which helps explain why the first film featuring the combined Marvel frontline is called Avengers Assemble, at least in the UK. These characters are too bold, too fantastic, to just slink onto screen half-heartedly.
Thankfully writer-director Joss Whedon gets that about the team, the result being that the Avengers don’t assemble the filmic equivalent of flat pack furniture. Instead, the combined talents of – take a breath – Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye gather to do battle with a cosmic threat in the form of extra-dimensional aliens under the guidance of tricksy Asgardian Loki. It takes a presence as weighty as Samuel L Jackson to gather them in the same place even, a shrewd bit of casting since the SHIELD director needs to have chutzpah in abundance to share screentime with these mighty heroes.
It’s delivered with relish by a team of quality performers who with Whedon’s witty script have dialogue of quality to deliver, which treads the line between epic bombast and fan snark with a softshoe shuffle. Most blockbusters are constructed rather than written, all about scenes which deliver FX shots and any human level stuff secondary to the bangs and bullets. That’s no way to treat Marvel’s premier league, despite some dismal misfires in the company’s back catalogue – I’m looking at you Daredevil; you Ghost Rider; and most egregiously of all, the publisher’s other great superteam, Fantastic Four.
Whedon respects the characters as the icons they can be in the right hands, and it’s his attention to the script that ensures quality actors are willing to line up to have fun in the Marvel playpen. Of course there are mighty deeds and huge fights and conflict on a grand scale, and it convinces because the characters have emotions every bit as large as what they get up to. Gasp as Captain America turns up just in time to protect a German pensioner from being incinerated by a vainglorious Loki! Drop your jaw as Hawkeye continues firing arrows at the enemy even while plummeting to what will surely be certain death! Shed your load as Mark Ruffalo finally transforms into the Hulk and unleashes fists of fury on inhuman foes!
This is what superhero storytelling is all about. It’s vaudeville, basically. Every character has a turn they do, and they come on and do exactly that, secure in the knowledge that there’s a good director putting the show together and they can rely on their peers for back-up. Get that right, and truly epic feats are possible. Sure enough, we get them. Every new scene delivers more of what you’ve come for, skilfully bringing it on in a powerfully choreographed sequence of crescendoes that top one another and leave the audience breathless.
You can only walk a highwire like this if you suspend your disbelief the whole time. Look down or wink at the audience, and it can unravel. That’s why Kickass is fundamentally a sorry cheat: a comic and film that tries to have its cake and eat it, sending up the superhero genre and its inherent ridiculousness in favour of bogus realism that turns into exactly the kind of larger than life yarn it pretends to mock. That kind of sneery stuff is easy to do. Tougher by far to accomplish what Joss Whedon delivers so powerfully here: a larger than life story about amazing characters whose adventures captivate and inspire without any kind of ironic games being played.