I can’t promise this is going to be what we call a “critical review.” None of us are here for a critical review, anyway. You’re here because, whether or not you know it yet, Avengers Assemble! is SO FUCKING AWESOME and everyone should see it. I’ve seen it twice already and I’m going again next week.
So I won’t spend a lot of time on the plot or the main character conflicts or anything, because, seriously, I don’t want to spoil even a little bit of the film for anyone. (Note: If you find yourself getting confused about any of these characters, you might want to refer back to the first Avengers article.) I will say that Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk is really excellent, especially seeing as he is now the third man in three movies to play the character. Captain America (who, as you may recall, was frozen in 1943 and only recently thawed out) is written as hilariously retro, calling people “son” and getting confused when references to things like Stephen Hawking crop up.
I also do have to mention Tom Hiddleston here. He plays the main baddie: Loki, the Norse god of mischief and chaos, and brother to Thor. Hiddleston is given difficult dialogue – the language is archaic and often rather stilted – and a thoroughly unsympathetic character to work with, and he goddamn nails it. I could watch him chew scenery for hours. Even his smile is unsettling, like an angry shark.
At one point he spits an insult at Black Widow that is so Shakespeareanly filthy, my pals and I still can’t figure out how it got past the censors. Performance-wise, Hiddleston is the best thing about this film – he trained at RADA and is next appearing in the film of Henry IV as Prince Hal, and that extensive theatre experience really shows. He’s just so good at what he does, it’s a wonderful thing to watch.
ANYWAY. On to the feminism!
Before we look at the characters, let’s give a little shout-out to the director and writer, Joss Whedon. This is the dude who gave us characters like Buffy, Zoe and Inara, and who unleashed this piece of awesome on the world:
Ok, so maybe he always murders everyone you love in any given TV show, but at least he does it fairly equally. Under Whedon’s direction, the women in Avengers Assemble!, even though there aren’t that many of them, have their own agency. Time and again we see them working next to men, doing all the things the guys are doing: searching for the bad guys, flying fighter jets, shooting guns. Out of four “members of the board” that Nick Fury reports to, one is female (and British! I thought for a second that they’d brought Peggy Carter back from the dead, but it was only Jenny Agutter).
Unfortunately, the fact remains that there just aren’t that many named women in this film, period. Bruce Banner’s girl Betty is never mentioned, I assume in a bid to erase the previous film from everyone’s memory. Jane Foster is seen only in a grainy .jpg file that Agent Coulson shows to Thor to prove that she’s safe. (Thor doesn’t understand how computers work, so he’s easily satisfied.) Pepper appears briefly at the beginning and end of the film; her character hasn’t really changed at all, although she does seem a lot more relaxed. Maybe Tony drugged her or something.
So the two women left to talk about are Black Widow and Maria Hill.
Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders)
S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Hill is commander Nick Fury’s right hand. Actually, she’s more like his conjoined twin – because rarely, if ever, does she leave his side. Together they run the big fancy hovercraft that S.H.I.E.L.D. operates from – and since Fury is so often tasked with yelling at his mismatched crew of heroes or firing rockets at planes, Hill appears to be running the show from her second-in-command perch quite competently.
There are little quirks about her presentation that are irksome, however. In the first ten minutes of the film, for example, she single-handedly attempts to corral the bad guys in a high-speed jeep chase, and comes pretty close. That on its own is pretty badass; I doubt I could drive and fire a gun at the same time. If you get a look at her shoes later, though, they’re these idiotic black wedges that, as every woman knows, you CANNOT DRIVE IN. Similarly, while all the other S.H.I.E.L.D. women wear knee-length skirts, Maria gets a jumpsuit. This does allow her to vault feet first through the window of a car, but I get the sneaking suspicion that it’s more because Cobie Smulders has nice legs.
Lastly, there’s the acting. It is… not so good. Apparently Cobie over there is a comedienne from How I Met Your Mother; in this, her first action role, she makes the mistake of confusing “serious” with “humourless.” The face in the image to the left is really the only face she makes. She never smiles, she never gets flustered. She might as well be a robot. Maria Hill may be just a damn good agent, but I sort of wish they’d gotten someone a little older, a little less standard-issue movie gorgeous, a little more characterful to play her.
And then there was…
Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)
Warning: these next few paragraphs are very spoilery.
The first scene with Black Widow in it comes directly after the opening credits. She’s tied to a chair in a warehouse in Moscow, being menaced by three goons. Finally, just as they’re about to pull out her teeth with pliers – one of the heavies’ phones rings. It’s Agent Coulson, and he wants Agent Romanoff to come in. It’s her rescue – they’ve got guns trained on the building, she can walk out unharmed!
“Are you kidding?” she hisses into the phone. “I’m working.”
I won’t tell you what happens next, but three out of the four people in that warehouse get their noses broken. At least.
Okay, you can all come back now.
Right from the start of the film, it’s established that Romanoff is not the T&A type of superlady we may be used to watching or reading about. So okay, yes, she wears a catsuit. But so does Captain America, and frankly his is a lot tighter. Romanoff is going to do things her way, and her way is the tough way. She doesn’t want your help – she doesn’t need your help. And if you expect her to roll over and get all emotional once you pull out all your big guns – think again. There’s a scene in which she out-lies Loki, and that is his actual superpower: lying.
Here’s my actual favourite thing about Avengers Assemble!: Black Widow and another one of the Avengers, Hawkeye, are best friends. That’s it. They’re buddies. Nobody kisses anybody. No one talks about feelings. There are no long deep glances. They’ve got each other’s backs, and that’s as far as it goes. When was the last time you saw a film with a real honest-to-god inter-sex friendship, when neither party was secretly trying to bang the other? And yet, here in the middle of this incredible testosterone party of a film, here is a man and a woman who genuinely care about each other in a completely non-sexual way. KUDOS, WHEDON. KUDOS, I SAY.
I’ll leave you with two amazing pieces of fan art for the film. One is a righteous take on the marketing of the film, which sadly is just as sexist as ever:
The other is maybe the best thing the Internet has shared with me all week, a lovely tribute to the recently dead Maurice Sendak (click to see the whole thing):
SO. Go see this film! And then come back here and tell me what you think. At this point I have a terminal addiction to the Avengers, and I doubt that will change any time soon. Especially if they keep casting Tom Hiddleston.