More is less in Avengers Assemble, the special effects-laden amalgamation of four Marvel Comics franchises.
Bringing together characters from Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk, Joss Whedon’s frenetic romp deftly knits together plot strands from the earlier films, threaded with tongue-in-cheek humour.
There’s a clear presumption that audiences will have seen the pictures that inspire this battle royale, accounting for a paucity of fresh character development, which undermines the relationship between the two heroes without a franchise.
However, while psychological substance may be thin, exhilarating action-packed sequences abound, choreographed at breakneck pace by writer-director Whedon, who knows how to seamlessly meld live action with digital trickery for maximum impact.
Interestingly, he keeps the Avengers disjointed for most of the film, only bringing everyone together in the same location for the protracted final showdown to decide mankind’s fate - and the likelihood of a sequel.
Thor’s evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) plots to exterminate mankind by harnessing the power of the pulsating Tesseract cube.
Aided by an army of aliens, Loki steals the artefact from the subterranean headquarters of the international peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D, and enslaves scientist Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and ace marksman Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to do his nefarious bidding.
“As of now, we are at war,” declares Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), director of S.H.I.E.L.D, to the dismay of fellow agents Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg).
Desperate times call for innovative measures and Fury scours the globe for the ultimate team of superheroes, uniting the inflated egos and rippling muscles of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).
“You’re going to leave the world’s fate to a handful of freaks?” scoffs one political leader.
However, Fury has great faith in his team, so long as they can overcome their petty jealousies and insecurities.
Avengers Assemble doesn’t quite scale the dizzy heights of the original Iron Man but for almost two and a half hours, we’re entertained and energised by Whedon’s distinctive vision of the Marvel universe.
The writer-director gifts many of the best lines to Downey Jr including a belting quip about Thor’s olde worlde vernacular.
There is also a lovely moment when Thor attempts to defend the actions of Loki, only to learn that his scheming sibling has killed 80 people in two days.
“He is adopted,” deadpans the hammer-wielding god.
Since the cast and script don’t take anything too seriously, nor do we, marvelling at the outrageously overblown special effects.
Gwyneth Paltrow cameos as Iron Man’s valiant assistant Pepper Potts but Oscar winner Natalie Portman was clearly too busy with motherhood to put in a physical appearance to shore up Thor’s back story.
When Ruffalo mutates into the not-so-jolly green giant, the final battle becomes hilariously one-sided.
“Hulk smash!” he growls. Avengers Assemble is simply smashing.
By Damon Smith
:: NO SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 7/10
Released: April 26 (UK & Ireland), 147 mins