Talking Movies [National Superhero Day]: The Shadow

In 1995, Marvel Comics created “National Superhero Day” and, in the process, provided comics and superhero fans the world over with a great excuse to celebrate their favourite characters and publications.

Talking Movies

Released: 1 July 1994
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Universal Pictures
$40 million
Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Tim Curry, Peter Boyle, and Ian McKellen

The Plot:
Having terrorised Tibet as a ruthless kingpin, wealthy aristocrat Lamont Cranston (Baldwin) is given the chance at redemption and learns the ancient art of clouding men’s minds to operate as a mysterious, duel-pistol-wielding vigilante known as “The Shadow”. However, the Shadow must use all of his skills and vast network of allies and informants to oppose Shiwan Khan (Lone), the last descendant of Genghis Khan and Cranston’s equal in the art darks, when he awakens and sets about threatening New York City with an atomic bomb.

The Background:
One of the original pulp vigilantes of the 1930, and the inspiration for one of comic book’s most popular characters, the Shadow first appeared as the mysterious narrator of the Detective Story Hour before graduating to a series of self-titled pulp novels in 1931, which were written by Walter B. Gibson. Over the years, the Shadow’s abilities were changed many times and he assumed a number of different identities, as well as irregularly appearing in both Marvel and DC Comics. Still, the pulp hero is pretty obscure compared to his successors and yet, in 1982, producer Martin Bregman bought the rights to the character and David Koepp was hired to pen the script. Working hard to craft a story about guilt and atonement, Koepp wrote with star Alec Baldwin specifically in mind for the character and, though the film would naturally employ both practical and computer-generated effects to bring the pulp character to life, director Russell Mulcahy stressed that it was to remain very much a character-driven production. Considering the success of Tim Burton’s Batman movies (ibid, 1989; 1992), Universal Pictures were banking on The Shadow being a big success; unfortunately, it grossed a measly $48 million at the box office and was (unfairly, in my opinion) torn apart by critics and reviewers.

The Review:
One thing that separates the Shadow from his more well-known counterpart is the fact that Lamont Cranston begins his film as a vile and despicable drug baron; having lost himself completely to the darkness and taken the name Yin Ko, Cranston resembles little more than a twisted, merciless warlord who kills friend and foe alike to maintain his untouchable position of power. His fortunes change, however, when the Tulku (Brady Tsurutani) has him brought to his grandiose temple and, sensing that a good man dwells deep beneath Cranston’s darkness, offers him the chance at redemption under his tutelage. Cranston, of course, angrily refuses but the Tulku basically forces him to turn the evil he has done against those who would harm others and, impressed by the Tulku’s ability to shield his palace from “clouded minds” and control a vicious little knife called Phurba (Frank Welker), Cranston submits to the Tulku’s teachings.

Thanks to the Tulku, Cranston appears invisible and has a network of agents as the Shadow.

Rather than see Cranston learning how to cloud the minds of men (and thus leave behind the one thing he cannot hide, this shadow) over the course of a montage, the film gives us the short story through some scrolling text and jumps ahead seven years, and halfway around the world, to Cranston’s home, New York City. There, he saves Doctor Roy Tam (Sab Shimono) from a group of mobsters in his guise as the cloaked and shrouded “Shadow”. Thanks to the Tulko’s teaching, Cranston is able to appear completely invisible and omnipresent to those around him through sheer force of will and this, as well as his impressive hand-to-hand combat abilities and dual pistols, allows him to strike fear into the hearts of even the most hardened criminals. Those he saves, such as Tam and his faithful driver, Moses “Moe” Shrevnitz (Boyle), become his agents and help him by feeding him information or providing him with resources and tools to fight crime more efficiently, effectively allowing him to know, through and through, what is happening all over town.

Cranston poses as a bored playboy but Margot’s telepathic potential catches his attention.

When he’s not strong-arming criminals into confessing to their evil deeds, the Shadow operates as a distracted and nonchalant wealthy socialite. Much to the chagrin of his uncle, police commissioner Wainwright Barth (Jonathan Winters), Cranston is constantly late for every little engagement and seems to have no hobbies or interests. Wainwright is kept from suspecting his nephew of his double life, and from assigning a task force to hunting down the Shadow, by Cranston’s ability to convince (basically hypnotise) him to ignore all reports of the Shadow. Cranston’s attentions are aroused (as is the rest of him…) when he spots Margot Lane (Miller) in his favourite social spot, the Cobalt Club, and the two immediately hit it off through their shared psychic abilities. Cranston is perturbed, however, when Margot picks up vague hints of his past purely by accident and even further concerned when she proves to be completely immune to his hypnotic powers.

Shiwan Khan plots to continue his ancestor’s dreams of conquest with an atomic bomb.

When Shiwan Khan has himself transported to America, he immediately sets about using his powers of manipulation to continue the conquest begun by his ancestor; maniacal in his ambition, Khan desires nothing more than to rule the entire world and, quickly acclimatising himself to American society, sees the perfect means to achieve this goal by mesmerising Margot’s father, eccentric scientist Doctor Reinhardt Lane (McKellen), into twisting his peaceful energy research towards the construction of an atomic bomb. Khan is, in essence, the manifestation of Cranston’s dark past; full of ego, self-entitlement, and bloodlust, Khan delights in using his powers to force others to sacrifice themselves to his power or to do his bidding as little more than mindless puppets (such as Reinhardt’s assistant, the slimy and detestable Farley Claymore (Curry)).

Margot proves instrumental in Cranston uncovering Khan’s sinister plot.

Admiring Cranston’s path of destruction as Yin Ko, Shiwan Khan initially proposes an alliance between the two; however, having committed himself to the fight against evil thanks to the Tulku’s teachings, Cranston vows to oppose him with all his power and is only further motivated when Khan reveals that he murdered the Tulku (and claimed Phurba as his own) after rejecting his attempts to turn him. What follows is an intricate game of cat and mouse as Cranston uses all of his resources to try and track Khan down, discovering that he has hypnotised the entire city in the process, while Khan uses his powers to hypnotise Margot into trying to kill the Shadow. This, of course, causes her to try and kill Cranston, thereby revealing his dual identity to her but, rather than forget about him as he initially demands, she stubbornly refuses to leave her father to be used by such a madman and proves an invaluable resource in Cranston’s efforts to locate the would-be-dictator’s fortress (to say nothing of saving him from drowning to death).

The Nitty-Gritty:
One thing that’s always stuck with me about The Shadow is Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting and rousing score, which, to me, is just as fitting, memorable, and haunting as Danny Elfman’s Batman theme. Additionally, Alec Baldwin is completely transformed by the Shadow’s ominous hat and cloak; hiding his identity behind a thick red scarf and sporting a glistening, metallic tint in his eyes whenever he uses his psychic powers, the Shadow cuts a formidable figure, especially when he appears to emerge from the shadows and be little more than a monstrous blur of mist and darkness. Furthermore, his voice takes on a dark, gravelly, haunting whisper and he often announces his presence with a cackling, demonic laughter, all of which only add to the mystique of “The Shadow”.

A powerful, but haunted, figure, Cranston’s past comes to life when Khan arrives in New York.

While he has successfully turned his life around and devoted himself to combatting evil, Cranston is constantly ashamed and haunted by memories of his past misdeeds; these take the form of horrifying nightmares that depict him as a blood-thirsty tyrant and he laments to Margot that his past is far too bloody to simply be forgotten about. Shiwan Khan embodies the very worst of his past; not only does he have all of Cranston’s abilities, he isn’t handicapped by notions of morality and is far more adept at controlling others as a result. Thus, for Cranston, fighting Khan is like fighting his own dark reflection and nowhere is this better emphasised than in a fantastically horrifying scene in which Cranston has a nightmare where he rips his face off to show Khan’s underneath! Another thing I always enjoyed about The Shadow is its period-based setting, which lends it a real charm and unique presentation amongst most other superhero films from that era (and even now). I also enjoy how Cranston has agents all of the city (and, he claims, the world), in addition to a vast communications network, and the film builds in a perfect explanation for how he would have been able to build all of that and acquire his resources: he either acquired agents with those resources or “convinced” others to assist him with his powers. As incredible as the Shadow’s powers and abilities are, however, he is far from superhuman; he can be hurt, injured, and is placed in vulnerable positions throughout the film, especially when his concentration is broken or his powers are muted by people like Margot and Khan.

Cranston overcomes his limitations and puts an end to Khan’s mad dreams of conquest.

This means that the finale contains a fair amount of tension for, while the Shadow is easily able to overcome Khan’s Mongol warriors and send Claymore to his death, he struggles to match Khan in a physical and mental battle as he is on enemy territory and his distracted by the ferocious little dagger. It is thus a triumphant achievement when Cranston summons all his mental facilities to finally earn the respect and command of Phurba and turn it against Khan. Wounded, Khan escapes into a hall of mirrors where Cranston shatters the glass all round them and ends his rival’s threat once and for all not by killing him but by driving a shard of glass into Khan’s frontal lobe, thereby removing his telepathic and psychic powers and confining him to a mental institution. Cranston thus ends the film having quelled some of the tumult and pain of his past and, fully supported by Margot and his network of allies, in a much better position to continue his fight against the evil and unjust.

The Summary:
When I first saw The Shadow as a kid, I had no idea who the character was; he was way before my time and I don’t think his radio show, novels, and comic books were that readily available in the United Kingdom back then. I was, however, a big fan of Bruce Wayne/Batman and the 1989 Batman movie so, when I saw The Shadow, I was immediately intrigued by the parallels between the two characters. I didn’t even consider The Shadow to be a rip-off of Batman as Cranston is such a different character to Bruce (realistically all they have in common is their wealth, dual identities, and penchant for the theatrical) and not only are his abilities very different, but the film is presented very differently, being much more of a period piece and thus being visually distinctive and exciting like other, similar films, I enjoyed at the time like Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg 1981) and The Rocketeer (Johnston, 1991). I still don’t really get why people didn’t like The Shadow when it first came out; I guess there was quite a bit of competition back then, in general, but the superhero genre wasn’t anywhere near as inflated as it is today and I definitely think there’s enough here to make the film stand out against its competitors. I’m thus very happy to see that, in certain circles, The Shadow is regarded as an under-rated gem and I’d absolutely say that it deserves that distinction. With a slick presentation, a unique hero with both a visually interesting power and appearance, a evocative and stirring score, a great balance of action, humour, and intrigue, and some solid performances, The Shadow totally deserves more time in the spotlight as even now, after all the superhero films I’ve seen, it still manages to entertain from start to finish and I am very hard pressed to find much fault with it.   

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you ever seen The Shadow? If so, what did you think to it? If you’re a fan of the character, did you enjoy the film as an adaptation or did it change too much for you? What did you think to the Shadow’s powers and representation? Did you enjoy the score the performances from the actors? Would you like to see another Shadow film made someday, or perhaps a Netflix series? How are you celebrating National Superhero Day today? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment below and be sure to stick around for more superhero and comic book content throughout the year.

Talking Movies [National Superhero Day]: Avengers Assemble

In 1995, Marvel Comics created “National Superhero Day” and, in the process, provided comics and superhero fans the world over with a great excuse to celebrate their favourite characters and publications.

Talking Movies

Released: 4 May 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $220 million
Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgård, and Samuel L. Jackson

The Plot:
When Loki Laufeyson (Hiddleston) arrives on Earth wielding a mind-controlling spear and in search of the Tesseract, Nick Fury (Jackson), director of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) activates the “Avenger Initiative”. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Ruffalo), Thor Odinson (Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson), and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) are called into service but, with such big egos and personalities among their ranks, these assembled heroes must find a way to co-exist before they can combat this otherworldly threat.

The Background:
The development of an Avengers film began in 2003 with an outrageous plan to release a series of solo films for each character before having them all meet up, similar to how the Avengers formed in the comics back in 1963 courtesy of Martin Goodman, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers. It was an unprecedented move, one which saw fledging studio Marvel Studios roll the dice on lower-tier heroes such as Iron Man and win big time with a slew of massively successful and popular superhero films, each one hinting towards a much larger, shared cinematic universe.

Like their comic counterparts, the Avengers assembled after a series of solo adventures.

When the time came for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to finally meet onscreen, Marvel Studios turned to Joss Whedon to rewrite the script and direct the film and included Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) and Iron Man 2 (ibid, 2010) director Jon Favreau as an executive producer. After some differences of opinion, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige chose to recast Edward Norton in the role of Banner/Hulk and easily the biggest superhero film of all time was officially underway. The Avengers (known as Avengers Assemble here in the United Kingdom) was an absolutely phenomenal success, making over $1.500 billion at the box office, receiving rave reviews, and kicking off the extraordinary blockbuster success we know of today as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

The Review:
Avengers Assemble was the first time we had ever seen superheroes come together in a big screen, big budget movie. Before the MCU, before Iron Man, superheroes always existed in isolated bubbles and never interacted and, as a big fan of the interconnected world of the comics (not just in Marvel but in DC Comics and pretty much ever comic publication), I was excited to see these characters come together onscreen for the first-time and will always lean towards an interconnected, shared continuity. It was a risky venture taking admittedly B to D-tier characters like Iron Man and Captain America and shaping a series of movies around them but Avengers Assemble totally justified that risk, allowing these volatile egos and characters to share the same screen and mixing fantasy, science-fiction, magic, and technology all together in one action-packed adventure.

Loki comes to invade Earth and realise his grandiose desires for power and servitude.

Loki’s threat is immediately established when he suddenly arrives on Earth and makes short work of Fury’s men and then uses his spear to take control of Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Barton. Though only a singular villain, one whom Thor has been able to best in combat before, Loki is a significant threat to the world since he is, effectively, a God and he has the entire Chitauri army at his command. Before the Chitauri arrive, though, Loki is formidable enough to justify bringing in Iron Man (despite Fury’s earlier reservations) and Cap since Thor wasn’t supposed to be able to get back to Earth. When Thor does arrive, his mission to capture Loki and bring him back to Asgard is hampered by Earth politics (since Fury wants to hold Loki accountable for the death and destruction he’s already caused) and as a result Loki manages to manipulate the fledgling Avengers into bickering and fighting with each other rather than him, allowing him to take possession of the Tesseract and bring the Chitauri to Earth. While he avoids active, physical combat, Loki is a daunting opponent when he does engage in battle, able to go toe-to-toe with Thor (thanks, largely, to Thor holding back out of love for his brother), easily catching Hawkeye’s arrow, and tossing Stark out of a window with just one hand. His downfall comes not only through the unification of the Avengers but is spelt out by Stark, who monologues about how, win or lose, they would hunt down and hold Loki personally responsible to ensure that he never truly wins, and, of course, more explicitly through the sudden and hilarious beat down he receives at the hands of the Hulk.

It’s a rough experience for Cap, who has awoken to a world that has radically changed.

Essentially, the film is a significant chapter in Cap’s story; since Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011) ended with Cap being dethawed in the modern day, this was only the second time we had seen him in action; unfortunately, because of the nature of the film, Cap’s reintegration into society is largely glossed over and, rather than being dwelled upon, is replaced with Cap wishing to be given a mission, a focus, a reason to fight in the modern world. As a result, he unquestioningly follows Fury’s directions primarily out of instinct, duty, and a need to have a reason to go on in a world that has largely passed him by; he clashes with Stark’s rebellious attitude, believing that they should follow orders like soldiers, but is convinced enough to investigate further and is disgusted to find Fury in possession of Chitauri technology and with contingencies in place to combat the Avengers since they have the potential to be a threat to humanity. Cap is all business when in battle, instinctively taking command and exuding leadership even though he is the most out of touch and out of place of all the characters; his initial antagonism with Stark is eventually put aside to lead the team during the Chitauri invasion and Cap fights to the bitter end even when he is vastly overpowered by the alien forces, taking the most damage of any of his team mates (including the “weaker” members like Natasha and Barton).

Stark joins the team with his own agenda but eventually comes to respect and defer to his peers.

Stark is just as stubborn and snarky as ever; he’s clearly insulted by Agent Phil Colson (Gregg) and Fury’s decision to relegate him to a “consulting” role in the Avengers Initiate despite his claims to not want to be part of the team and believes himself to be the only one smart and capable enough of combating Loki’s impending threat. He comes aboard with the program purely out of a selfish desire to lord himself over Fury and the other Avengers and to learn more of S.H.I.E.L.D.s secrets, using them to call Fury out on his hypocrisy, and constantly goading his team mates (particularly Banner) into being themselves and rejecting Fury’s orders and control. While the prevailing arc for the entire team is learning to work together, Stark personifies this as he is the most antagonistic and reluctant to work as a team; he’s the most affected by Coulson’s death due to him knowing the agent the best, his experiences witnessing death and suffering first-hand in Iron Man, and his inability to properly cope with death and loss. Coulson’s death galvanises Stark, turning his incredulity to vengeance and giving him the motivation to not only put aside his ego to work with the team but also acknowledge Cap’s superior leadership skills.

The naturally apprehensive Banner has attained a measure of tenuous control over the Hulk.

Banner appears very differently to where we left him in The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier, 2008); fearing the unpredictability and ferocious nature of the Hulk, he has stayed in hiding, suppressing the Hulk with some success, but is unable to deny his innate wish to help others in need with his scientific and medical expertise. Banner has managed to keep the Hulk at bay not only through a risky and unique technique (he’s “always angry”, indicating that he constantly keeps his emotions at a level where the Hulk is satiated but doesn’t actually emerge) and a vehement refusal to acknowledge or speak the Hulk’s name. Banner is convinced to help advise on Loki’s spear by Natasha’s beauty and simply her asking him nicely, rather than forcing him to comply, but, while he is clearly excited to be working with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Tesseract and forms a fast, budding friendship with Stark (with Stark goading Banner and acting like an annoying brother to him), he quickly comes to realise that Fury’s intentions aren’t entirely noble and questions the validity and ability of a team that is little more than a “timebomb” of ego and emotions. When the Hulk is forcibly unleashed as part of Loki’s plan, he is unbridled rage and fury, lashing out at everything and everyone around him in a mindless rage since the transformation was against Banner’s will. Later, during the Battle of New York, Banner initiates the transformation willingly and the Hulk is much more…maybe not “docile” but let’s say willing to cooperate, taking Cap’s orders and specifically targeting to Chitauri threat while protecting and aiding his teammates. A measure of Banner’s influence and the Hulk’s intelligence is seen as the Hulk makes the effort to save Iron Man from his fatal fall and his dismissive grunt of “Puny God!” after beating the piss out of Loki.

Thor’s complex relationship with Loki is a pivotal plot point throughout the film.

Thor’s arrival on Earth comes out of nowhere and is quickly waved away with a brief line about “dark energy”; personally, I never liked this or understood why the filmmakers had the Bifrost be destroyed in Thor (Branagh, 2011) when they knew very well that Thor would be back in Avengers Assemble but it is what it is and Thor is there. Thor is handicapped by his emotions towards his brother; he is elated and heartbroken to see Loki alive after believing him dead and just wants his brother to abandon his crusade and come home. Loki, however, is too full of jealously, rage, and resentment and constantly taunts, defies, and dismisses his brother, who finds himself unable to simply wade in, muscles bulging, and retrieve Loki thanks to opposition from Iron Man, Cap, and Fury and the greater issue concerning the Tesseract. Thor offers knowledge of another world, another level of understanding, that is unique amongst his teammates and spends much of the film believing his brother still has good in him and wishing to return him home. After Loki kills Coulson before Thor’s eyes and tries to kill him with a trap intended for the Hulk, Thor reluctantly gears up and enters the fray, so determined to stop his brother’s mad schemes that he’s willing to fight alongside the Avengers and submit to Cap’s orders since he, like Cap, is a stranger in this world and still learning how to navigate modern, human society.

Natasha remains a mystery despite the showcase of her skills and hints towards her past.

Natasha is still relatively new in this film since audiences only saw a fraction of her true character and abilities in Iron Man 2 so it’s good that she gets a solo action scene at the start of the film to showcase her physical and manipulative abilities. We learn bits and pieces of her character and backstory through her interactions with Banner, Loki, and Barton but she remains very much a mystery even by the end of the film. This would, of course, continue over the years since Black Widow was one of the last of the original Avengers to get a solo film, meaning an air of mystery constantly surrounds her, but much of her arc is focused on her relationship with Barton (which is one of duty, gratitude, and mutual, platonic respect) and her commitment to Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. Like Cap, she follows orders unquestioningly but it also feels like she has her own agenda and reasons for going along with S.H.I.E.L.D.; while she, like Barton, is one of the weakest links in the Avengers, she’s still capable enough to hold her own against the Chitauri…for a time, at least.

Though he spends the majority of the film under Loki’s spell, Barton proves a formidable opponent.

Barton, who is only referred to as Hawkeye once in the film, spends most of the movie under Loki’s command (though this does harken back to his comic book beginnings as a villain); as a result, all we know about him is the few bits and pieces Natasha reveals about their relationship and their background. However, we do get to see him in action on more than one occasion; he’s a crack shot, almost to superhuman levels, and is able to bring down an entire Helicarrier with a single, well-placed arrow. He is an essential soldier in Loki’s army, offering him insight into Fury’s operation and resources, but is also able to provide the Avengers with key information regarding Loki after Natasha literally knocks some sense into him. He proves himself capable enough in the finale by providing much needed and peerless cover from a high vantage point, from which he is able to take out multiple Chitauri with a few well-aimed shots. He’s easily the least developed of all the characters thanks to the role he plays in the film but it works for the plot and means we’re left wanting to know more about him and his backstory. Fury plays a much larger role in this film than in the previous MCU movies since he’s a pivotal supporting character rather than a mere cameo; he believes that Loki represents a very real threat to humanity but also believes wholeheartedly in the concept of heroes and the ability of the Avengers Initiative to combat Loki’s threat.

Coulson is the glue that connects Fury’s Avengers and his death galvanises the team into action.

Fury opposes the World Security Council when they dismiss the Avengers as a legitimate solution and when they order a nuclear strike on New York which, along with his own brand of snark and dry wit, makes him a rebellious and layered character in his own right. However, he’s also a secretive and manipulative individual, constantly telling everyone only as much as they need to know and a handful of half-truths (as Stark says: “Fury’s secrets have secrets!”) and believes in having contingencies against any and all possible threats, both foreign and domestic. While he doesn’t fight alongside the Avengers in the final battle, he’s crucial to their formation and is a charismatic and alluring figurehead for their group. Sadly, this was as prominent as Fury would be for some time, with him quickly going back to being either a cameo or supporting character over the years, which is a shame as it’s always great to see Samuel L. Jackson in the role and interacting with these characters. Similarly, Coulson also gets much more screen time and development this time around; still acting as Fury’s go-to and the liaison between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers, Coulson (whose first name is revealed to be “Phil” rather than just “Agent”) is the relatable man among Gods, the common thread that links all of these volatile personalities together. Initially, all they really have in common beyond their heroic tendencies is their relationship with Coulson, with Stark having the closest link to him and Coulson being especially in awe of Cap, his hero and idol, and Coulson’s death is both sudden and heartbreakingly brutal. It’s a fantastic moment that serves to galvanise and motivate the them and, as much as I’ve enjoyed some episodes and seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020), it did annoy me that his dramatic death was undone so soon after the film’s release. Thankfully, the MCU movies don’t acknowledge Coulson’s resurrection so his tragic death remains the principal motivating factor behind the coming together of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Considering the large cast of bombastic, unique characters and actors, Avengers Assemble is fantastically well paced; sure, Natasha and, especially, Barton don’t get anywhere near as much screen time or development as established guys like Cap or Stark but they get several character defining moments and character beats that help to keep them relevant and integral to the plot. The film isn’t full of non-stop action but it never feels slow or like it’s wasting time; any time there isn’t some kind of physical conflict, there’s a conflict of character, beliefs, or ideologies as each of the characters interacts with each other in different ways. The central conflict in the film is between the individual Avengers as much as it is with Loki as each one must learn how to interact and co-operate with the other, which leads to some friction between Rogers and Stark, disdain from the God-like Thor, and distrust from the understandably agitated Banner.

Loki’s influence exacerbates the tension within the fledgling team…

This all comes to a head in one of the film’s most intense moments where the fledgling Avengers argue over Fury’s manipulations, the threat each of them oppose, and their conflicting egos in a scene that is easily as powerful as any of the film’s fight scenes. Here, each character talks and argues over each other; lots of fingers are pointed, egos are bruised, and accusations are made thanks to the influence of Loki’s spear, which exacerbates their most negative aspects and fuels the distrust and tension between the group. It’s an amazingly realised scene, with lots of dynamic camera work on offer and allows the characters to vent their frustrations and concerns about each other, the mission, and the inevitable escalation of conflict that threatens Earth now that it has experienced otherworldly threats and, in it, these conflicting personalities actually grow stronger as a result of their brutal honesty.

Even when he’s clearly outmatched and in over his head, Cap continues to fight.

However, amidst this, there are also numerous amusing little moments that help to add to the film’s levity and develop each character: Rogers handing Fury a $10 bill after being awe-struck by the Helicarrier, Stark pointing out that one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents is playing Galaga (Namco, 1981), Thor’s humiliation regarding Loki’s actions and heritage, and Banner’s flashes of anger all help to make the characters real and relatable. One of the best examples of this is Cap’s confrontation with Loki in which he, despite being “out of time”, recognises Loki’s evil and potential threat and openly opposes him just as he did a similar dictator in World War Two and engages him in combat despite Loki’s clear physical advantage over him. Cap’s whole character is that he continues to fight no matter the odds and that is continuously seen in Avengers Assemble as, even when outclassed or outnumbered, he continues to get back up and go on with the fight until it’s done, one way or another, and fails to give in to intimidation from concepts beyond his time such as Gods, aliens, and advanced technology.

Seeing these colourful and volatile individuals interact is every fan’s dream come true!

Their interactions with each other are equally impressive, with the heroes just as likely to come to blows as they are to work together; this means we get to see these bright, colourful costumed characters fighting with each other as much as alongside each other. Iron Man fights with Thor, Cap joins in to make it a triple threat, Black Widow fights with Hawkeye, and Thor memorably goes toe-to-toe with the Hulk to set up a friendly rivalry that would be fantastically revisited in Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017). It’s a staple of superhero team-ups that the heroes simply must fight at least once and Avengers Assemble delivers on this in spades; we’ve watched each of these characters in their own films, or be involved in other MCU films, over the years so to see them match wits, trade blows, and fight together is a true fanboy’s delight.

The Chitauri are, admittedly, underwhelming antagonists but they serve their purpose.

The finale is little more than a battle against mindless, indistinguishable alien hoards who, conveniently, operate in a hive mind and are “easily” shut down by Stark tossing a nuclear weapon at their mothership. I honestly expected a version of the Masters of Evil for the first Avengers movie, with Loki joining forces with Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) outside of the Realms and then teaming up with Emil Blonsky/The Abomination (Tim Roth) and/or Samuel Sterns/The Leader (Tim Blake Nelson) once they reach Earth for a smaller scale, six on six style team vs. team movie and, in some ways, it is a bit disappointing that the Avengers only went up against one villain and an army of drones but it really works in the film since the entire point of the movie is to bring these volatile characters together. The actual antagonist could have be anyone or anything and it wouldn’t really matter but it being Loki works wonders thanks to Tom Hiddleston’s iconic performance; he’s truly a snake in the grass, a wily, manipulative, vindictive villain who is intelligent and cruel enough to match wits with each of the Avengers both physically and vocally and the only previous villain I could see being able to do anywhere hear as good a job would be Hugo Weaving.

The Avengers win the day but a greater, far more powerful threat looms in the background…

One issue I have though is that, as much as I loved the “Avengers Assemble!” scene we eventually got, I still don’t get why we couldn’t have heard that iconic cry during that awesome panning shot of the team standing back-to-back. I think we definitely could have heard this cry in each of the team-up films and appearances of the group and it wouldn’t have taken away from that impactful scene; if anything, it would have added to it since it would be a rallying cry for the reunited heroes. Still, the Battle for New York is amazing in its scope; the Chitauri may be interchangeable alien drones but they are relentless. The Avengers are able to combat them and easily defeat them but their numbers are legion and, apparently, inexhaustible and it isn’t long before they are overwhelmed even with the might of Thor and the Hulk. The Chitauri’s larger reinforcements and advanced weaponry and sheer numbers mean that it is simply a matter of time before the Avengers, for all their power, are overwhelmed and Loki is successful, meaning that the Avengers’ main concern is holding the line and keeping the invasion at bay while their team mates confront Loki and cut off the source of the invasion. All throughout the film, Loki converses with “The Other” (Alexis Denisof) and is clearly being given power and resources from an unseen third party, revealed at the very end of the film to be none other than Thanos (Damion Poitier). At the time, we could never have anticipated the extent to Thanos’s threat and importance to the MCU but the bringing together of cosmic characters like Asgardians and threats like the Chitauri and Thanos only hinted at how large and varied the MCU was destined to become.

The Summary:
Avengers Assemble is still one of the biggest and most entertaining movies in the MCU and, perhaps, ever made. Of all the movies in the MCU’s first phase, it’s easily my favourite and, for me, set the standard not just for subsequent MCU team-up movies but for every film in the MCU going forward. No longer were these characters going to exist in their own isolated bubble; they would interact with their fellow characters, reference the larger world we finally saw in all its glory, and be part of something much bigger and greater than a series of self-contained films.

Avengers Assemble is my favourite Phase 1 film and remains a top tier MCU movie.

For me, this is the greatest appeal of the MCU; before Iron Man, superhero films were always solo affairs and we never saw heroes interact with each other. Thanks to the MCU, all of that changed and, finally, the movies came to resemble the comics by having a shared universe that has a tight continuity and an actual tangible, long-term plan. The film is alive with character moments, an amusing dry wit, and action-packed sequences but, as thrilling as the bombastic fight scenes can be, it’s all the little interactions and interpersonal conflicts that really make this film so entertaining and appealing to me even to this day.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


What are your thoughts on Avengers Assemble? How do you feel it holds up now that the MCU has become this massive, multimedia juggernaut? Were you disappointed that the film focused solely on the one villain and side-lined Hawkeye with a mind control sub-plot or were you satisfied with Hiddleston’s performance and the interpersonal conflicts between the characters? Which of the Avengers is your favourite and which of the comic’s characters are you excited to learn more about or see join the team? Which of the MCU movies, shows, or characters is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Superhero Day today? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment below and be sure to stick around for more superhero and comic book content throughout the year.