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 royal, accounting for a paucity of fresh character development, which undermines the relationship between the two heroes without a franchise.
But 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 final showdown.
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 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), 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).
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. 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.
Avengers Assemble is simply smashing.
Glenn Close stars as an emotionally damaged woman who passes herself off as a butler to survive the hardships of late 19th-century Ireland in Albert Nobbs. Nobbs (Close) is a dedicated member of staff at Morrison’s Hotel in Dublin owned by Mrs Baker (Pauline Collins), who indulges the fancies of her well-to-do guests including Viscount Yarrell (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). For years, Albert has kept his gender a secret but the subterfuge is shattered when the butler shares his room with painter Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), another woman in disguise. Hubert’s revelation that he has a wife (Bronagh Gallagher) inspires Albert to contemplate a proposal to pretty maid Helen (Mia Wasikowska). New employee Joe (Aaron Johnson), who is romancing Helen, encourages her to conduct a sham romance.
Albert Nobbs is dominated by Close as the lackey who believes “life without decency is unbearable” and by an equally mesmerising supporting turn from McTeer. Such is the transformative power of their fearless performances, when Albert and Hubert step out in dresses, the two actresses look awkward in such frilly apparel.
The plot, adapted from a short story by Irish writer George Moore, is pedestrian and linear and there is an inevitable tragedy hovering over the film in its closing frames.
Yet through sombre tones, there are tangible notes of hope and defiance, sparked by strong, defiant women who refuse to be consigned to the shadows.