Avengers Assemble was nominated for only one Oscar, for its visual effects, which would not be unjust for it to win, though frankly most of CGI stuff isn't particularly new or exciting. But if you're a comics fan, you'll recognise something of the detailed drawings Jim Steranko did for the Nick Fury, Agent of Shield comic way back when, full of geometric detail and improbable scale. And, after you think about it, you may realise that although this is by no means a 'great' movie, it is a pretty good bit of writing and directing, and that the so-called adult audience's tastes for what is superior work in films is informed pretty much by the same aesthetic impulse that turns the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby-Steve Ditko world of our Sixties adolescence into mainstream adult entertainment, which then turns middlebrow worthy drama, middle of the road grand scale musicals, or tales of offbeat people having troubled paths to boy gets girl into Oscar contenders. Which is pretty much the same situation as films were in when Marvel became popular in the first place!
What proves this point, and what is amazing, is exactly how closely the filmmakers have stayed to the original 60s comics characters and storylines. In Avengers Joss Wheddon, of course, was the director and screenwriter (the story credit shared with Zak Penn), and the way he's managed to bring a galactic war involving Norse gods down to a human level is impressive, but it's much the same way Lee and Kirby did nearly 50 years ago. It's something he's meshed with his direction—the screenplay's arc is the moving of the individuals into a group, and the direction basically teases this idea throughout. Wheddon uses his actors well: at one end Mark Ruffalo (worthy of a supporting actor nomination as Bruce Banner/Hulk) dark and depressive and at the other Robert Downey, playing flippant as he seems to do effortlessly well. In between them are the beef- and cheesecake, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Scarlet Johannson, the most interesting of the lot, who's given the chance to deepen her character alongside Jeremy Renner. Renner's Hawkeye is potentially the most interesting of the lot, not really in the beefcake bunch, but he never says or denotes enough to turn himself into something more interesting. Perhaps he needed the Hawkeye headgear after all.
The set-up of this movie, which was begun in the individual characters' films the stars made, was presumably something that Penn brought to the table, and you have to admire the marketing nous of Marvel to have conceived of tying those films together in the first place. Samuel Jackson's Nick Fury is the linchpin of all that. Jackson gets a good part, though the fascinating and epically named Colby Smulders, who does smulder away as she says things like 'Yes, sir', works hard to upstage him. The show is nearly stolen completely by Clark Gregg, as Agent Coulston (why do I keep thinking of Charles Colson?), who's playing his usual kind of role but gets it invested with a certain amount of dignity because Wheddon realises he is the stand-in for the audience of geeky kids of all ages.
Tim Hiddleston's Loki is what we expect British actors to bring to villainy in big budget action flicks, while Gwyneth Paltrow appears to be finding her level in Hollywood, here, as Pepper Potts, in a brief role as arm candy to Downey. But the audience, as more or less adult as it must be, doesn't care about any of that. They're waiting for the moment when Capt America tells Bruce Banner, just turned into the Hulk, 'Hulk, smash', and the Big Green Machine smiles. Gamma radiation has never promised so much. The aesthetes out there will scoff, but Avengers Assemble offers more coherence, slightly more depth of relationships, and more humour than most of the Oscar nominees out there. Plus the near destruction of earth. But that says more about them, and Oscar's tastes, and the state of moviemaking today, than it does about what is basically an enjoyable $200 million comic book, the kind I used to pay 12 cents for, feeling then they were worth every penny.