AVENGERS ASSEMBLE Fantasy/Action. Starring Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner. Directed by Joss Whedon. Cert 12A
The culmination of Marvel's carefully plotted plan to bring its A-team of superheroes together on screen is here at last, providing catnip for comic-book geeks but rather less than nirvana for the rest of us. In fairness, what we've been given in the lead-up to this mash-up, some of the movies haven't been half bad. The first Iron Man movie was great, with Robert Downey Jr riffing wildly on his dialogue and creating an undeniably charismatic Tony Stark, while Thor had its fair share of memorable moments. Best of all was last year's Captain America, with Chris Evans taking centre stage in a clever origin story about how the archetypal seven-stone weakling was transformed into a formidable fighting machine before being frozen in Antarctic ice for more than half a century.
The problem with Avengers Assemble, however, is that by bringing all these characters together the makers risk diluting the individual characteristics which provided much of the appeal of the original movies -- and that's exactly what's happened. Not to mention the fact that there's a big green elephant in the room.
The story spins off from the end of Thor, as evil god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) gains possession of a power source called the Tessaract and decides to lay waste to Earth with the help of an army of anonymous-looking aliens.
Cue a response from shadowy government agency (is there any other kind?) SHIELD as its leader Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) sets out, Magnificent Seven style, to round up the troops in order to save the day.
The first half of the film is pretty enjoyable, with space for something resembling character development. Downey Jr lights up the screen as the wisecracking Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Evans is suitably sceptical as the man-out-of-time Captain America, while Chris Hemsworth is all Asgardian arrogance as Thor.
There's even a hint of a decent backstory for minor characters Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the ace archer/assassin Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), while Mark Ruffalo brings an air of pained restraint to the part of scientist Bruce Banner, desperately trying not to transform into the mutant monster that is Hulk.
Where everything goes wrong for director Joss Whedon (currently thrilling cineplex audiences with his masterly meta-horror The Cabin in the Woods) is once the action begins. Marvel may have thrown more than $200m at Avengers Assemble but the fact remains that once you're dealing with CGI mayhem, everything begins to look like a flash computer game being played by someone else.
The final 40 minutes might as well have been lifted straight from Battleship or one of Michael Bay's Transformers atrocities, and it's virtually impossible to realise the Hulk onscreen without it looking totally ridiculous, Whedon being the latest director to have fallen foul of that particular problem.
I'm sure Avengers Assemble will perform brilliantly at the box office, but it's way, way less than the sum of its parts. HHHII
ALBERT NOBBS Drama. Starring Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Janet McTeer, Pauline Collins. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Cert 15A
Based on a 1927 novella by George Moore, Albert Nobbs has been a pet project for Glenn Close since she played the title character in an award-winning Broadway run in the 1980s and one has to admire her perseverance in eventually bringing the piece to the screen. Alas, you'd have to question whether the final result was worth the effort.
Set in a Dublin hotel in the early 1900s, the film tells the sad story of the title character, a buttoned-up English butler/waiter who's harbouring a secret and has a dream of someday opening a tobacconist shop.
The fact that Albert is played by Glenn Close should be a giveaway on the secret end of things but the real problem with the film is that it never moves out of a very slow, stately gear and has no real dramatic heft.
The subplot whereby Albert rather naively takes a shine to a scheming housemaid (Mia Wasikowska) doesn't go anywhere and is, frankly, bordering on the unbelievable, while credulity is stretched even further by the presence of Janet McTeer's gruff painter/decorator.
Close does her best, despite the make-up giving her an alarming resemblance to Robin Williams, and there are plenty of good Irish actors in solid supporting roles (Brendan Gleeson, Brenda Fricker, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Bronagh Gallagher, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Antonia Campbell-Hughes to name a few), but the film is one to be admired and gently applauded rather than enjoyed.
Oh, and lovers of bad Irish accents are in for a whale of a time listening to Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson. HHIII
THE MONK Drama. Starring Vincent Cassel, Deborah Francois, Josephine Japy. Directed by Dominik Moll. Cert 16
Vincent Cassel is excellent as usual in this bizarre adaptation of Edward Lewis's 18th- century novel which hammers away at themes of sin and saintliness in a manner which makes Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations (which it resembles at times) seem positively subtle. Cassel plays Ambrosio, a devoted and revered monk whose life changes dramatically when a masked novice arrives at his monastery and leads him into temptation.
It's all incredibly overblown stuff which in the final 20 minutes descends into unintentionally hilarious hysteria, topped off by the arrival of the Spanish Inquisition.
He wasn't expecting that! HHIII