Epic in scope and audacious in its execution, The Avengers is a product (make no mistake – it’s more product than film) that lives up to every promise Marvel Studios has made since they launched their ambitious plan to bring their signature heroes together on the big screen when 2006’s Iron Man debuted. Though the movie stumbles a bit out of the gate, director Joss Whedon rights this ship quickly, delivering a grand entertainment that will not only satisfy longtime devotees of the Marvel characters but the newly initiated as well.
To reveal any specific plot points – and there are so many you can tell Whedon’s adding extra panels as he goes – would spoil a great deal of the fun. So there’ll be nothing but broad strokes here. As foreshadowed in Thor and Captain America, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the Norse God of mischief, is the bad guy of the hour. Without a realm to rule, he’s thrown in with a mysterious alien race that has shared with him the secrets of the Tesseract, a mystical relic that the covert agency S.H.E.I.L.D. has recovered. Those who’ve cut their reading teeth on comics will recognize this as the Cosmic Cube and know immediately that whomever possesses it basically can control everything. Having absconded with the artifact in the film’s only misfire – a clumsily rendered opening sequence – Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) initiates the Avengers Initiative, a fallback plan in which he will assemble the various super-beings his organization has been keeping tabs on. Before you know it, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) are together in S.H.E.I.L.D.’s clubhouse, the impressive flying fortress the Helicarrier, plotting a way to find the Tesseract and put a stop to Loki’s plan.
Whedon achieves the epic scale this story requires, offering up some truly impressive moments, both in terms of visuals (the 3-D is used to great effect here) and character interaction. Throw-downs between Thor and the Hulk, as well as the God of Thunder, Iron Man and Captain America, live up to expectations. However, what exceeds them is the presence of Banner who, in the hands of Ruffalo, is the story’s wild card, both aesthetically and narratively. The previous film incarnations of the Hulk have suffered from special effects that weren’t quite up to snuff in bringing the monster to life and scripts that failed to capture Banner’s inner turmoil. While the effects are as good as they can be (the green guy still looks a little cartoonish), Whedon and co-writer Zak Penn capture the character’s inherent tragedy and Ruffalo runs with it, giving the most poignant and exciting performance in the film.
The special effects are good, but nothing exceptional in this age of digital of wizardry. No, the moments you’ll take away from the film are those involving the interactions between the characters. This has always been the strong suit of the Marvel films – the willingness to take the time to flesh out the men and women behind the masks, delving into what makes them tick as well as what makes them jump the rails. Yes, each hero gets a chance to show what they’re made of, but each person also has their vulnerabilities exposed, endearing them to the audience. Though they might have cutting edge technology at their fingertips or wield the weapon of a god, it’s the emotional crosses they carry that make them more human than hero and far more interesting as well.
Though the film’s final act regrettably comes to resemble the urban carnage of Transformers 3, Whedon saves the day by giving each character a chance in the spotlight, most notably in an extended, unbroken sequence that plays out like the world’s longest splash page in which each hero kicks butt in their own unique way, injecting a great deal of humor throughout. An inevitable sequel is set up with a brief scene at the end of the credits. If it’s half as fun as this first entry, fans will be clamoring for further adventures for years to come.
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