May 04, 2012

Marvel's The Avengers

Team America: World Police 2

Grade: B +
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth and Jeremy Renner
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.

The long-gestating Marvel superhero showcase The Avengers comes saddled with hulking expectations, an ironfisted fan base, and hawkish backers hoping the latest entry in this banner franchise can captain the American movie scene back from recently stark box office tallies.

The looming quandary—beyond the fact that it’s impossible to fashion a pun using Thor—is how to cobble together a satisfying and sensible ensemble film spawned from a quintet of cinematic table setters ranging from good (Iron Man) to middling (Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk) to woeful (Iron Man 2).

Helmed by writer/director and part-time comic book author Joss Whedon, The Avengers manages, against formidable odds, to hit all the right notes. Based on the premise of the very first Avengers comic in 1963, Earth’s mightiest heroes, chaperoned by the cyclopean Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), must join forces to thwart the aims of revenge and world domination by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the estranged brother of Asgardian demigod Thor (Chris Hemsworth).

Long before a climactic Transformers-style battle royale in which the Avengers must repel an invasion by the Orc-like Chitauri, the true tension is between the superheroes themselves. As a roiling brew of ids and alpha males, these crusaders bicker and bloviate, each of them representative slices of American masculinity: God (Thor), Country (Captain America, again Chris Evans), wealth (Tony Stark/ Iron Man, still Robert Downey Jr.), sex (Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow, filled by Scarlett Johansson’s pouty lips and skintight pants) and testosterone-driven rage (Bruce Banner/ Hulk, now played by Mark Ruffalo and a 20TB server, respectively). Whether the group could defeat Loki isn’t really in doubt; the question is whether they can ever co-exist, much less collaborate in the first place.

Whedon manages to successfully juggle screen time to afford each character their moment in the spotlight. There’s even a nod to the villainous comic book origins of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) when Loki hijacks the ace archer’s mind for nefarious purposes. Shrewder still is that the script doesn’t take itself so serious, often allowing humor to drive the narrative even more than action. Spearheading that effort, of course, is the indomitable Downey, who is wisely given space to wisecrack—e.g., he calls the full-maned Thor “Point Break” refers to Hawkeye as “Legolas” at one point—and recapture the devil-may-care daredevil from the first Iron Man. Even Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) pops up to rekindle her Nick and Nora-esque repartee with Her Boy Stark.

Action lovers needn’t fret, however, as the film has more than its fair share of computer-generated F/X eye candy to spackle its plot holes and utter lack of depth (passing allusions to forcible interrogation and clean energy feel like they belong in another movie). Titanic tussles between Iron Man and Thor and, later, Thor and The Hulk are the stuff of fanboy dreams. The Dark Knight this isn’t—instead, The Avengers is a superhuman three-ring circus filled acrobatics, wild beasts, clowns and all the popcorn you can munch. Oh, and a Hulk.

Neil Morris

*Originally published at

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