The Avengers (2012) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA rated PG-13 for violence and a mild drug reference
Running time: 142 min.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgard, Cobie Smulders, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany (voice)
Small role: Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Harry Dean Stanton, Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno (voice)
Director: Joss Whedon
Screenplay: Joss Whedon
Many of the Marvel franchise titles have, as according to plan, come together to pit the all-star team-up of Earth's Mightiest Heroes against a massive force to (hopefully) save the humanity from perpetual enslavement. As the previous solo films have been blockbusters all over the world market, the hype has been overwhelming in delivering goods befitting so much time and money being spent on crafting the sure merging of the various spinoffs.
Here, the Norse god Loki (Hiddleston, War Horse), the mischievous brother of Thor (Hemsworth, Thor) , finds his way to Earth from Asgard through a cosmic wormhole, and proceeds to immediately make his way into obtaining the powerful, glowing cube known as the Tesseract from SHIELD's care. SHIELD head Nick Fury (Jackson, Iron Man 2) sets about getting the Tesseract back, enlisting the aid of superhuman and highly skilled mercenaries alike. Loki's plot is to put all of Earth under his submission, making humanity his slaves, with the help of the powerful alien race known as the Chitauri. Black Widow (Johansson, The Spirit), Captain America (Evans, Scott Pilgrim), Iron Man (Downey, Sherlock Holmes), the Hulk (Ruffalo, Shutter Island), and Thor are joined together to take down Loki and the Chitauro, while ally Hawkeye (Renner, M:I 4) is under some sort of mind control by the evil powers that be.
Joss Whedon (Serenity, Titan AE), who has scripted quite a few comic books in his day, finds the perfect fit for his brand of wide-eyed fanboy delivery and tongue-in-cheek jocularity, both as writer and director. It's no easy feat to pull together such an all-star cast, but also to continue the various story threads and the overall tone of each individual performance to that which we've seen before, while giving each character just enough screen time to sate their biggest fans. And he does so without overburdening the characterizations with overly cute posturing or smarmy turns of phrase, as has been the habit in previous endeavors by the scribe. Whedon does benefit from not being saddled with having to push forward an origin story, and he is able to expand the action scenes to the point where they can be fully explored. That said, don't watch unless you know who these characters are, as there is no backstory to speak of, putting you right into the action following each main character's most recent movie.
As we've come to know these characters in other films, it's fun to watch them interact with each other. Downey's irreverent and pop culture literate Tony Stark (a good laugh comes when he refers to buff, golden-maned Thor as "Point Break") makes for an amusing contrast to the old-fashioned and very serious Evans' take on Captain America. With big powers come big boasts, and much of the heroes' non-battle sequences involve petty squabbles and mocking one another's heightened sense of self-importance. Mark Ruffalo takes over the role played previously by Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk, thought with a little less intensity and more self-aware whimsy than previous Banner incarnations. Most in the audience like the in-fighting, as fanboys often squabble about what would happen if Captain America had to face off with the Hulk, or Hulk with Iron Man, and who might win with their respective powers. One of the film's most memorable sequences involves the rest of the crew trying to stop the Hulk from running completely amok in a submerged environment, which threatens to completely undo the mission for a variety of important reasons. Dissension in the ranks starts early and gets worse, so to come together for the sake of Earth requires some painful swallowing of pride -- and ego.
The show-stopping finale is set, like many alien disaster films, in the heart of New York's business district, where the entire city is utilized for major destruction all around. Though rendered with consummate skill and detail, much of the actual confrontation is too generic to be entertained by save for the snarky repartee that occurs between the likeable characters as they engage in battle. Whedon's knitting of the crew at least does have the pay-off of making what could have been largely tedious and mind-numbing quite fun. It lacks depth and nuance, but as a pure popcorn film, it's a treat for the fans. Fan obsession can tend to have audiences obsess over what they perceive of as an event, when in reality, it is a fun and competently made superhero movie and not much more. Still, if its made for fun, it delivers the goods, and should be a must-see for fans of the previous Marvel vehicles.
©2012 Vince Leo