Review by Bob Ignizio
Ever since 2008's IRON MAN, Samuel L. Jackson has been popping up in the Marvel Studios films as Nick Fury, leader of the government security agency S.H.I.E.L.D., to talk about his plans of putting together a group of superheroes. He finally gets around to it in MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS, bringing together Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to, as Fury puts it, “fight the foes no single superhero could withstand.”
The foes in question are led by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the same guy who caused trouble in THOR. Still smarting from his defeat in that film, Loki returns using his powers of deception and manipulation to get his hands on something called the Tesseract. This glowing McGuffin has seemingly limitless power, but its main purpose here is to open a gateway to another dimension so that an army of CGI space aliens can come through and attack the Earth. After the obligatory fighting amongst themselves, partly caused by Loki's manipulations but mostly due to their own arrogance, the aforementioned heroes come together to face this threat as a team, tearing up large portions of downtown Cleveland (standing in for New York City) in the process.
Juggling so many major characters, most of whom are played by actors used to being the center of attention, is no easy task. Fortunately, THE AVENGERS was written and directed by Joss Whedon, a man who has plenty of experience working with large casts in TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. He makes the right choice in putting the showboating, ultra modern Tony Stark/Iron Man and the selfless, old fashioned Steve Rogers/Captain America at the heart of his story, positioning them as polar opposites who have to learn to respect each other. At the same time, Whedon manages to give all the other players their own moments in the spotlight. Only Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye comes up a bit short.
Whedon also does a fine job striking a balance between character development and action. A lot of the heavy lifting in terms of introducing these characters to the audience has already been done in their respective solo films. Still, Whedon not only offers breezy and unobtrusive refreshers, he also expands on the foundation he's been given. This is especially true of Ruffalo's Bruce Banner/The Hulk, a character that hasn't quite clicked in his previous big screen incarnations. Whedon gets the green goliath right, and as a result he steals almost every scene he's in.
As much as I appreciate the attention paid to the characters, it's the action scenes that really make THE AVENGERS the summer movie to beat. Not since SUPERMAN II has a superhero movie given us the kind of rousing, city-smashing, super powered action we get here. THE AVENGERS may not be the best super hero movie ever made, but its certainly a strong contender for the best translation of the tone and spirit of mainstream superhero comics to the big screen. Whedon never condescends to the material, but neither does he try to make more of it than he should.
THE AVENGERS is not without flaws; in particular some of the exposition feels a bit rushed. For instance, at the end of his own film, much was made about how difficult it would be for Thor to return to earth. Yet when he shows up in THE AVENGERS, the explanation feels like an afterthought. Still, given all the disparate elements that Whedon had to incorporate it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job. 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.