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The Avengers by Joss Whedon (Director); Joss Whedon (screenplay)  Zak Penn, Joss Whedon (story)
Review by Drew Bittner
Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures  
Date: 07 May 2012

Links: IMDB Record / Show Official Info /

Well, it's finally here. The faithful have reached the Promised Land prophesied in 2008, when Nick Fury uttered the words "...Avengers Initiative" at the end of the movie Iron Man. Skeptics said it couldn't be done. Fan press wavered over every bit of news (and there wasn't much), reading tea leaves with fervent hope and bracing themselves against disappointment.

They needn't have feared. The Avengers is everything they were hoping it would be and more.

Starring:
Robert Downey Jr. - Tony Stark/Iron Man
Chris Evans - Steve Rogers/Captain America
Chris Hemsworth - Thor
Mark Ruffalo - Bruce Banner/Hulk
Scarlett Johanssen -- Natasha Romanov/Black Widow
Jeremy Renner - Clint Barton/Hawkeye
Tom Hiddleston - Loki
Samuel L. Jackson - Nick Fury
Clark Gregg - Phil Coulson

The story in a nutshell: the Tesseract, a glowing blue cube of limitless power, is in the hands of SHIELD, Nick Fury's super-secret defense group. But not for long. The cube begins to go wild and pulls Loki to Earth. Being exiled from Asgard (as happened in the movie Thor) has not been good for the God of Mischief; he has come to enslave humanity, with help from an alien race. When he walks through a company of SHIELD agents, including the peerless archer Hawkeye, and makes a clean getaway with the Tesseract, Fury knows he needs help. He sends out his agents, including Coulson and Romanov, to round up a handful of special individuals: Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk.

Thing is, each man is battling his own demons. Stark uses glib manners to hide his innate selfishness; Rogers is a man out of time, fearing he has nothing to offer the 21st century; and Banner, having come to terms (somewhat) with "the other guy", is struggling to help people in India when he cannot help himself.

Nevertheless, Fury needs them. He puts Banner to work tracking the Tesseract, while Rogers goes after Loki directly. They (barely) manage to bring him into SHIELD custody...only to realize he is exactly where he wants to be. His plan is to set these heroes against each other--and the arrival of Thor only helps things along.

Ultimately, Loki means to bring his army to Earth--and only the Avengers stand in his way. If these lost souls cannot bond and become the world's greatest superheroes, then Earth is doomed.

It may seem like the easiest thing to bring a big blockbuster to life, but Whedon's calling upon all his skills and experience to deliver a masterpiece. It is NOT easy to give seven major heroes and one major villain enough screen time, to give each one a special moment and clear character arc. That he pulls it off so well is remarkable; that he does it with the original actors, blending storylines from five previous movies and crafting a story that still manages to work as a standalone is amazing.

The standout, as you may have read, is surely Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner AND the Hulk. His Banner is not the tormented soul we've seen previously; he's reached some measure of peace, but he still struggles and still fears "the other guy." His small gestures are the tiniest giveaways as to how hard he works at being just a guy, and he has one killer line that sums up Bruce Banner and the Hulk brilliantly. He also has the best laugh-out-loud visual gags in the whole movie.

Downey is back in his element as Stark, tossing off quips and not taking anything too seriously, until it's driven home just what the stakes really are--and then he's almost terrifying, with how intense his focus is and how ferociously he's playing to win. His confrontation with Loki is tense and funny at once, which is near-impossible to pull off.

Evans sustains his remarkable performance as Cap, a noble spirit in an enhanced body, for whom the war (and the 1940s) was only yesterday. He shows how adrift Cap is, how he feels he has nothing to do or offer, until Coulson tells him that maybe something old-fashioned is what people need right now. The scenes between Evans and Downey crackle with electricity, but it might be his scenes with Gregg (as the uncharacteristically fannish Coulson) that stick with the viewer most. Hemsworth is terrific as Thor, conflicted over being at odds with his brother even as he realizes there is no reaching Loki. He will have to commit himself to doing whatever it takes to bring Loki to heel, and his bluff warrior's camaraderie is a welcome counterpoint to the can-do pragmatism of Rogers and the devil-may-care recklessness of Stark. His throwdown with the Hulk is also one of the action highlights of the movie, with an uproarious "coda" during the final battle scenes.

Johanssen and Renner bring Black Widow and Hawkeye to life, while Hiddleston continues to delight as the wounded, haughty and overconfident Loki. Hiddleston has a great scene with each hero, and if heroes are judged by their villains, then Loki has set the bar high indeed. Even as alien armies assault the Earth in the third act, Loki remains the guy everyone has to beat... and that's largely due to Hiddleston making him the absolute master of all this death and destruction.

Jackson keeps the team together, with lots of help from Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill, and provides the necessary push to get them working as a team. His role is pivotal, given that he's the guy whose neck is on the line if everything goes wrong. Whether interacting with the ominous Council or shooting a bazooka at one of his own planes, he's always where he needs to be, even when that isn't in the middle of the fight.

Not much more can be said, honestly, without spoiling the film. As you've probably heard, there are two small scenes, one early in the credits and one at the very, very end. The first sets up a villain who would be, if anything, even more dangerous than Loki, while the other is just a neat bit of characterization that pays off an offhand remark. In any case, plan to stay.

With Iron Man 3 on the horizon, and Thor 2 and Captain America 2 in the works, it's fair to say that the Marvel Studios express will be chugging along for many years to come. That said, The Avengers is now the movie against which everything else will be measured, for better or worse.

Highly recommended.

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