If and when DC/Warner Bros. finally gets around to making a Justice League movie, it might want to take some notes from across the aisle. Not all of the Marvel movies have been homeruns, but as the first two X-Men movies and X-Men: First Class proved, it is very possible to make a highly satisfying superhero ensemble film. The Avengers is one of them.
Writer-director Joss Whedon swung for the fences, and the result is a consistently fun, exciting action movie that makes the most of a strong cast. The Avengers doesn’t just throw a bunch of comic book characters onto the screen and then blow stuff up real good. Whedon takes care in defining the players and showing how they come together to execute their first mission.
The objective is to take down that villainous Asgardian diva, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who pays S.H.I.E.L.D. an unwelcome visit to steal the Tesseract. The glowing cube is central to his plot to rule humanity via alien invasion, and Nick Fury, played by the stoically cool Samuel L. Jackson, knows he’s going to need more than one big gun to stop him. One by one, the future Avengers begin assembling, but it’s a bumpy ride.
Could it be otherwise? Powerful people have big egos and generally are not given to compromise, so Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) are not going to un-puff their chests to work toward a collegial solution. At least not at first. Not everyone is wild about taking on the job, either. Most reluctant is Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), whose priority is keeping his raging inner Hulk at bay. Formidable as the heroes’ combined power is, prickly relationships threaten to undermine the cause.
Killer action sequences and impressive special effects? Check. More importantly, The Avengers is driven by top-shelf performances. No one will be surprised that Downey has some of the movie’s best one-liners and that he nails them. Chris Evans remains earnest as Captain America, but the strain of adjusting to life in a new century is apparent. Hiddleston, with his dazzling but scary smile, is perfectly haughty and petulant. Hemsworth gets to show that the mighty Thor has an unexpected, deadpan sense of humor.
The newcomers are no slouches, either. What a relief that Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow shines as a highly skilled combatant with a sharp mind, not stereotypical eye candy. Mark Ruffalo does a particularly outstanding job, playing Banner as a scarred man who is calm but subtly dangerous. I wish Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye had a little more to do, and there are a few head-scratchers — most notably a decision to leave Loki unattended (!) during what amounts to a hero hissy fit.
Though it clocks in at two hours and 22 minutes, The Avengers doesn’t have the bloated, indulgent feel of many blockbusters. It’s so well paced and frequently witty that the time flies. Let’s hope this inspires something of similar quality from the other member of the Big Two.
P.S.: Sit tight after the credits roll. There are treats. Grade: A-