"The Avengers" is easily one of the most anticipated films of the year. And this week the story of how these Marvel super-heroes come together finally arrives in theaters in the United States. It has already scored well overseas where it made $178.4 million at the box office, the biggest opening weekend of any movie in 12 markets.
Having already made singular films with the four main Marvel superheroes ("Iron Man," "The Incredible Hulk," "Captain America," and "Thor"), the studio brings them all together in one big blockbuster film. They are collected via Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) the leader of an outfit called S.H.I.E.L.D. that is trying to, well, protect the world. When a threat from outer space surfaces in the form of Thor’s "adopted" brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Fury calls on the rag-tag group in order to band their strengths together to defeat him and his incoming intergalactic army.
There’s also something called a Tessaract - a glowing box-like energy source that has figured (in various ways) into all of the previous superhero films. Here, the Tessaract had been discovered in the ocean by Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) buried near where Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) was fished - frozen - out of the ocean. Because of its power, Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) unhinged brother Loki is sent by an evil alien force to fetch the Tessaract so they can rule the planets and kill off the humans of Earth.
The main plot is all very typical comic-booky stuff and fits nicely into writer/director Joss Whedon’s canon of plots which always seem to revolve around the end of the world. Between "Buffy," "The Cabin in the Woods," "Dollhouse," and now "The Avengers," Whedon should probably hop into therapy to see why he is obsessed with destroying our planet. That said, we seem to kind of enjoy when he wants kill us all, so I probably shouldn’t complain.
Our main heroes are joined by Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a former Russian spy who is now a agent for S.H.I.E.L.D., and Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) a master of the bow and arrow who could give poor Katniss a few tips in how to nail a target without looking.
The first half of "The Avengers" is really about getting this crew together and this is where most of the razzle-dazzle lies. It’s also when our villain reveals himself and goes about causing some chaos. We have scenes of Captain America and Iron Man fighting Loki, Thor and Iron Man fighting each other, Black Widow kicking some Russian heavies’ asses and then avoiding getting "smashed" by a newly transformed Hulk aka Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). There are fights in the forest, on a flying submarine-style ship, outside an opera house, on the side of a building, and in the end, the streets of New York City.
The focus of the film - besides trying to stop baddie Loki from destroying the world - is how this group comes together and learns how to fight as a team. It’s not quite as empowering and cathartic as was probably intended, but it’s a lot of fun to watch the argumentative banter between the egos.
Whedon does an exemplary job at keeping all of the characters interesting and allowing them to all have their moment(s). The sets and action are all perfectly realized and give the film a more epic scope than some recent comic book outings. This feels like a "movie-movie" and not just the set-up for a string of sequels. (Not that there won’t be sequels.)
Every cast member has great fun with what they do, with (oddly) Scarlett Johansson making a more lasting impression than the others - probably for the fact that she didn’t get much screen time in "Iron Man 2" so she immediately generates interest. Downey, Jr. is his usual puffed up snarky self as Tony Stark (which we love), and Hemsworth’s Thor is just a stud so who cares what he does? (Although, he really knows how to work his hammer. Please - there was no other way to write that.)
Evans as Steve Rogers plays it very stoic and serious as if he’s looking at everyone going - "wtf is wrong with people these days?" Despite the lack of him smiling - ever - he looks damn good. Renner doesn’t get much to do and I’m still not totally sure what his "powers" are or where he came from, but he is a mildly compelling presence, so the jury is out on where his character will go in the future. And finally, once he transforms, The Hulk steals his scenes, although in many ways he becomes the comic-relief of the movie leaving his prospects for a new spin-off film a bit hazy. (When he’s The Hulk, there’s not much to do with him but let him smash things.)
Speaking of smashing - there is a ton of body crunching antics going on. Thankfully, our heroes really are "super" and can survive the continuous pummeling they receive throughout the movie. It’s all on the cartoon violence side, but after a while you think to yourself - how the hell are they surviving any of this?
My only complaint would be the finale. While it is genuinely exciting to see these iconic characters fighting together, this is probably the fourth or fifth blockbuster movie in the last few years that has had a big climax in a daytime city street. (I’m looking at you "Transformers.") This - unfortunately - gives the finale a bit of a "been there/done that" déjà vu. While it can be exciting for sure - and there are some great moments - I wish they had done something a bit more original and daring.
Here, it just felt a bit lazy. Quite honestly, even switching the time of day to nighttime would have given it a bit of pizzazz. But I suppose that is a minor quibble, because quite frankly - "The Avengers" is a hell of a lot of fun. With a hugely likeable cast, memorable characters, hilarious exhanges, and some cheer-worthy bone-crunching action scenes, it’s the movie to beat so far this summer.