THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Even as a hardcore superhero fan, I thought Marvel was crazy. A while back, the company announced a multi-year plan to produce individual superhero movies that would eventually culminate with one featuring all the Avengers. While it made sense in theory, I had some doubt that people (myself included) would still be interested by the time 2012 rolled around. First, the quality of the movies would have to be extremely consistent to keep the audience invested. Second, it seemed improbable that one film containing so many beloved superheroes could ever measure up to the enormous expectations fans (again, myself included) would obviously impose upon it. Well, I have no problem being wrong which, thankfully, I was. The Marvel pictures have been fun, and The Avengers does indeed deliver.
Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the villain from Thor, arrives on Earth and steals a power cube that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been keeping close tabs on. The cube contains the power to harness great amounts of energy, which Loki intends to use to wage war on our planet. S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) understands how devastating its misuse could be, so he assembles the crack team known as the Avengers to stop Loki. Needless to say, they are: Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Captain America (Chris Evans), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Each of them has different feelings about taking part in the mission to stop Loki. Each has an ego, as well. The Avengers initially battle each other before joining forces to battle their common enemy.
The Avengers was written and directed by Joss Whedon, a man who has amassed an intensely devoted following ever since creating the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” This could probably be considered his most mainstream project to date, but he brings all his best qualities to it. The danger of uniting so many superheroes is having them get watered down in the mix. Whedon avoids this, using his trademark smart dialogue and vivid characterization to make sure each hero's individual personality comes across. Because they're all so well-defined, watching them interact – whether bickering or collaborating – brings the film to life. We don't just get a bunch of heroes all talking tough and posturing. Some are gung-ho; others more reticent. They don't always like each other. They engage in battles of wit. That's fun. Making The Avengers character-based was a smart way to go. Anyone excited for this movie probably loves these characters, so it's gratifying to see them well-represented onscreen.
Incidentally, the standout here is Mark Ruffalo as Hulk. He's the third actor to play Bruce Banner and his alter ego, following Eric Bana and Edward Norton. He's also the best. Even in his CGI incarnation, the character has a personality that was absent in the prior films (which, for the record, I liked). All the actors are effectively cast, but I suspect Hulk will be the one viewers walk out in love with.
The problem faced by The Avengers is having to meld disparate elements from the two Iron Man and Hulk films, Thor, and Captain America. Despite being pre-planned by the Marvel team, each movie stood on its own. Now, the pieces have to somehow be tied together. The plot gets a little muddled at times because of this. I'd be lying if I said that I understood every single thing that was happening at every single stage of the plot. Comic books, by nature, tend to have very direct, streamlined stories, which find complexity in the details. The story in The Avengers is complex on its own, and when the details are added in, it doesn't always feel as clear as it should.
Not that it entirely matters. Am I wrong to say that people go to a movie like this to see a bunch of superheroes engaging in crazy action? (Heck, it's a big part of what I go for.) On this count, the film hits the bullseye. The action is first-rate, especially in the dazzling grand finale, which finds the Avengers waging all-out war on Loki and his evil co-conspirators. If you love the Marvel universe, there's something about seeing Iron Man and Captain America fighting next to each other, or watching Hulk and Thor share the frame, that makes you giddy. Whedon knows this, and makes sure you get giddy beyond belief.
The Avengers has some terrific humor and fantastic special effects in addition to everything else. Marvel's grand plan turned out to be a good one. This is a hugely entertaining time at the movies. And that final shot? Perfect. Just perfect.
( 1/2 out of four)
A Note on the 3D: It's clear that The Avengers was planned for 3D. It's used well, but never over-used. Several scenes take place in hallways or from heights. The flight of Iron Man and the archery from Hawkeye take full advantage of the format. The best 3D scenes, though, are the ones involving Hulk's rage. At times, it feels like he's getting right up in your face and roaring at you. It's actually kind of intimidating. Unless you absolutely hate 3D, I'd recommending springing for the extra dimension.
The Avengers is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference. The running time is 2 hours and 22 minutes.
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