Among comic fans, no movie in recent memory has been more anticipated than "The Avengers." Teased by multiple prior films covering individual characters, "The Avengers" promised an epic mash-up of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Iron Man ( Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). While it delivers on the action, the final product isn't quite as polished as the prior outings.
In terms of chronology, "The Avengers" is most directly a sequel to 2011's "Thor," so seeing that film before checking out "The Avengers" should be required. As far as the other titles, all the core plot elements are recapped early on, so you won't miss much if you haven't seen them.
Things kick into action when Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor's vengeful brother, appears on Earth with the intention of stealing the Tesseract. A cube of infinite power, the Tesseract originated off-world and is desired by military forces both human and alien. In this case, it's the alien Chitauri who have promised Loki dominion over Earth if he can deliver the Tesseract to them. Fans of the comics who are keeping score will recognize the Tesseract as a version of the Cosmic Cube and the Chitauri as a variant of the Skrulls.
In terms of comic plotting, "The Avengers" is up there with the best of them, as it has both epic scale and witty dialogue. Were the script used as the basis of a graphic novel, it likely would have been a best seller for Marvel. As a film, however, it suffers from drawn-out pacing. In short, some scenes end up feeling slow because they drag out too long.
One of the best examples of this happens at the beginning of the movie, when Loki and company are trying to escape from Nick Fury. There is an extended driving sequence (through underground tunnels, no less) that is meant to seem thrilling, but ends up feeling a bit dull. In the latter half of the film, the audience is treated to some extended battle sequences that are meant to highlight the power of the heroes. Much like the start, they also end up longer than needed, making our heroes seem more like regular soldiers than superheroes.
All that said, there is one notable exception, and that is Loki versus the Hulk. Hands down, it is easily the best fight in the film and the one that perfectly nails both characters.
If the battles aren't the main draw behind "The Avengers," the dialogue certainly is. Whedon is known for his snappy dialogue, and his work on the script shines brightly. Aside from an early mischaracterization of the Hulk (he is inexplicably mindless during his first appearance), all of the characters are brilliant when interacting with one another. Downey is loveable as self-absorbed Tony Stark, while Evans and Hemsworth both display incredible earnestness as overpowered do-gooders. Ruffalo plays Bruce Banner in a perfectly understated manner, always keenly aware of the monster that lives within.
Outside of the core group of heroes, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is also a notable character thanks to Gregg's ability to deliver any line with a straight face. A minor character in the previous films, Coulson takes on a more direct role here.
Oddly, the only actor who really didn't seem to step into his role was Jackson. Although he certainly looks the part of Nick Fury, there is only a single scene in the latter half of the film where Jackson makes the role his own. For the rest of the film, Nick Fury could easily be played by any other actor. It's a bit ironic, especially when you consider that the Ultimate version of Nick Fury was actually based on Jackson.
The special effects work in "The Avengers" is strong, with the most notable work going into the Hulk. Although the Hulk is CGI, the character is still recognizably Ruffalo. In addition to modeling his face, Ruffalo also provided motion for the character, similar to how Andy Serkis played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series. Of course, there's no shortage of things that go boom, so expect plenty of eye candy.
When all is said and done, "The Avengers" is a fun romp, but it isn't quite at the level of 2008's "Iron Man," which set the standard for the modern superhero film. So long as you go into it knowing that it's a popcorn flick, you won't be disappointed. And, as always, be sure to stay for the credits.
"The Avengers" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 23 minutes. It is showing in 2-D, 3-D and IMAX 3-D.
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