Four years and five films later, it’s all come down to this. With many trembling in anticipation, Marvel’s famous team of superheroes has finally assembled on the big screen in “The Avengers,” and the outcome is deafening, extravagant and glorious.
With director Joss Whedon — best known for creating the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — at the helm, the film is guaranteed to enthrall both the geeks weaned on the comic books and the non-fans seeking popcorn entertainment. All the fun that one would expect from an Avengers film comes barreling full force, making this surefire blockbuster the best Marvel production since “Spider-Man 2.”
The world is confronted with the threat of annihilation when the sinister Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) descends to Earth and steals the Tesseract, an all-powerful cube with unlimited energy that was seen in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” With it, he plans to open an intergalactic portal, through which an alien race called the Chitauri can invade the planet.
In response, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D., seeks to mobilize a team to reacquire the Tesseract. This means bringing together the billionaire playboy Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), the recently reawakened Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), the reserved Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and the Norse god of thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki’s brother. Throw in S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and they’ve got quite the ass-kicking group.
Yet, in spite of a looming war, the group can’t help but clash with each other over their motives and personalities, casting a shadow of doubt over whether they can be in the same room, let alone become a team.
After an opening five to 10 minutes that moves too frenetically for comfort, “The Avengers” comfortably settles into a dynamic tone that maintains the integrity of the comic books. Indeed, the executives at Marvel should pat themselves on the back over their decision to hand the film’s reins over to Whedon, as he knows exactly what to do with a project of this magnitude.
The director, long beloved by the Comic-Con core, masterfully pulls the right strings to ensure that the film brims with energy throughout. Aware of what heartbeats constitute the film’s pulse, he injects a spark to certain scenes that help bring “The Avengers” to life. From pop culture references and witty banter to the one-two remarks between the egotistical Stark and the selfless Rogers, each of these moments have an affectionate touch, subsequently making the cinematic experience much more special and causing the film’s running time of nearly two and a half hours seem shorter.
Whedon accomplishes quite a feat in juggling multiple characters that have such complex and immense identities — a difficult task to begin with, especially since four of the Avengers starred in pictures in which they were established as the center of the show. Here, no one character owns the entire film; instead, each one gets his or her moment to shine, just as long as it is of service to the story. Any effort at individual character development never feels forced, as it stays true to the characters’ natures and every action that they take is directly related to the conflict at hand.
While the ensemble cast proves to be quite capable when it comes to handling their material, only a handful happen to go above and beyond the call of duty with their performances. The effervescent Downey continually steals the scene by delivering his lines laconically while Ruffalo, the third actor to step into the role of Banner within the past decade, is effectively subtle and deftly communicates his character’s discomfort with his Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde-like lifestyle. Hiddleston revels in Loki’s villainy upgrade, showcasing just how evil the god of mischief can be.
When it comes to action sequences, “The Avengers” completely knocks the ball out of the park. Almost every location eventually becomes either subject to a spectacle or becomes a spectacle itself, all of which is filmed with a steady hand. Just when it can’t get any better, it does; everything is peanuts compared to the film’s climactic battle, which lasts for almost 30 minutes and just about contains more action than the five previous films combined.
The film definitely earns the right to boast about its technical achievements. Every penny gone into the stunning CGI is wisely spent, with the helicarrier — a high-tech aircraft carrier capable of flying — being the most impressive. The sound effects are immaculate and sharp, and Alan Silvestri’s surging score is more than appropriate for the occasion.
Of course, one should not leave the theater as soon as the film ends. Remember those after-credits scenes in the past films that all pointed to this picture? The heroes may have finally come together, but that doesn’t mean that Marvel is finished — it has more in store for the future, so it’s best to stick around and see what’s next.
Does “The Avengers” bend or revolutionize the superhero genre? No, but it does raise the bar considerably for what similar films should be doing in the future. What Whedon and the cast do here is nothing short of praiseworthy, as they gleefully deliver a film with so much heart and spirit. The Avengers are here to stay, so it’s time to suit up and assemble.
Rating: 4 out of 5