The Avengers

Riding a massive wave of anticipation, hype, and phenomenal fanboy expectations, the mega-budget film version of Marvel Comics’ “The Avengers”, has arrived thanks to the vision of Director Joss Whedon (who also helped craft the story), and a $220 million plus budget.

The film connects previous Marvel films such as “Thor”, “Captain America: The First Avenger”, “The Hulk”, and “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2”, but can easily be understood and enjoyed by anyone who hasn’t seen any of the previous films that led up to this grand ensemble picture.

The film opens with a psychotic Loki (Tom Hiddleston), escaping to Earth where he leaves a path of death and destruction as he steals the extremely powerful Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D. Adding insult to injury, Loki has also put Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), under his control and forces them to assist him with his diabolical plan. Not only is the Tesseract the source of unlimited power, but it also holds the key to opening a doorway to Earth through which Loki’s new allies will be able to enter to pillage Earth and enslave its citizens, giving Loki the power and unlimited rule he desires.

With no time to spare agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), decides to revive a scrapped project known as The Avengers Initiative which would combine the resources of a supremely gifted team in order to combat extreme threats to Earth.

With Capt. America (Chris Evans), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johanasson), already on board, Fury seeks to expand the team by adding the brilliant minds of both Tony Stark (Robery Downey Jr.), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), to his team. This proved to be a bit of a challenge as Stark is a world-renowned egocentric who, in his own words, “Does not play well with others.” Banner on the other hand, has taken up hiding in India in an effort to control the raging beast that is in him and wants no part of anything that could lead him to lose control.

The desperation of the situation soon bands the group together and a fortuitous break that allows them to capture Loki leads them to believe they are close to regaining order. That is, until Loki’s brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth), arrives from his world of Asgard demanding to take Loki into custody for his crimes. Thor eventually realizes that his brother has a much bigger plan in store and that his capture was indeed part of a much larger and diabolical plot.

What follows is a nonstop action fest where the fate of the world hangs in the balance and, if they can quit fighting amongst themselves long enough, The Avengers hold the only hope for salvation.

Clocking in at nearly 2.5 hours in length, the movie took it’s time getting to the good stuff. The first 90 minutes or so was essentially an introduction of the team and the establishment of the threat posed by Loki and his minions. There is a bit of action during this time but most of the time we’re given brief backstories as well as numerous scenes of them squabbling amongst themselves and accusing Fury of keeping valuable information from them.

Every character is given a chance to shine and we’re given a bit more insight into their motivations. We also see that despite respect for one another at times there is also a high amount of animosity amongst them due to the strong personalities they all possess.

One of the really unexpected pleasures of the film was the surprising amount of humor that it contained. I will not spoil any of the surprises but I can say that there are two moments with the Hulk that absolutely brought the house down and should bring a smile to even the most jaded viewer.

I was concerned that with such an ensemble cast there was the threat that either everybody would hold back and not want to overshadow each other or that certain character, such as Iron Man, might be given too much prominence, reducing the remainder of the cast to largely supporting players.

Thankfully nothing could have been further from the truth. The screen time is divided well amongst the cast and everyone is given their due spotlight. The chemistry is exceptionally good and I especially liked the scene between Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo where they bond over scientific theory as Stark finds a kindred spirit who can actually understand the way his mind works.

There was a lot made over the casting of Ruffalo over Ed Norton as Banner and his alter ego, The Hulk. While I thought Norton did an amazing job with the role, Ruffalo was an extremely solid replacement and did much better with the part than Eric Bana did in his disastrous turn as the character. Ruffalo plays Banner as a very quiet almost reclusive nerd who finds the confidence to assert himself when required.

Hemsworth and Evans are great in their extremely physical roles and while I would like for the good Captain to get a better costume, he certainly holds his own with the group. One of the more enjoyable bonuses was getting to see Hawkeye and Black Widow in action and gaining some depth into their back story, as well as their interwoven history with one another and S.H.I.E.L.D.

Jackson of course commands attention every time he appears as Fury. He is given a chance to kick some butt in the film himself as do his supporting agents Marie Hill (Cobie Smulders), and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the brilliant performance of Hiddleston as he portrays Loki with the true air of menace and psychopathic evil that transcends the typical cartoony nature of megalomaniacal comic book villains. He was truly evil personified and you could clearly see just how dangerous and unhinged Loki is and what a serious threat he posed to humanity.

Of course action is what the fans want to see and thankfully the grand finale delivers it in droves. The final 30 minutes of the film is essentially one sustained action sequence as the heroes battle using the full arsenal of weapons and skills at their disposal. It is an incredible display that despite the superpowered special effects, allows plenty of human skill to shine through. This is not a gigantic effects reel but rather live-action stunts blended seamlessly with special effects to show the full scope and magnitude of the team and how when everybody is working as one they are a truly formidable force.

During the final battle, I kept thinking to myself how this is truly something fans have waited a lifetime to see. All of their superheroes engaged in full on combat against massive odds. While we have seen ensemble casts battle in “The Fantastic Four”, and “X-Men” series we have never seen it to this scale. Some moments were so truly thrilling that the audience erupted in cheers.

Whedon is to be given tons of credit here for capturing the essence of the comic and the characters and conveying it effectively in the 2.5 hour runtime. While parts of the film did drag a bit leading up to the finale, as a whole, “The Avengers” was highly satisfying and I would say the best comic book adaptation ever put to film.

I’m not a big fan of the converted 3-D process as I’ve always believed that a 3-D movie should be shot in 3-D. However the converted 3-D in the film was good and, I must admit, enhanced the experience without being a cheap gimmick.

From the strong cast to the awesome special effects and humor, “The Avengers” is a shining example of not only how to do a summer action film but how to do a comic book ensemble film right. It is not only an incredible kickoff to the series but sets the stage as well for future Marvel films.

4 stars out of 5