It's been a long time coming, but 'The Avengers' is a terrific ride
Midway through “The Avengers,” there’s an argument between
feuding brothers Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who have met
up on the cliffs above a forest. Power-mad Loki, who is tired of living in
Thor’s towering shadow, wants to conquer Earth, while the congenial Thor wants
to save the planet.
“So you take the world I love as recompense for your
imagined slights?” Thor bellows.
That’s when Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.)
intrudes, eager to put Loki out of commission. “You have no idea what you’re
dealing with!” Thor warns. Stark looks at the duo, both dressed in their
traditional Nordic costumes, and fights off the urge to roll his eyes.
“Shakespeare in the Park?” he cracks.
It's moments like that one that make “The Avengers”
irresistible. Charged with making the ultimate geek-cinema epic,
writer-director Joss Whedon has slyly gone a few steps further: He’s assembled
a snazzy, sassy and supremely satisfying extravaganza that almost seamlessly
combines the thrills and spectacle you anticipate with generous doses of
off-the-wall humor and surprising details you don’t. As in Whedon’s wonderfully
warped “The Cabin in the Woods,” expectations are both fulfilled, turned upside
down and twisted like corkscrews.
Moviegoers who haven’t seen all the Marvel Comics films that
have led up to “The Avengers” — that would be “Iron Man,” “The Incredible
Hulk,” “Iron Man 2,” “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” — will not
feel completely out of the loop, but those who have can rest assured that the
long lead-up pays off remarkably well. Whedon’s screenplay picks up more or
less where “Thor” and “Captain America” left off, cleverly tying the two storylines
together with Loki, the villain of “Thor,” in hot pursuit of the Tesseract, the
terrifyingly powerful cube of “unlimited sustainable energy” that everyone was
trying to procure in “Captain America.” We already knew the Tesseract had
enormous value as a weapon, but in “The Avengers” it’s revealed that it has the
potential to open portals between universes: great news for Loki, who wants to
transport ferocious warriors from his home planet of Asgard, not-so-great news
for those of us who don’t feel like being subjugated by space invaders.
On the positive side, Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and
Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who has
been hanging around the edges of the Marvel movies up until now, is putting
together a plan to turn Iron Man, Thor, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris
Evans), Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, taking over from Edward Norton in
“The Incredible Hulk” and Eric Bana in “The Hulk”) and Natasha Romanoff/The
Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) into a powerhouse fighting force. Although
Fury would like to add Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to the mix as well,
that proves to be a little complicated, for reasons that shouldn’t be revealed.
As “The Avengers” unfolds, it becomes obvious that the
Tesseract isn’t the only thing around with unlimited sustainable energy. The
movie doesn’t simply set up a series of explosion-heavy, earth-shaking, effects-driven
sequences, it pulls them together into a compelling narrative that’s full of
tension (the would-be teammates initially spend more time challenging and
confronting each other than they do cooperating), suspense and good-natured
goofiness. While Downey, slipping effortlessly once more into Stark’s
jaded-playboy-turned-world-weary-hero persona, gets a sizable share of the
punchlines, no one should overlook the comic contributions of Clark Gregg as
the indefatigable, unrufflable agent Phil Coulson, who has a much more
substantial stake in the game here than he had in “Thor” or the “Iron Man”
As for the rest of the super-squad, Johansson is first-class
as the cryptic, quick-thinking Black Widow, while Ruffalo puts an unsettling,
intriguing edge on the hard-to-read Banner. Hemsworth and Evans continue to
bring a bit of depth and dimension to characters that might have easily come
across as foolish in the wrong hands. Renner is given less of a chance to make
a strong impression, although he certainly seems at home in the action
As the loathsome Loki, Hiddleston is wonderfully maniacal
without flying off into the stratosphere of campiness. As his henchman unleash
the kind of destructive mayhem in Manhattan that makes King Kong’s visit seem
like a minor irritation, Loki serenely stands by, savoring the show. He won’t
be the only one: You do not have to be a dyed-in-the-wool fanboy to have a
smashingly good time with “The Avengers.