Related list: Summer 2012 movie preview
“There was an idea,” says Samuel L. Jackson’s character Nick Fury, “to bring together a group of remarkable people.”
After four years of anticipation and a five-movie setup, that idea has finally come to fruition, and the end product is the best Marvel superhero movie to date.
“The Avengers” picks up right where the other movies left off. After having been defeated by his demigod stepbrother in last year’s “Thor,” Loki (played once again by a menacing Tom Hiddleston) returns, this time bent on ruling Earth with the help of a mysterious alien army and a newfound source of knowledge. In a last-ditch effort to save mankind, a volatile team of super-powered individuals is assembled under the direction of the eyepatch-wearing S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury. Can six individual heroes come together to fight for a common cause?
To be fair, the plot of “The Avengers” is not overly ambitious. In fact, if you’ve seen any of its trailers, you can probably predict how the story is going to unfold before the movie even begins.
For the majority of audiences, though, that will not detract from the quality of the experience. The focus of Marvel’s superhero mash-up is, as it should be, on the team itself — and that aspect is handled with consummate skill.
A huge amount of credit for the successful team dynamic is owed to the film’s writer/director Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly”). Although relatively untested outside of TV, Whedon was brought onboard specifically for his ability to juggle large casts of characters, as well as his familiarity with the Marvel Universe (having previously written an acclaimed run of “The Astonishing X-Men”).
Whedon’s script is remarkable in a number of ways. First of all, he perfectly captures the voice of each character. Robert Downey Jr. spews sarcastic remarks as Tony Stark while Chris Hemsworth’s Thor sounds like he was plucked straight out of an Elizabethan drama. Far from trying to homogenize the odd bunch of heroes, Whedon plays up the fact that each of them comes from a completely different background. He uses that as a source both of dramatic tension and some surprisingly big laughs.
What’s more, every major character — including fan favorite Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) — has a personal arc and is allowed at least one opportunity to shine. People who go in with a favorite character might be surprised when they come out rooting for somebody else, even a newcomer like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
Of course, it helps having a cast as solid as this, too. Among the leads, there is hardly a weak link. Hiddleston is particularly good as Loki, managing to imbue the demigod with charisma and charm even as he plucks out a man’s eyeball.
Possibly the standout of the film, though, is Mark Ruffalo as both Bruce Banner and his monstrous alter ego (thanks to motion capture technology). After two mediocre solo outings in the last nine years, The Hulk has at last been put onscreen in a way that fans will appreciate.
“The Avengers” is not without some problems, however. Along with some small but noticeable plot holes, the movie does take a little while to get going — a problem compounded by Alan Silvestri’s oddly listless scoring during the first 10 or 15 minutes before the team has fully assembled. By the time Thor makes his dramatic entrance, though, audience members will be fully engaged.
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