This flick is pretty darn good. Millions have seen it. If you’re going to the movies this weekend, it’s statistically likely you’ll buy a ticket for The Avengers. Why not let’s give it three and a half stars (out of five), and all go get ice cream. OK?
No? All right, in case you just came in: Marvel’s The Avengers follows on a series of individual superhero movies going back to 2008, and brings together Iron Man (smart-ass Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (edgy Boy Scout Chris Evans), Thor (hair-flipper Chris Hemsworth), the Incredible Hulk (nervous-as-a-cat Mark Ruffalo, with a smashing vocal assist from Lou Ferrigno), Black Widow (cagey Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (um, very very serious Jeremy Renner) to battle evildoers. There are wall-to-wall quips and state-of-the-art explosions.
Most of the fun lies is in the assembling of the team and then watching them try to work together. (This neatly mirrors the arduous real-life process of assembling the right actors for such a massive cinematic endeavor, and then making them play nice.) Director-fanboy Joss Whedon has done a terrific job of making this funny but not ridiculous, and serious but not ponderous. The sparks fly from precisely plotted clashes between giant egos with massive abilities, and the cast seems to enjoy all of it. Downey, Ruffalo and Evans are the standouts; even Johansson makes a good impression. Tom Hiddleston is a fine Norse-god villain, and the supporting characters from the assorted franchises—played by Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Stellan Skarsgard, etc.—do their bits well enough.
Of course the filmmakers can’t kill of any of these sacred monsters, and knowing this going in lessens some of the suspense. (And if they did, they’d just “reboot” and start over again anyway.) Canny, though, that the one character who gets killed off is the fanboy stand-in; a little audience flattery is perfectly acceptable.
Brainstorming for a narrative hook huge enough to bring these gods, crime-fighting mutants, freaks, and prima donnas together, the filmmakers decided the only credible threat would be intergalactic. Unfortunately, we saw this last summer with giant robots; the end of Avengers is more-or-less the finale of last summer’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon all over again. The Transformers showdown was confined to a few blocks in Chicago and the invaders were machines; Avengers is confined to midtown Manhattan and the invaders are aliens who look like machines. Both movies avail themselves of a Sci-Fi-by-the-numbers space-time portal. (And, while on the subject of “inspiration,” the portal in Avengers looks just like the planet-killing beam in the Star Trek reboot.) It’s marginally less boring to have superheroes (rather than giant robots) lead the fight against dronelike hordes, but the effects—and use of 3D—are less impressive.
No matter. We don’t go to sequels in search of the unexpected.