‘Marvel’s The Avengers’
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner
Rated: PG-13, for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference
Runtime: 2 hours, 22 minutes
Bottom line: It’s everything you hope it will be.
To paraphrase that immortal bard, MCA from Beastie Boys, we’ve been coming to where we are from the get-go.
After two Iron Man movies, “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor,” “Captain America: The First Avenger,” several animated television series and the recently renamed and re-launched “Avengers Assemble” comic book series, Marvel Studios finally unleashes its multi-verse in all its cinematic glory in “The Avengers.”
We throw around the phrase “highly anticipated” a lot during summer, but outside of “The Dark Night Rises,” you won’t find a movie anticipated as highly as “The Avengers.”
Assembling an entire team of one comic house’s heroes isn’t exactly unprecedented (you remember DC’s Justice League, right?), but this feels like the biggest ever event of its kind.
It’s also that rarest of moments for a critic, when I can tell you that the movie actually lives up to its enormous hype.
This is a great summer blockbuster.
My biggest concern beforehand was how the story would plausibly combine the characters’ various worlds. The stories built around Iron Man, Hawkeye and Black Widow have always stretched science moderately — on the comic book scale, mind you. The Hulk and Captain America stories push the science fiction boundary much further. And Thor exists in a fantasy world of gods and monsters.
How can Thor, a demigod from an alternate universe, co-exist with Tony Stark, a human tech billionaire modeled on real public figures?
Fact is, you just have to go with that part of the premise if you’re going to enjoy this movie at all.
Building on previous Marvel movies, “The Avengers” has Loki (a gleefully smarmy Tom Hiddleston), the mischievous half-brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), teaming up with some particularly ugly and dangerous Asgardians to conquer Earth.
Loki crashes into the secret underground facility of S.H.I.E.L.D.S. and steals the Tesseract, a source of unlimited sustainable energy, right out of the hands of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Loki also takes control over S.H.I.E.L.D., agent Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and scientist Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard).
Fury, agent Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) must now assemble some superheroes to reclaim the Tesseract and defeat Loki. It would also be nice to save Hawkeye, if possible.
Assembling Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Thor is one thing. Getting them to work together proves much more difficult.
Each of these heroes is accustomed to dominating his world (and his own movie). They don’t like being challenged, even by other heroes.
The first two acts of the film chronicle the process of these heroes overcoming their egos and rivalries and becoming The Avengers.
Writer/director Joss Whedon has talked about the Avengers as being like a dysfunctional family, and that dynamic shines through, providing a lot of humor.
Watching Stark spar with Banner, one of the few scientists who equal Stark’s intelligence, and Captain America, who is as selfless as Stark is selfish, is a riot. That sense of humor is the one way in which “The Avengers” will unquestionably beat the inevitably brooding “The Dark Knight Rises.”
But the intra-team rivalries also make for some great action. Thor, Iron Man and Captain America battle it out in a terrain-destroying sequence which ends the only way it can: a stalemate.
That is merely a prelude to the climactic showdown, which looks great and is surprisingly satisfying.
Newcomers to the Avengers might want to watch the movies that have preceded this one, especially “Thor” and “Captain America.” The story in “The Avengers” grows directly out of those movies. Plenty of the humor also plays off of things in the Iron Man movies. You’ll enjoy this movie much more if you have already gone through those initiations.
“The Avengers” is thrilling, hilarious, supremely well-made, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I couldn’t ask for anything more from a summer blockbuster.
Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.