The granddaddy of all team-ups

“The Avengers” delivers on action, laughs and everything in between
by Willie Krischke

It’s been a long time coming ...Flash back to 2008, when “Incredible Hulk” rebooted the big green monster after Ang Lee’s misfire, and “Iron Man” breathed new life and energy into the superhero movie after “Spiderman 3” and “X-Men 3” had sucked all life out of the genre. (Another big movie that summer: “The Dark Knight.”  It really was a great year for superheroes.) Then there was an “Iron Man” sequel, not as good as the first one; “Thor” last spring; and “Captain America” last summer.  
Now, they all come together in what’s called a “team-up” in comic books lingo. Even in the comic books “The Avengers” was the granddaddy of all team-ups; seldom did heroes who commanded their own storylines combine for more than an issue or two. And the comic books had it easy; to get Captain America and Thor in the same place, you just have to draw them on the same page. Things get a bit more difficult in the movies, with all those actors and contracts and egos. The fact that “The Avengers” exists at all is a small miracle; the fact that it’s a solidly entertaining movie and not a trainwreck of personalities is a much bigger one.  
Joss Whedon writes and directs this meeting of the muscles. Whedon’s reputation is odd: he’s known as a veritable god of the fanboys, but in all reality, most of his endeavors have been pretty mainstream, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Serenity” and “Firefly.” Most people would recognize his work, especially in TV, even if they don’t know his name. Whedon’s also written a number of comic books, and he brings that sensibility to “The Avengers;” it’s a fantastically fun movie full of enough great, hilarious and action-packed moments that you’ll overlook its ridiculous plot and lapses in reason.  
The bad guy here is Thor’s brother Loki, who, when we saw him last, was banished to a space hole.  He’s found his way out somehow, made an alliance with lizard people, and is now seeking to conquer Earth. He’s pretty full of himself and prone to giving Shakespearean-toned speeches. He’s also in possession of some pretty cool toys, including a staff that allows him to control the minds of whoever he touches with it. He’s after the Tesseract, which is a lot like the Allspark in “Transformers;” Alfred Hitchcock would call both objects a MacGuffin (meaning anything that both sides of a conflict want.) He steals it with relative ease, and the Avengers spend the majority of the movie trying to figure out where he’s hidden it and what he intends to do with it.  
“Avengers” gets a lot of traction out of the clash of egos amongst the superheroes: billionaire playboy Tony Stark naturally doesn’t get along with straight-as-an-arrow Captain America, and isn’t afraid to say so. The same goes for Hulk and Thor. Most of the action in the first half of the film involves good guys fighting other good guys, and I have to say, it’s a ton of fun watching Thor and Iron Man square off.  
Mark Ruffalo steps into Edward Norton’s shoes to play David Banner, aka Hulk, when he gets mad, and he steals most of the scenes he’s in, especially when he’s big and green. Scarlett Johansson gets a lot more to do this time around as Black Widow; she made an appearance in “Iron Man 2” but seemed extraneous to the storyline. Here, she’s right in the middle of things. Jeremy Renner is Hawkeye; he also was briefly in “Thor” but gets to play both bad guy and good guy here. Featuring Hawkeye so prominently might have been one of Whedon’s biggest missteps in making this film. His superpower is that he’s really good with a crossbow, and it never stops being cheesy to see him whip that thing out and fire off a grenade-tipped arrow, or some such nonsense. You can get away with a lot of nonsense in comic books. You can get away with a lot of nonsense in summer blockbuster movies too, but not quite as much.  
The film culminates in a battle in, over and around New York City, pitting the six superheroes against a horde of lizards on flying motorbikes and a few giant caterpillar-looking things. The bad guys viciously attack office buildings, breaking a lot of glass, and the heroes do their best to a) fight them off and b) save innocent tie-and-business-suit-wearing people. It’s a great showdown, even if the bad guys are a little underwhelming (sure, six superheroes can take them on, but I think a battalion of Marines could probably do just as well), and Whedon does a fine job of cutting between four or five (or six) different battle scenes without completely confusing us. The climax is wonderfully satisfying and elicited a huge laugh out of the audience; it’s a brilliant moment in a movie full of very good moments.  
What makes “Avengers” work above and beyond most superhero movies (and let’s be clear, this is one of the top five superhero movies of all time) is the wit and energy Whedon brings to the script.  He clearly loves these characters beyond their cool abilities, and knows how to write so we will love (or at least like) them too. “Avengers” is about as close to a perfect summer movie as you’ll get – it’s big, loud, funny, clever and fast-paced and really, really fun. And it’s only just the beginning of May, setting the bar high for the rest of this summer. There’s plenty to be excited about (including a couple of other superhero/comic book adaptations) but if anything else manages to be as good or better than “The Avengers,” 2012 will be a summer to remember.

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