If you only see one movie this year over and over again, it’ll probably be this one.
After trying to unlock the secrets of the Tesseract (first introduced in Captain America, The First Avenger), the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (aka SHIELD) receives a visitor: Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who in typical arch-villain fashion promptly steals the Tesseract for his nefarious plans of global domination. The top guy in charge of SHIELD, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), then begins assembling a dream team of super heroes to counter the threat, including Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) aka Black Widow, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) aka Captain America, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) aka the Hulk, and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) aka Iron Man. As the film progresses, they also recruit Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Clint “Hawkeye” Barton (Jeremy Renner) to the cause, but before they can battle Loki and an army of alien invaders, they’ll have to figure out how to stop fighting among themselves first… and we get to watch.
Joss Whedon understands. Whether you’re a comics fan from back in the day or new to the superhero party once Robert Downey Jr. suited up, writer and director Whedon knows not only what makes an ensemble film of heroes work but also what we want to see. He already knew what it took Michael Bay three Transformers movies to figure out: give the good guys a reason to fight and let them get to it in the most entertaining way possible. Mix well with a little witty banter and clever character moments to keep the exposition moving along so there’s a good reason for all the violence, and all the production problems solve themselves. Even at its most heroic, the characters still feel very human and relatable, right down to the last frame after the end of the credits. Mr. Whedon was reportedly given advice from Iron Man director Jon Favreau that “the machine will not let you fail” since teams of fantasy filmmaking experts would do or create whatever was needed to make his vision of the film work (and does it ever). Oh, and there’s a helicarrier! Woo hoo!
Naysayers for this critic-proof spectacle really don’t have much of a leg to stand on here. Sure, you’ll get more enjoyment out of the movie if you know who these people are, but you don’t have to be a Marvel comics fan or even a comic book fan to “get” it. After ensemble shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly,” and “Dollhouse,” Joss Whedon knows how to juggle characters and squeeze the most character out of a small scene or even a few words. In addition, the film effortlessly flows from one action piece to another, taking just enough time between money shots to set up the next treat. At no time do you get the impression that anyone is standing around waiting to say a line; in fact, most of the time, our poor heroes are terribly overwhelmed, creating a genuine feeling that, for all their super powers and experience, they’ve been set up to lose, and yet they keep fighting because no one else can. It’s all in there, every reason a great comic or popular comic book character exists, and Whedon makes it look easy.
While the entire cast is exemplary and perfectly cast for their roles, a few standouts are due for mention. After two recent previous attempts to bring the Hulk to life onscreen, Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Joss Whedon’s take on the character finally brings the big green guy out we’ve all been waiting to see. After playing second banana to Nick Fury in Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson gets a meaty part to go with her black jumpsuit and adds another strong female character to the Whedonverse stables. Finally, there’s the man who can be credited for bringing the Avengers together, SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who’s only super power is doing his job and never taking no for an answer. The ending is also the perfect setup for all the planned and announced sequels for future Marvel comics movies while suggesting the villain for another Avengers film (who didn’t see that one coming?), but the real question many fans have is this: when are we going to get a Mark Ruffalo/Hulk film?
(a four skull recommendation of out four)