9.5 out of 10 cherries
Writer-director Joss Whedon has achieved a stunning box office smash with The Avengers, which broke records when it debuted in theaters this past weekend. This thrilling blockbuster brings the Marvel comic book universe to life, with super-spies, Norse gods and superheroes galore. Does the film really deserve all the praise and attention? Every freaking bit of it! This may be one of the greatest superhero flicks in cinematic history. That’s why Whedon’s my hero.
The adventure begins with the mysterious spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. trying to tap the tremendous power of the Tesseract, a strange device of alien origin. When the Tesseract suddenly opens a doorway into another world, in slips Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the trickster god of Norse mythology. Exiled from his former home, Asgard, and allied with the Chitauri, a race of warlike creatures, Loki steals the device, brainwashes some of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s own agents and plans an alien invasion of Earth. Can S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assemble a superhero team in time to stop him?
The key to Whedon’s success: creating a magical balance between inspired screenwriting, outstanding performances and excellent special effects, plus a genuine passion for the superheroes and super-villains invented in the 1960s and 70s by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee (who makes a hilarious cameo appearance).
Whedon joins forces with screenwriter Zak Penn (The Incredible Hulk) to create the film’s engaging characters and incessant witty banter. Even if you didn’t catch Marvel’s earlier films, such as Iron Man and Thor, Whedon and Penn do a terrific job of weaving together the heroes’ backstories and bringing out their distinct personalities. Despite the complex plot (it’s no simple matter to invade Earth, folks), the script lays out the scheming and subterfuge pretty clearly. The movie races along at a satisfying clip, and as Fury’s superhero team learns to work together, the action builds to an impossibly satisfying final battle.
Whedon’s film also features dynamite actors to match its explosive script. Many cast members are reprising familiar roles from previous Marvel productions, like Robert Downey Jr. as the deliciously snarky Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Chris Evans as the heroic, earnest and totally cut Steve Rogers (Captain America). Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor, hunky god of thunder. Scarlett Johansson sizzles as Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow); a deadly combination of beauty and brains with a “specific skill set.” The sexy spy makes such a great character that it doesn’t matter that Johansson’s Russian is awful. Jeremy Renner also hits the mark as Clint Barton (Hawkeye); when the suave super-archer snaps his bow to the ready, it’s just a little exciting. Mark Ruffalo shines in his dual role as mild-mannered genius Bruce Banner and as the Hulk. He smashes very well indeed.
Against such mighty heroes you really need a dashing villain, and Tom Hiddleston fits the bill perfectly as Loki. He delivers delightful archaic speech with a Shakespearean swagger and brings a seductive mix of cunning and arrogance to the character. Hiddleston also cuts a fine figure in his Norse god costume, and the saucy helmet with its curved horns makes his dark hair look just fabulous.
Add in some amazing special effects, and you’ve got the ultimate superhero movie. The space-age technology looks awesome, from Stark Industries’ sleek floating computer displays to the Chitauri’s monstrous snake-like assault ships. Explosions abound, and cars are constantly sent flying end over end. Whatever parts of New York City survived last week’s Safe are definitively flattened in The Avengers.
Joss Whedon pulls off what few directors can: he creates a superhero epic that focuses pretty equitably on six well-rounded and fascinating heroes. Tony Stark does seem to gab a lot more than the others, true, but the beauty of the film is watching the team’s strong personalities slowly mesh. While there’s no shortage of action, the movie is also character-driven. The fighting never eclipses the human drama; rather, the one acts as an extension of the other. It’s pure and utter storytelling genius.
See this epic movie on the big screen, in 3D in an IMAX theater ideally. The bigger the better! And stay all the way through the end credits to catch two bonus scenes. They’re worth the wait.
- Elisa Mader