THE AVENGERS Review

So, it has begun. The Summer movie season kicks off with what is likely the most ambitious film in recent memory. When Samuel L. Jackson showed up after the credits in 2008's "Iron Man" the reality of there actually being an "Avengers" film seemed like complete fantasy. Never had a studio developed individual projects to work towards something bigger. It was clear Marvel wanted to do something unprecedented though and they have stuck to their guns and pulled it off. Each of their four stand alone heroes including Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America bring their talents together along with side notes Black Widow and Hawkeye to form a serviceable army against Thor's demented half brother Loki. "The Avengers" is the kind of film that not only a comic book fans can get excited about, but for those that simply love the super hero genre or action adventure movies in general; there is something here for everyone. One doesn't even have to be overly familiar with the previous films for them to understand everything that is going on here (but it certainly would help). In bringing this group of diverse but gifted individuals together director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) has crafted what is a pretty standard story for the team to execute, but he does it with such style and wit he is easily forgiven as he has brought together what had no reason to exist. He has made the impossible possible and given the fans and interested newbies a movie that is action-packed, consistently funny, and motivated by more than simply seeing these cool characters fight a bad guy. What "The Avengers" demonstrates best is the understanding of its audience and to that regard it is nearly flawless.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) initiates the assembly.
What was always going to be interesting about this film from the beginning was how one would accomplish getting all of these characters together for a common purpose. This has been a plot point Marvel president Kevin Fiege and his team have clearly been concerned with as well. While the strand of Tony Stark's ability to go on living after his close encounter with a bomb left pieces of shrapnel close to his heart has always dealt with the arc reactor technology there is also the concern of an ancient energy cube called the tesseract. We saw at the end of "Captain America: The First Avenger" that Howard Stark found the tesseract after the Captain went down and likely invented a technology that was inspired by the cube's energy. This provides reason as to how Stark was able to create the principle tech-based arc reactor in a cave. Howard Stark created humanity's approach to the technology while still aspiring to match that of what belonged to places such as Asgard. In this way of thinking, the cube rightfully belongs to Loki and his new friends he's made after being cast out of Asgard by his father Odin and brother Thor. The catch here is that since WWII the tesseract has stayed in the possession of earth, but more specifically in that of S.H.I.E.L.D's hands. The secret government agency that has been trying to put the Avengers initiative into action for years. When S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) finally gathers the able scientists, including "Thor's" Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), to unlock the mysteries of the artifact it also seems an opportune time for Loki to steal it and take over the world.

Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett
Johansson) encounter things they weren't trained for.
The mythology of these movie universe's coming together to form one coherent story is what makes this movie so highly anticipated. What makes it so exciting to watch. There could be no plot at all, but it would still be a treat to see Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) talk science. It would still be awesome to see the God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) square off against Banner's Green rage monster. It is engaging to watch Captain America aka Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) adapt to his new surroundings and still be able to take charge and lead his team. Good thing for us is that the movie does not rely only on the fact that it is simply cool to watch these guys interact with one another but also provides strong dramatic tension between them and their enemy. As the assembly begins, Loki has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D, brainhwashed Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Selvig as well as the tesseract. Fury recognizes the situation and sends his best agents, including Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson out to recruit his team. Captain America, having just woken up from a 70-year slumber is naturally up for anything, while Stark and Banner are a little harder to convince after previous dealings with the agency. Thor, who arrives on earth to stop his brother inadvertently becomes a part of the team after an early misunderstanding with his future comrades.

The Avengers from Left: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans).

The story unfolds rather nicely and offers each of the characters a moment to shine. While I was surprised how underused Hemsworth as Thor seemed to be, this was the only real shaft in the script as even Hawkeye was given as much of a conflict as Thor. I was surprised in this regard mainly for the reason that Loki is our villain here. That is Thor's brother and he is having to take out someone he has lived his whole life believing was someone he could love and trust. This difficult situation is hinted at in different moments throughout, but the complexities are not investigated. Granted the film is 2+ hours and has a roster of main characters, but still, if there was one thing I could change about the experience it would be that. The other main concern I had going into the film was that of how Mr. Ruffalo would take over the role of Banner/Hulk. With him being the only actor not reprising his role from a stand-alone film I wasn't what you would call worried, but rather concerned with how he would mesh into the role as he and Ed Norton don't strike me as similar-styled actors. While there was slight disappointment in Thor's storyline, Banner became a more integral part and pal of Stark's than I imagined and their shared dynamic was flawless. The Hulk was also handled properly here and though I feel in the minority when I say I really enjoyed 2008's "The Incredible Hulk" this is definitely an improvement of where the big green guy's solo films may be headed. Downey Jr. does his thing as the perfectly sarcastic and narcissistic Stark and doesn't end up stealing as much of the show as you'd expect. Evans improves his Steve Rogers and makes him still the most earnest and honorable of soldiers while allowing just the right amount of new world thought into his persona.

Director Whedon was nice enough to weave in a strong character for Johannson's skillset and gives Tom Hiddleston as Loki room to flourish as he brings a menacing if not at times laughable evil to the occasion. While in the beginning we wonder what significance his army has to the story and who provided them, where they came from is never really explained. Though, if you stay just mid-way through the credits you'll receive a hint as to why they were included here and what they are setting us up for. I would have complained about a lack of justification, but after witnessing this extra scene and realizing the level of planning that has gone into this universe and franchise it is clear that there will be plenty of justification to follow. What we have witnessed here is simply the tip of the iceberg it seems.

The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) performs his signature smash.
"The Avengers" is a grand spectacle of a film and delivers on every cylinder I expected it to. Sure there were things dismissed and looked over that I was hoping would be included, but knowing that this is not the pinnacle of what Marvel is trying to do, but merely a starting point makes me all the more excited. I mentioned earlier that what the best part about "The Avengers" was is the fact that it understands its audience and its wants and needs. This comes across I think because Whedon never let himself forget who this was for and more importantly, what he would have wanted to see as a viewer. He is clearly a beloved fan of the source material and to be given the freedom to realize this project on screen was no doubt nothing short of pure joy mixed with a little bit of pressure. For this film, this introduction to all of these heroes as a team is one of not just fun, but pure entertainment. When people began making movies that were inspired by the imagination this is where they someday hoped we would be. This is that epitome of what the cinematic experience should be incarnate. It is fun, breathtaking, and completely bombastic in the best of ways. It builds to the final battle (which we've all seen clips for in the ads) and it delivers what we have wanted from these characters in their own regards. This is not the meeting of two enemies, it is all out warfare between an army of outcasts and a race whos purpose is yet unknown. There is something extremely engaging about how this all came together and something magical about watching it all unfold. All we can wonder is where it might go from here and with no hesitation will I commit to follow these heroes.