Comic book fans who’ve kept their eyes peeled to the Internet for every scrap of news since the film was first announced, will be delighted to know that The Avengers more than lives up to their tall expectations. The truth, in fact, is that even if you’re unfamiliar with the Marvel universe and the back-story of these superheroes, you’re still likely to find yourself cheering for the sheer spectacle that’s up on screen.
After successfully introducing movie-goers to Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, and Thor in previous films, the decision to get all these big guns firing as one was brave to say the least…given that each of them inhabits a different space, and comes with his own set of quirks and characteristics. But writer-director Joss Whedon, a lifelong Marvel fan, recognizes that challenge clearly, and uses exactly that to form the basis of his story – in order to come together to fight a common enemy, these superheroes must first sort out their own egos and differences.
That enemy, by the way, is Loki, the Asgardian demi-god who you might remember, was banished from the heavens at the end of Thor for his propensity to create inter-galactic mischief. The Avengers opens with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) stealing the Tesseract, a powerful energy source, with which he intends to open a portal to space to summon an alien army to help him enslave all mankind.
In response, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), director of international peacekeeping agency SHIELD, gathers his best men: billionaire industrialist Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), supersoldier Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans), god of thunder and Loki’s brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth), ace scientist and Hulk alter-ego Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), along with slinky Russian spy Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and expert marksman Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Together they must work as a team to thwart Loki’s world-ending scheme…but there’s that small matter of fighting amongst each other to resolve first.
Director Joss Whedon maintains a cracking pace, switching deftly between spectacular action sequences, and witty interaction scenes between the characters. Expectedly, Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man gets the best lines here, especially his clever putdowns to the others – to the red-caped Thor he asks, “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”, while to Banner he says: “I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.”
It’s particularly remarkable how Whedon ensures that the story remains rooted in the characters, without ever compromising on the punch-ups and the adrenaline-pumping set-pieces. The film’s third act for one, a thrilling alien-bashing finale on the streets of Manhattan, is pure fanboy wet-dream.
The performances are top-notch across the board, particularly from Mark Ruffalo, who plays the Hulk far more sympathetically than in the two previous films that starred Eric Bana and Edward Norton as the angry green fellow. Ruffalo nails the almost precarious relationship between Dr Banner and his alter ego, and delivers plenty spontaneous laughs.
In the end, The Avengers isn’t just the ultimate spectacle, but also incredibly smart and surprisingly humorous. I’m going with four out of five for The Avengers. It raises the stakes for comic-book movies hereon… Batman and Spider-man, are you listening?