The new superhero movie “Marvel’s The Avengers” is unprecedented, with five summer blockbusters in four years setting up the characters for this super-blockbuster.
Since “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” hinted at the idea in 2008, anticipation has been intense. And fans will not be disappointed. In many ways, “The Avengers” — written and directed by Joss Whedon, best known for the beloved cult TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly”— out-blockbusters its predecessors.
Whedon has an affinity for extraordinary misfits and affectionate humor, and a touch for balancing ensembles.
The widely mismatched cast starts with excellent thespians Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and touches on the awesome star power of Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).
Toward the bottom are Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor), both arguably cast more for looks than personality.
Among other familiar faces in walk-on parts is shaggy, wounded Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (and the Hulk), replacing Edward Norton; it’s a sublime Whedon choice.
Whedon works his magic, making them all equals. If Downey steals one scene with dialogue, then Hemsworth gets a complementary scene of passionate rage.
Of the five previous movies, last summer’s “Thor” had the best villain, the impish Loki, and Whedon effortlessly relocated him here. Loki’s new plan is to use the “Tesseract” — a glowing cube — to invite evil alien armies to help take over Earth.
But the Avengers, called upon to stop him, don’t yet know or trust each other. Therein lies the film’s simple theme: How these outsiders, each given a “terrible privilege,” can become something greater by learning to work together.
Whedon conjures up beautiful images of teamwork in the thick of battle, including one of Hulk slamming a piece of shrapnel into the neck of a giant monster, and Thor hammering it home.
This movie has it all: gorgeously clear action, humor, suspense and even passion. It’s not going too far to guess that no other summer movie will touch it.
Yet “The Avengers” takes place in a dark world of heightened military fear, where a nuclear missile is launched as effortlessly as making a piece of toast. Fury admits he assembled the team as a form of stockpiling weapons against as-yet-unimagined threats — ironically, a threat itself.
Oddly, the theme directly opposes that of the two “Iron Man” movies; Whedon’s reasons for treading this paranoid path are ambiguous and puzzling.
Still, the world needs its heroes for other reasons, and during their trials they find their true selves, coming away slightly stronger together than they were as individuals.
Shy, awkward, uncertain misfits in theatergoing crowds — i.e., most of us — know exactly what the movie is really about.
Marvel’s The Avengers ★★★½
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson
Written and directed by Joss Whedon
Running time 2 hours, 22 minutes