Joss Whedon’s superhero throw down jump starts the blockbuster movie season in style
Joss Whedon, the man behind beloved TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, has unleashed a ton of unadulterated popcorn movie fun with his marvelous multi-superhero extravaganza, The Avengers. It’s everything you would expect from a comic book adaptation that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it delivers plenty of action along with an equal amount of superhero temper tantrums.
The story starts off with a nifty heist as Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) revenge-obsessed brother, steals the ultimate energy force in the universe, the Tesseract, from the super spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secret fortress. You can bet Loki’s plans for the Tesseract are not earth-friendly, and S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is determined to get it back, not just to save the planet but for his own secret agenda.
During his raid on the facility, Loki uses his powers to control the minds of Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawkeye played by Jeremy Renner) and scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and bring them to the dark side, helping Loki build a cosmic bridge to bring an army to overtake earth.
To stop Loki, Nick Fury must bring together his dream team of superheroes. On paper the combination of Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), All-American good guy Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), the aforementioned demi-god Thor and Dr. Bruce “Hulk” Banner (Mark Ruffalo) sounds like the only logical choice.
However, put all these alpha personalities together and you can bet there will be friction of cosmic proportions. The alpha males spend a lot of time butting heads and fighting over who should take charge, except for the bemused Dr. Banner, who is determined to keep his Hulk persona on the sidelines — like that’s going to happen. The wisecracks back and forth are so dead-on hilarious, I imagined that Serenity captain Malcolm Reynolds was just out of the frame feeding the Avengers his best one-upmanship zingers.
If there is one quibble with The Avengers it is that with all the comedy threads binding together the action set pieces, the film has no sense of real danger. Not every superhero movie has to be The Dark Knight, but some edginess and emotional bite would have elevated the movie even more.
The unexpected star of this superhero dust up is Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk persona. He manages to give the character a believable sense of both dread at what he is capable of unleashing, yet an equaling delightful sense of excitement when he finally decides it is time to release the beast inside. (Quick sidebar: the hilarious cameo by beloved character actor Harry Dean Stanton involving the Hulk is priceless.)
Johansson and Renner are nice additions to the superheroes-on-film universe, and the stark contrast of Tony Stark’s raging ego and the patriotic Capt. A, as embodied by Downey, Jr. and Evans, is beautifully realized. Also, Hemsworth’s Thor is a lot more fun in this movie than he was when he was introduced in his own movie last summer.
Writer-director Whedon delivers plenty of fun, one-liners and exciting action, making The Avengers an impressive kick-off for the summer movie season.
The Avengers ***1/2 (out of four)
Ten Favorite Superhero Movies
Since The Avengers is out now with The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man due later this summer, I thought it would be fun to recall my ten favorite superhero movies. These are personal favorites — we all have them — so feel free to disagree and post a list of your favorites in the comments section.
1. The Dark Knight — After elevating the comic book hero movie to new heights of emotional connection and angst with Batman Begins, writer-director Christopher Nolan took the genre to the next level with this film, fueled by the brilliant performances by the late Heath Ledger and Christian Bale.
2. X-Men — Writer-director Bryan Singer did a brilliant job of unleashing mutants at the multi-plex with a compelling story, aided by the terrific cast top-lined by Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen
3. Batman Begins — As noted above, Nolan brought a true sense of dread to the movie comic book universe.
4. Superman — I had to go old school with Richard Donner’s take on the most popular comic book hero of all time as embodied by the late Christopher Reeve, who wore the spandex without a hint of parody but a deft comic touch.
5. X-Men 2: X-Men United — Singer continued his X-cellent crafting of the mutant super hero universe with his sequel.
6. Spider-Man — I’ve liked all of the Spidy movies, but you tend to remember with fondness your first time, so Sam Raimi’s first effort gets the nod.
7. Captain America — I really enjoyed the WWII ambiance of Joe Johnston’s Capt. America origin movie. Chris Evans and Hugo Weaving provided a great dynamic as the hero and villain.
8. Hellboy — You’ve gotta love a red hero with horns who has a soft spot for cats.
9. Watchmen — Director Zack Synder really put the “anti” in anti-hero in this dark look at heroes who have been rejected by the people they tried to save.
10. The Toxic Avenger — I just felt like being silly with this last selection, a funny low budget spoof of the superhero genre with good action sequences.
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