By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
Wow! Did you hear that deafening sound? Perhaps, due to the fact that The Avengers is already a mega-hit overseas (trumping the U.S. release by one week), it’s the blast of an international box office rocketing skyward. Or maybe the explosion is that of a starter gun, signifying the opening day of the summer blockbuster season … a date that continues to crawl back toward April. (It will be no surprise when at some year in the near future, we’ll be celebrating New Year’s Eve and the first film of summer simultaneously.)
Before we consider such questions as “How did Edward Norton turn into Mark Ruffalo?” and “Seriously, has Lou Ferrigno worked his way onto the payroll of every single Hulk project from inception?”, we need to know: Does this Joss Whedon creation deserve all the globally buzzy brou-ha-ha it’s reaping? Well … yes, mostly yes. And a little no, as you’ll read below.
But first, to keep you dangling in the mode of the cliff-hanger, let’s review the set-up in a super-concentrated nutshell: The evildoer, one Asgardian demigod named Loki (Tom Hiddleston, reprising his role from Thor), makes a deal with some dude in a hood with bad teeth, bringing to mind Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars franchise. (Please: how many prior epic action series can we handle?) Then it’s off to earth, with Loki on a mission to capture the Tessaract (a cosmic cube of unfathomable power, previously introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger). Once the Tessaract opens up a portal from Loki’s world to ours, the bad-ass Chitauri army can invade our planet, enslaving all earthlings, and Loki will rule forevermore. Say it ain’t so. And yet … if Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) fails in his attempt to get all the heroes in his e-Rolodex to show up, dressed in their best regalia, their props and gadgetry in top form … it will be so.
Pulling off the hat trick of finally answering to the embedded teases in five prior films — all intersecting in the storyline of The Avengers – is a superhero feat in and of itself. Obviously, credit goes to the original comic book “Avengers” creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who first published the work in 1963. But credit should also go to Marvel producer Kevin Feige, who’s overseen this film as well as Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. When Nick Fury saunters on screen during the end credits of 2008′s Iron Man, telling Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), “You’re part of a bigger universe; you just don’t know it yet,” it’s a foreshadowing of events that we haven’t been able to appreciate until now.
As for the filmmaker of the hour, Whedon (The Cabin in the Woods) has succeeded in juggling the directorial styles of all the prior films, yet is still able to weave in his own particular brand of sly humor amid a great big mélange of thrilling 3D/CGI action, a smart plotline and disparate characters. His voice is best echoed by the irrepressible Downey as Stark, quick-witted and wily as ever, who finds his intellectual match in Ruffalo’s beautifully downplayed Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Their mutual respect is well-delineated, working in opposition to Stark’s quick dismissal of goody-two-shoes Steve Rogers/Captain America. Whedon doesn’t forget Rogers’ alienation in a 21st century world, incorporating that element with an effective sensitivity.
The outlier of the group is Jeremy Renner’s intense, somewhat morose Clint Barton/Hawkeye, entrusted to guard the Tessaract with his special recurve bow and deadly silver-tipped arrows. Perhaps the sole cinematic character in filmdom who could take on The Hunger Games‘ Katniss, Hawkeye has a special place in his heart for Scarlett Johannson’s Natasha/Black Widow. Incidentally, Natasha’s first scene in the film is a delightful highlight … but this reviewer has no intention of spoiling it by describing it further.
It’s interesting to note that unlike the other super-powered characters, the two half-brothers from the planet Asgard have singular names. Chris Hemsworth is simply Thor, and Hiddleston is Loki. These solitary identities are reflective of their more simplistic personalities – and when they quarrel in the second act, the scene turns flat. Actually, much of the middle bogs down with excessive infighting among our heroes, carrying on protracted battles that aren’t particularly suspenseful. It’s obvious that the team will have to overcome their individual egos and face the real enemy; sooner, rather than later, would have been better.
The other minor negative note goes to the delineation of Loki. With a costume that looks like it was stolen from Willy Wonka’s closet, this supposedly superbad baddie seems more silly than scary. Compare, for a moment, the intrinsic evil that thrums through the Joker (both Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson); or Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin; or Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull. While Hiddleston probably hoped to convey a charming smile that masked a black heart … all we get is the smile. This lightweight rendition is nowhere near what we need from a fellow who we’re supposed to believe just might overcome every last Marvel superhero in Stan Lee’s universe.
Back to the praise of all that’s Marvel-ous: Let us not forget to salute the one-eyed man doing heroic battle. Kudos to the brave Nick Fury, who has to fight the worst enemy of them all: Mindless bureaucrats. Shiver. Gasp.
Rating on a scale of 5 Emma Peels & John Steeds: 4
Release date: May 4, 2012
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Screenplay by: Joss Whedon
Story by: Zak Penn and Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Clark Gregg
Running Time: 142 minutes