‘Avengers’ packs an entertaining punch
Shedding the dark and gritty skin that’s trendily grafted its way onto most comic book movies, director Joss Whedon has taken a page from the old school: fun.
Watching the “The Avengers” is like reading an actual Marvel comic book, only without the page turning and disdainful looks from your fellow jurors.
It represents the golden age of comics, when fantasy, lightheartedness and Spandex aplenty vividly trumped gritty realism. Some of those darker counterparts are superb and their film adaptations brilliant, but “The Avengers” is a breath of fresh air in a genre teetering on the cusp of staleness.
Not only that, but it’s also an über-sequel, following on the coat- or cape-tails of four separate, standalone Marvel movies, all of which served to set the scene for this battle royale, but without sacrificing their own individual narratives.
For those not in the know, the Avengers are a super-group of superheroes who fight crime, injustice and, uh, monsters from space, among Marvel’s rogues gallery of supervillains.
Sure, it sounds silly, outlandish and altogether far out, but Whedon (TV’s “Firefly”) gleefully celebrates all of the above, simply asking viewers to suspend disbelief for 142 minutes of pure cinematic escapism.
Building on the characters and events introduced in its five predecessors – “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Iron Man 2,” “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” – “The Avengers” quickly picks up where those left off.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, “Pulp Fiction”), director of the special military agency, S.H.I.E.L.D., arrives at a military test facility to learn that the latest project has gone terribly awry.
A cosmic energy source called the Tesseract (as seen in “Thor” and “Captain America”) is stolen by Norse god turned supervillain Loki (Tom Hiddleston, “War Horse”), whose banishment to oblivion by his brother, Thor (Chris Hemsworth, “The Cabin in the Woods”), has left him with feelings of rejection and not-so-latent hostility.
Having struck a deal with some malevolent aliens, Loki will use the Tesseract to transport those extraterrestrial ne’er-do-wells to Earth, where they’ll destroy the population and leave the survivors under Loki’s rule.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, Fury jumpstarts “The Avengers Initiative,” a plan to bring together a group of extraordinary heroes equipped to thwart a global crisis – fish-out-of-water super-soldier Captain America (Chris Evans, “Sunshine”), billionaire playboy and engineering genius Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., “Weird Science”), superspy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, “The Prestige”), troubled scientist Bruce Banner, aka The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, “The Kids are All Right”), Thor and archer extraordinaire Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”).
The only catch is each of these heroes has their own quirks and agendas, some more dangerous than others, and Fury learns that getting them to work together is just as challenging as thwarting Loki.
But that’s the fun part. “The Avengers” is truly a character ensemble, and the players retain the memorable qualities that made these heroes so compelling in the first place.
Whedon doesn’t water them down for the sake of brevity, instead fleshing them out and giving each a respectable amount of screen time.
Reprising his popular take on Tony Stark (Iron Man), Downey Jr. gets the laughing lion’s share of the jokes, but that’s not to overshadow Ruffalo’s Hulk in, perhaps, the green giant’s best depiction yet.
As Banner, Ruffalo brings a menacingly calm, but likeable, charisma to the character, where you know something dangerous (“Hulk smash!”) is brewing behind those bespectacled eyes.
Johansson’s Black Widow, who appeared in “Iron Man 2,” is given a proper back story and allowed to develop into more than just a pretty face in a hip-hugging leather cat-suit.
And, most importantly, we finally get to see Jackson’s Nick Fury kick some villainous ass. And with a bazooka, no less.
Whedon succeeds in getting the most out of his many characters without sacrificing pace, action and runtime, and it works brilliantly. By the time the film’s explosive climax hits the streets of Manhattan, we actually give a hoot about these characters and can’t wait to see them save the world.
We also can’t wait to see what’s next.
“The Avengers,” rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 12-B or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.