‘The Avengers’ is one of the strongest superhero films in years

Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans in 'The Avengers' — Photo courtesy of Zade Rosenthal

There’s not much more that can be added to the hoopla surrounding the meteoric success of The Avengers, Joss Whedon’s exquisite superhero movie featuring some of the most beloved characters from comic book lore. In terms of entertainment, the movie is engaging, thoughtful and intense. It’s not the usual brainless fare that comes out in the “summer” movie season (even though summer is a month away).

The story, also written by Whedon, is funny and original. The acting, featuring the talents of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson, fits the film perfectly. Each of these actors has carved out a finely tuned character, especially Downey, who still finds fascinating aspects of the Tony Stark role.

The special effects are big and flashy, but never get ahead of the story. The ultimate sequence on the streets of New York City is one of the strongest superhero finales in history. When the Avengers are finally given the chance to “assemble,” they wreak some wondrous mayhem. The Hulk (Ruffalo as Bruce Banner), who doesn’t appear in his green glory until late in the film, is the headliner here. When he goes angry, there’s simply no stopping him. But each of the heroes gets to have some fun. Whether it’s Captain America (Evans) shielding his way to victory or Thor (Hemsworth) laying down some hammer justice, the action is nonstop and dizzying.

As a director, Whedon is able to bring all of these disparate elements together into a coherent collection. Story and characterization, usually in short supply in blockbuster films, matter to Whedon. There’s as much time spent on the villain of the story (Tom Hiddleston’s Loki) as there is on the humorous aspects of being a superhero in the modern world. He finds a near-perfect balance between tongue-in-cheek comedy and intense, almost theatrical action.

Inevitably there are some minor quibbles: Loki’s army remains a nebulous group of aliens, and there’s never a true understanding of their ambitions and overall plans. The ending is dazzling to behold, but it features a couple superhero cliches that should be retired by filmmakers, rather than embraced (shoot the mothership and all of the aliens will fall to the ground!).

But, honestly, finding fault in The Avengers is a pointless activity. For 95 percent of the 143-minute duration, audience members will be enthralled. It’s difficult enough to create a superhero film featuring one hero and one villain. But to have so many characters and so many plot occurrences, it’s a real challenge to keep everything sensible and on course. The movie is mostly aided by its stand-alone prequels (most of these superheroes have had their own movie in the preceding years). This way, when The Avengers begins, there’s no need to reenact everyone’s origins story. Thor can fly in straddling a lightning bolt and we know who he is and what to expect. We understand Stark is a technological genius with an ego the size of Montana. We know Captain America is a newbie to the 21st century. There needs to be some subtext on Black Widow (Johansson) and Hawkeye (Renner), but they fit nicely into the overall portrait as well.

The Avengers is not the best movie of the year, but as far as popcorn entertainment goes, nothing comes close. Whedon has created a modern masterpiece that will forever be remembered as the superhero movie that got it right.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • The Avengers

  • 2012

  • Written and directed by Joss Whedon

  • Based on a story by Whedon and Zak Penn

  • Starring Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner and Tom Hiddleston

  • Running time: 143 minutes

  • Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *