The summer movie season officially kicks off with The Avengers, Marvel's grand culmination of its last four years of superhero movies, skillfully assembled by fanboy idol Joss Whedon from four distinct Marvel franchises into one fantastic whole.
The villain is also a familiar face; Tom Hiddleston's Loki, ever the mischievous one, was banished to the cold reaches of space when last he faced off with his half-brother Thor on Asgard. Now he's bent on revenge and has an army of angry Chitauri (generic hostile space aliens as far as we're concerned) to back him up. But before our eclectic band of super saviours can defeat scores of extra-terrestrial war machines, they need to defeat Loki's devious mind games, and that's where The Avengers offers up the most spark. The interactions between the characters (who don't always get along) are expertly handled on the page and on the camera. Credit Whedon for writing and directing with such character-specific precision, and credit the actors for rising to the occasion of knowing exactly what role to play and never upstaging one another.
Not enough can be said of the action, which gets points for quality AND quantity. At two-and-a-half hours, the film is not brief, but it feels that way due to the lengthy but exhilarating set-pieces, complete with sensational awards-worthy effects and a bombastic sound palette.
The Avengers is a rare and unique case where it's less appropriate to judge it as a stand-alone film than to judge it as the accomplishment it represents. No sequel or spinoff has ever taken the time and effort to lay a groundwork as extensive and of such consistent quality (excepting Iron Man 2) as Marvel has for this superhero all-star game. Starting back in 2008 with Jon Favreau's pitch perfect take on Iron Man and Louis Leterrier's improvement on The Incredible Hulk, and wrapping up in the summer of 2011 with Kenneth Branagh's kitschy Thor and Joe Johnston's deliriously enjoyable Captain America, the challenge Whedon faced was unlike any other; how to seamlessly integrate these established characters into a full-bodied ensemble piece wherein no one superhero drowns out another? The script provides equitable attention to each principle, each one getting a moment to shine but never at the expense of the team. With so many ways this could have gone wrong, for Whedon to have pulled it off without a hitch demands high praise.
***1/2 out of ****