Marvel’s fans, particularly those of the die-hard comic-book variety, are a patient bunch. For 4 years, they watched and waited in nervous anticipation as the studio baited them with post-credit teasers that worked to slowly draw together the characters from five different superhero box-office successes. Marvel’s build-up to The Avengers was the most drawn-out in Hollywood history; since 2008’s Iron Man, through 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel was slowly putting the pieces together for one colossal blockbuster. The hype around it was massive, perhaps more than any other film ever made. And it fell to Joss Whedon, a relative unknown to mainstream audiences, to make a film a capable of living up to it. Whedon, a geek god thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Serenity and Dollhouse, had never even been near a movie of this magnitude before.
Luckily, both for The Avengers and his career, there’s not a trace of jitters from Whedon here; he directs with the eye of a true fanboy, making sure that there’s not a dull moment between the heavy-duty, jaw-dropping CGI battles that appear often, but not too often, throughout the film. He also has a keen eye for humor; this is the funniest Marvel movie by far, and the audience I saw the film with back when it was in theaters roared so hard and so often that entire lines of dialogue went unheard. And that’s a shame, because the screenplay is a gem, giving every character, even the one described as “a giant green rage monster” by his fellow heroes/misfits, time to shine along with some killer one-liners. Take for instance the wonderfully snarky and egotistical Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) , who taunts his teammates even as he quietly pulls them together, nicknaming long-locked, arrogant Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) “Point Break” and “Shakespeare in the Park,” while christening expert archer Hawkeye “Legolas.”
The Avengers begins with a bang, as eye-patch-wearing super-spy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, finally in a substantial role after being delegated to second-long post-credit teasers for far too long) barely escapes a top-secret SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) base being brought down, in true blockbuster fashion, by the diabolical Norse god of mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has returned to wreak havoc on Earth after being chased off by his brother Thor last year in the latter’s stand-alone film.
Unfortunately, the movie has no choice but to reel it back a bit after the opening, as the superheroes are introduced. Among the freaks of nature Fury attempts to pair together in order to stop Loki from destroying the world are WWII-era super-soldier Captain America (Chris Evans), re-awakened after 70 years on ice, the beautiful, deadly and and aptly-named femme fatale Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and good-natured scientist Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has an unfortunate tendency to destroy everything around him as the monstrous Hulk when angered. So many characters need time to develop, and Whedon knows that, taking the time to flesh them all out suitably. As the superheroes come together, it soon becomes evident that the biggest threat to the team is not Loki; rather, it’s their own lone-wolf tendencies and inflated egos. Some of the better scenes in the movie involve the heroes clashing with each other; a forest-set brawl between Iron Man, Thor and Captain America results in the utter destruction of the forest itself, while a thrilling sequence taking place aboard a massive airborne SHIELD base sees Black Widow fleeing a vengeful Hulk.
Ultimately, the Avengers find their way to New York City, where a massive battle ensues between the six teammates and an army of aliens called the Chitauri led by Loki. The effects are Oscar-worthy, and the action seamlessly follows all of the characters as they work to evacuate innocent New Yorkers and repel the invaders. In spite of this, however, the finale is the movie’s weakest link. As the robotic space-ships ravage the city, there is an unmistakably Transformers-esque vibe; the aliens are expendable unknowns and the film does nothing to change that. What saves the scene is that, unlike Transformers, this team of heroes is endlessly entertaining to watch, whether it’s the Hulk doing some good old-fashioned smashing or Hawkeye shooting arrows from the rooftops with enough accuracy to make Robin Hood blush. It’s no wonder that, when the camera pans across all of the heroes preparing for battle in the middle of the war-torn city (the money-shot to end all money-shots), the audience erupted into cheering and applause.