Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany (voice), Alexis Denisof, Jerzy Skolimowski, Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Arthur Darbinyan, Donald Li, Harry Dean Stanton, Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno (voice)
Written by: Joss Whedon, based on a story by Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
Directed by: Joss Whedon
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference
Language: English
Running Time: 143
Date: 05/03/2012

The Avengers (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

We Can Be Heroes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This new superhero movie, officially titled Marvel's The Avengers, is unlike anything else in history. Never before have five summer blockbusters been made over the course of four years to set up the characters for one super-blockbuster. Fan anticipation has been intense, ever since Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk hinted at the idea in 2008.

Now The Avengers is here, and, in many ways, it out-blockbusters them all.

The crucial element is writer/director Joss Whedon, best known for his beloved cult TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly." Whedon has an affinity for extraordinary misfits and affectionate humor, and a touch for balancing ensembles. This widely mismatched cast starts with the excellent thespians Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), and Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and touches on the awesome star power of Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury). 

Toward the bottom, there's Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor), both of whom were arguably cast more for looks than for personality. Among several other familiar faces in walk-on parts, Whedon has made the sublime choice of shaggy, wounded Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (and The Hulk), replacing Edward Norton. Whedon then works his magic and makes them all equals. If Downey steals one scene with dialogue, then Hemsworth gets a complementary scene of passionate rage. 

Of the five previous movies, last summer's Thor had the best villain, the impish Loki, and Whedon has effortlessly relocated him here. Loki's new plan is to use the "Tesseract" -- a glowing cube -- to invite evil alien armies to help take over the earth. The Avengers are called upon to stop him, but unfortunately, they don't yet know or trust one another.

Thus we get our very simple theme: all of these outsiders, each given a "terrible privilege," can become something greater by learning to work together. Whedon conjures up some beautiful moments of teamwork in the thick of battle, including one of Hulk slamming a piece of shrapnel into the neck of a giant monster, and Thor hammering it home.

This movie has it all: gorgeously clear action, humor, suspense, and even passion. It's not going too far to guess that no other summer movie will touch it. Yet The Avengers takes place in a dark world of heightened military fear, wherein a nuclear missile is launched as effortlessly as making a piece of toast. Fury admits that he has assembled the team as a form of stockpiling weapons against as-yet-unimagined threats, which ironically is a threat in itself. Oddly, this is quite the opposite of the themes in the two Iron Man movies. Whedon's reasons for treading this paranoid path are ambiguous and slightly puzzling. However, the world needs its heroes for many other reasons. During their trials they find their true selves, coming away ever so slightly stronger than they were as individuals. And all those misfit audience members -- shy, awkward, uncertain... i.e. most of us -- know exactly what the movie is really about.

Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.

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