Director Joss Whedon brings his trademark smarts and the sass – honed on iconic TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly – to this long-awaited big-screen teaming of some of cinema’s most recent superhero subjects, and the result is 2+ hours of big, boisterous summer-movie entertainment that’s likely to satisfy die-hard comic fans and newbies alike.
The titular collective is made up of some familiar faces – Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) – alongside relative newcomers Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the former possessing a temper that turns him into the Hulk, and the latter a skilled assassin plagued by her shady past. Joining everyone, but by far the least interesting of the lot, is Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a bow-and-arrow-toting killer who isn’t particularly engaging or charismatic. Oh well.
The group is brought together by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) after a valuable energy source called the Tesseract is stolen by Thor’s slick-haired, wannabe-megalomaniac adoptive brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston, relishing his role as the villain), who zips through a space portal, lands on Earth, swipes the Tesseract and promptly announces his enormous killer army is en route to take over the planet. Game on!
Blessed with a spirited pace and even more spirited and super-slick dialogue (the intra-team bickering, especially between Iron Man and Captain America, is often laugh-out-loud funny), The Avengers starts with a bang and never really slows down. One by one, we’re introduced to the characters and, where needed, given a quick refresher course on where each one was left in his respective stand-alone film(s). The effects are consistently impressive and the story, though essentially quite simple (i.e., stop the bad guy!) and one audiences have seen infinite times before, is nonetheless packed with a ton of clever gems and memorable moments, including one brilliant scene where the Hulk cuts short Loki’s pontificating as only he can.
Renner is the only real weak link in an otherwise great cast (including supporting players Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow and Clark Gregg) that’s blessed with strong chemistry – key in an ensemble venture like this one. His Hawkeye is, unfortunately, boring and flat, and there just something missing in his performance that, by contrast, oozes in abundance in the work of co-stars like Downey and Evans.
Regardless of which of the franchises serves as your entry point for this stellar joint effort (though, if you’re going to see only one beforehand, Thor would probably be the most helpful), Marvel’s The Avengers delivers an excellent ride that, based on the film’s final within-the-credits scene – isn’t over just yet.