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Revenge Is a Party Platter Best Served Cold

Marvel's The Avengers/Marvel Avengers Assemble (2012)

Zade Rosenthal/Marvel

Comic-book fans have eagerly awaited a cinematic outing for superhero troupe, the Avengers, ever since Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced in 2005 that Marvel would effectively take ownership of their universe and begin producing its own films. Five films later — two installments of “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor” — and the time has finally come for our heroic misfits to join forces and fight a common enemy in Joss Whedon’s “Marvel’s The Avengers” (released in Britain as “Marvel Avengers Assemble”).

With the necessary origin stories put to bed, Mr. Whedon wasted little time pandering to the uninitiated, thrusting his audience headfirst into an impending crisis at the secret peace-keeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D. The mysterious and incredibly powerful tesseract — last seen being recovered from the ocean floor by Tony Stark at the end of “Captain America” — is misbehaving. Self-activating, it opens a doorway into another dimension that delivers intergalactic badass Loki (a wickedly brilliant Tom Hiddleston), who is seemingly intent on harnessing the tesseract’s power to achieve a very old-school form of world domination, replete with capitulation and kneeling.

Now, this evidently won’t do and so Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson playing, well, Samuel L. Jackson) activates the Avengers initiative, rounding up the would-be saviors to fight for the greater good. Mr. Whedon, so renowned for his admiration and indeed subversion of genre tropes, thankfully applies his wickedly sharp pencil to the screenplay. He’s aware that his audience identifies with and admires a superhero as he or she is at a base level: a human being and a flawed one at that. And so, Mr. Whedon was careful to peel back the layers of his players, revealing flaws and weaknesses that will have us rooting for these plucky underdogs before long.

Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (a show stealing Robert Downey Jr.) are at loggerheads throughout, while Mark Ruffalo’s Dr. Bruce Banner is as vulnerable as his Hulk is hulkish. Mr. Whedon, too, ensured that the less super of our superheroes, Hawkeye (go-to action man Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (the delectable Scarlett Johansson) and even cult fave Phil Coulson (a brilliantly observed Clark Gregg) are afforded crucial roles in the development and indeed disruption of Loki’s evil plan.

Mr. Hiddleston’s Loki — harnessing a hint of Paul McGann’s “I” after one too many — is in cahoots with an army of Mumm-Ras and — but for all his intelligent poetic musings and archaic idealism — would be a very interesting and different type of threat did he not so resemble a demented goat. Regardless, Loki is a formidable and conniving foe; and Mr. Hiddleston absolutely nailed it.

While the first act struggles to get going, bogged-down as it is by the necessity to round up the troops, Mr. Whedon was keen to show what he could bring to the party and suitably ups the ante for the remainder. Impressive set pieces — particularly a woodland brawl between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Iron Man — demonstrate his craft and are visual gold, while the denouement is a veritable assault on the senses.

That said, this drawn out and bombastic second act ensures that the Avengers, Messrs. Ruffalo and Downey Jr. excepted, begin to resemble their 1-D comic-book counterparts, sidelined by the fact that the wryest and most show-stopping moments are all afforded to Iron Man and the Hulk. Perhaps frustratingly, Mr. Whedon seemed to revert to genre type toward the film’s conclusion; as evidently, even he couldn’t bring anything particularly new or novel to the systematic destruction of Manhattan, which has been done to death.

Yet, ultimately “The Avengers” is a veritable and unashamed crowd-pleaser. Mr. Whedon — by lending the picture a pithy wit — elevated his work above much of what has come before and delivered the requisite explosions and unexpected deaths with aplomb. He betrayed an inherent understanding of what fans of the Marvel canon expect; and he succeeded in vastly over-delivering on what was already a very appealing promise.


Opens on April 26 in Britain and on May 3 in the United States.

Directed by Joss Whedon; written by Mr. Whedon, based on a story by Mr. Whedon and Zak Penn; director of photography, Seamus McGarvey; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek; music by Alan Silvestri; production design by James Chinlund; costumes by Alexandra Byrne; special effects supervisor, Dan Sudick; visual effects supervisor, Janek Sirrs; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 22 minutes. This film is rated 12A B.B.F.C. and PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/the Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Stellan Skarsgard (Professor Erik Selvig), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts).


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