The Avengers (<---the comic)? You bet, and that's where 2012's The Avengers rides into town to open the summer blockbusters.
For those not familiar with the Avengers' lineup, here goes, a refresher course in badass superheroes. The plot synopsis is next, but I wanted to start with a listing of these characters. The biggest and baddest? Well, I guess that's a personal choice, but I'm starting with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Tony Stark in real life, a rich, eccentric playboy philanthropist. Joining him are Captain America (Chris Evans), a WWII hero come back to fight in 2012, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), an other-worldly Norse god, and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), scientist Bruce Banner post-gamma ray accident. Rounding out the group are two assassins and special agents, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a brutally efficient expert in hand-to-hand combat, and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a pilot and marksman with bow and arrow. Good enough? That's just the start.
Director of espionage and intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives at a remote secure facility in the desert as a time portal opens up and brings an unwelcome visitor. It is Loki (Tom Hiddleston), half-brother of Norse god, Thor, and he intends to wreak havoc on Earth. Loki steals the all-powerful Tesseract -- a pure, clean and unmeasurable source of energy -- and intends to use it to take over the planet. With nowhere to turn and no mortal, normal solution, Fury turns to the only individuals he can in a plan dubbed the Avengers Initiative, a collection of "freaks" all with unique, bizarre powers. With these different personalities and talents, can the group put their differences aside long enough to save the planet?
This is a summer blockbuster, definition of basically, director Joss Whedon's film raking in over $200 million its opening weekend alone, and that's just the United States. It is a big, big movie, but a good big movie, and that means everything. It clocks in at 143 minutes total and even without the most pointed of stories manages to be entertaining from start to finish. 'Avengers' is in no rush to get anywhere. It is a great popcorn movie. The action is great to watch, shot on a huge scale and using CGI but never that ridiculous-looking 'Oh, look, it's CGI' type reaction. Genuinely funny with a handful of legitimate laughs, full of action and great characters, this will not disappoint fans of the Iron Man movies, Hulk, or Thor. The Avengers very much so lives up to its admittedly rather high expectations.
A good script is one thing, and having the talent to execute it another thing entirely. The cast here are movie stars who can act, not just movie stars. The obvious star is Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark, bringing this character to life perfectly the same way he did in Iron Man 1 and 2. Amidst a sea of solid actors, he manages to stand out, delivering countless smarmy, smart-ass one-liners. I'm also a fan of Evans too, and he's in close second as Captain America in terms of memorable superheroes. None of that is to say the rest are disappointing. Ruffalo and Hemsworth are excellent in smaller parts, pieces of an ensemble. Johansson seems a little out of place, but watching her in a leather catsuit puts any of those questions to bed. Renner too doesn't have a ton to do, but as one of the rising stars in Hollywood, it's one more solid, worthwhile part.
Not enough? Along with the always reliable, always worth watching Samuel L. Jackson, Hiddleston is a great maniacal villain you love to hate, Clark Gregg runs with his chance at more screentime as SHIELD agent Coulson and never looks back, Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother) plays another SHIELD agent, Stellan Skarsgard is the brilliant scientist duped into working for Loki, Harry Dean Stanton as a security guard who meets post-rage Hulk, and Powers Boothe has a quick part as a member of the World Security Council. Oh, can't forget about Gwyneth Paltrow's quick appearance as Pepper Potts, Tony's girlfriend. Not too bad of a cast, huh?
The action is impressive -- more on that later -- but what I liked most was the team aspect of the Avengers. Who's the leader? How will they work together? Can they? The script has countless scenes that throw them together in groups of two and three, five and six, and just lets them go. Yes, they're all different people, but they are in fact fighting together. Jackson's Fury has a great scene late when he has to convince the remaining Avengers to band together, the movie on the whole taking a turn for the dark side as push comes to shove. Their interactions -- both dramatic and humorous -- are a pleasure to watch. Then there's that little kid, primal thing that kicks in. A fight among Iron Man, Thor and Capt. America? Oh, hell yes! A brutal, knock-down fight between Thor and Hulk? Sign me up. The specialist, expert team aspect sounds obvious that it would work (and it does) but these characters clicking into place makes the movie particularly memorable.
Oh, by the way, there's crazy amounts of amazing action. I mentioned earlier watching CGI action gets old quickly, but that's not the case here. The CGI for one, looks real. Crazy thought, isn't it? The movie never goes long without a fight/action sequence, but the best is saved for last, Loki's minions unleashed through a universe portal on New York City, and all that stands in front of them is the Avengers. It goes on for most of 45 minutes but the time flies by. The whole movie does in that sense. Highly entertaining, funny and dramatic, memorable action, and a lineup sheet of some of the coolest superheroes and characters around. Go see this.
The Avengers <---trailer (2012): *** 1/2 /****