By: Michael Andronico
The film that Marvel fanatics and action movie-goers alike have been waiting years for is finally upon us. After making individual movies focusing on The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, Marvel Studios and director Joss Whedon have done something unprecedented in comic book cinema and assembled The Avengers, a mega-sequel combining the plots of the heroes’ respective films.
For the uninformed, The Avengers are a superhero super-squad comprised of the aforementioned icons (and many, many more) that began as a Marvel Comics series almost half a century ago. Save for Mark Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) all return from their previous films, as do Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who made cameo appearances in Iron Man 2 and Thor respectively.
The plot to The Avengers is simple, and doesn’t require any nerdy knowledge of the comic or previous films to follow. Thor’s ill-intentioned brother Loki has traveled from space to secure the Tesseract, a powerful energy source that the villain believes will grant him control of Earth. Having previously belonged to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, the Tessaract prompts Fury to assemble a team to seek vengeance on Loki and reclaim the device. Lots of explosions follow.
What makes Avengers truly shine, outside of the obvious eye candy of superheroes beating bad guys up in grand fashion, is the character interaction between the film’s stars. Thor, Steve Rodgers (Captain America), Tony Stark (Iron Man), and Bruce Banner (Hulk) are four wildly different individuals forced to work together quickly, and the inevitable tension shows. Classic Marvel Comics conflicts such as the wealthy, future-driven Tony Stark versus the old-fashioned Steve Rodgers, The otherworldly Thor learning to live with Earth-dwellers, and Bruce Banner versus his inner Hulk all shine brightly on screen. And they don’t take a vast comic knowledge to appreciate.
Avengers has a fantastic supporting cast, most notably Clark Gregg’s portrayal of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Agent Coulson. The man who formerly made small appearances in previous Marvel films as the one recruiting The Avengers is now a quirky, memorable, and fully developed character. Johannson does a fine job reprising and furthering her role as Black Widow, and Renner’s Hawkeye is solid, if lacking the brash cockiness of his comic-book counterpart.
But back to the eye candy. In hindsight, the action of the Captain America, Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man films was simply a tease for the opus of The Avengers. Battle scenes can last up to 30 minutes, but never get exhausting, largely thanks to each hero getting sufficient screen time doing what they do best. As per the norm in films such as Iron Man and the Spider-Man trilogy, seeing heroes and villains duke it out while destroying cities in the process seems to never get old, and Whedon takes this concept to its visual climax.
The Avengers is a success on many levels: It’s got great references to both the comic books and the previous films to reward those who have invested in the series, and it has well-developed characters who interact with each other believably. Most importantly, it’s just a great superhero movie.