I’m generally not a big fan of translating superhero comics to live-action films. Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, so far, have tended to collapse under their own weight. Bryan Singer’s X-Men should have been titled Wolverine, and was a waste of some stellar actors. (Don’t ask me why, but the old Superman and Batman TV series tended to work better.) But, I threw caution to the winds and decided to go see Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.
Well, guess what — the Earth is under threat of alien invasion, spearheaded by that prototypical loose cannon, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki happens to have an army at his beck and call, provided by his nominal overlords (who don’t really understand what they’re dealing with). The catalyst is the Tesseract, under the care of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D. So Loki steals it — it happens to be the key to opening the gate between universes, so he sort of needs it. He also manages to subvert Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Fury only sees one solution — he calls together the Avengers to deal with the mess, which they do with great gusto and a fair amount of inter-team sniping.
Take it as given that this one is fun, although it’s substantial enough that it can’t be passed off as mere escapism. (Although considering the state of the world, escapism certainly has its uses.) The team doesn’t really get along all that well — there’s history, which we get enough of to make sense without having to suffer through potentially lethal backstory. Some of the best exchanges are between Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr., who gets my vote as best at throwing zingers totally deadpan.) Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) needs some persuading, although he’s dealing with his anger issues better these days. Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is in — she’s the one who has to find Banner and talk him into it, although she’s not real happy about it — she was working on something else. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is not sure he wants to be involved, but Loki is, after all, his brother. Altogether, it’s a crew with a lot of edges.
The story is workable, if predictable (in broad outlines, at least — yes, of course the good guys win, but there are a few wrinkles thrown in), and Whedon has no compunctions about throwing in some beautiful comic throw-aways. This one got a laugh, mostly, I think, because Thor is such a stick:
Bruce Banner: I don’t think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.
Thor: Take care how you speak! Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard! And he is my brother.
Black Widow: He killed eighty people in two days.
Thor: . . . He’s adopted?
Needless to say, there’s major destruction involved here, about half of it inflicted by Loki’s army, the other half by the Avengers. The effects are flawless, and the action sequences are non-stop.
This is Whedon’s show: he not only directed, he co-wrote the story and wrote the screenplay. There are a few passages that could have been deadly, but he pulled it off beautifully — you don’t even notice that it’s almost two and a half hours.
(Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures, 2012; running time 142 minutes)