Avengers, The (2012)
Heroic Effort Succeeds
When it comes to ensemble casts, just getting a lot of big names together does not equal success. If your story and characters aren't as compelling as the names going along with them, you'll wind up with New Year's Day. Lucky for us, Joss Whedon has a great history of making compelling stories out of great ensemble casts: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly prove that. But a big-budget, comic book film is a lot different than a TV series - but Whedon has just as much success on the big screen as he had on the small one, and it makes The Avengers one of the most fun and entertaining films out of the large amount of comic heroes out there.
All the elements come together - S.H.I.E.L.D. is looking to unlock the secrets of the Tesseract - the cosmic cube with the possibility to provide unlimited energy. Unfortunately for Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and Stellan Skarsgård (head scientist Selvig) - Tom Hiddleston's Loki crashes the party using his super scepter to gain control of Hawkeye and Selvig and run off with the Tesseract for the sole purpose of starting an intergalactic war.
Fury has no recourse but to restart the Avengers Initiative - something hinted at since the original Iron Man. Starting with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson - looking svelte and sexy as usual), he goes about recruiting a whose who of "freaks" - Bruce Banner aka The Hulk, the super soldier Captain America and the "unbalanced" Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans reprise their roles, while Mark Ruffalo becomes the third man to take on the big, mean greenie and his calmer alter ego.
It isn't long before super-lightning powered Asgardian Thor shows up - mainly to reclaim his brother - but he didn't exactly announce his coming, leading to a great throwdown between him and Iron Man. Chris Hemsworth rounds out the super-heroic cast with his flowing tresses and massive hammer. So, the gang's all here - but how will they play together?
The opening is the slowest part of the film - which is the main reason I can't quite give the movie four stars. However, once they have everyone gathered (on a freaking flying, invisible Battleship!) - things start to pick up quite quickly. Here is where Whedon really shines: the dialogue is fun and witty - with Downey Jr. getting the best one-liners and quips, but he doesn't skimp on the action, either. Each hero has at least one great moment, though I have to give the overall edge to the Hulk who fights not only Thor, but Loki as well. Hiddleston also has an amazing turn as Loki - and he plays evil to the hilt, throwing out some great lines of his own while not subjugating everyone he can. There is a flaw in his play; It turns out all you need to stop Loki's mind control is a concussion - so luckily that means Hawkeye is back on the team as well.
It's good, as an entire race looks to turn New York City into a wasteland, but our intrepid heroes are ready to save the day. It does take the death of someone close to them to bring them all together for the final, epic battle - but I was betting that someone wasn't going to make it to The Avengers 2. And what a final battle it is - while you could make a comparison between it and Transformers, unlike Transformers, I actually felt invested in these characters. That's right, for an action movie, you actually get emotion and development out of these characters. It's doesn't have to go really deep, but certain scenes shed light on characters, turning them from caricatures and one-dimensional write-offs into actual people you care about.
The nearly 2 1/2 length actually seems to fly by - other than the somewhat slow opening, there is never a dull moment to be had. You either have action or snappy dialogue to make things flow smoothly. I can only hope that the inevitable Avengers sequel (hinted at during the credits - so don't leave early!) brings Whedon back on board. Without him on board, I just don't see things working as well. Of course we have Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and Captain America 2 to look forward to before then - and it will be interesting to see if any of those three can approach the benchmark The Avengers has set.
For all the praise that The Dark Knight gets for taking the character to a darker, grittier place. The Avengers manages to make a case for keeping things compelling while managing to throw in a fair amount of humor. The best part is, it doesn't feel out-of-place - it never feels forced or hammy - it feels right. I highly encourage watching this film to judge for yourself, because this raises the bar once again for how a super hero film should feel.