Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) left, and Captain America (Chris Evans) are shown in a scene from "The Avengers."
Five films in four years, plus an even longer wait for legions of comic book lovers—and the payoff, "The Avengers" (or "Marvel's The Avengers," as the studio insists on calling it), delivers all anyone could hope for.
Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) all are here, mostly ready to take on each other at first, then teaming up to battle Thor's brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and the army he intends to unleash upon the people of Earth.
More importantly, writer-director Joss Whedon makes sure the people behind the silly names and costumes always are present, as well [-] Tony Stark (Iron Man), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Bruce Banner (the Hulk), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) and Clint Barton (Hawkeye).
So while the sheer spectacle—this is a vividly shot and designed film, even in dreaded 3-D—is almost overwhelming, especially during the climactic smackdown in which seemingly half of New York City is reduced to rubble, it is the quieter character moments that give the movie its beating heart, that make us care about whether these superhumans (or demigod, in Thor's case) can come together and cause us to think there is a chance they could be unsuccessful once they do.
The plot concerns Loki's theft of the Tesseract, a little, glowy, blue, cubey thing that could be the key to unlimited energy and which Loki uses to open a portal and bring his army to Earth. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of the super-secret organization S.H.I.E.L.D., reactivates the Avengers Initiative, bringing together the heroes of "Iron Man" (2008), "The Incredible Hulk" (2008), "Iron Man 2" (2010), "Thor" (2011) and "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011), plus Hawkeye, who popped in for one scene in "Thor" and really got the short end of the stick in the superpowers department—he's just a dude with a bow and arrow, and he's standing side by side with a demigod and a huge green monster; it's like a Major League Baseball team drafting a player out of tee ball.
Chris Hemsworth, left, and Chris Evans are shown in a scene from "The Avengers."
Whedon, who has experience juggling large casts on TV shows such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly," keeps all the players involved, and that includes S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), whose sharp, dry wit is put to great use. Because he's been defined so clearly over the course of two previous films and because he's played by Downey, the movie kicks into a higher gear whenever Tony Stark is on screen. At the same time, smart writing and solid performances all around prevent him overshadowing the rest of the group.
Whedon has a well-earned reputation for writing strong female characters, and Johansson benefits from that, Black Widow coming more alive here than she ever did in "Iron Man 2.”
The director also proves to be a master of tone, lightening the mood with comedy and never forgetting this essentially is a comic book come to life while still taking the characters and their world seriously. That is the picture's greatest strength.
Calling "The Avengers" the Best Superhero Movie Ever Made is a little overblown, though it easily is Marvel's best outing since the original "Iron Man" and more than justifies the years of buildup.
Greg’s Grade: A-
(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference. 142 minutes.)