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Review: THE AVENGERS (2012)

April 26 2012

Based on the Marvel comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Story by: Zak Penn and Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Denner, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson
US Release Date: Friday, May 4, 2012

In Short: Best. Comic Book Movie. Ever.
Recommended: HELL YES!!!!

CAPTAIN AMERICA: And Hulk? Smash.

This, friends, is the comic book movie that all other comic book movies wish they could be. It’s the pinnacle, the ultimate, the surely unsurpassable achievement in its particular oeuvre, a grand adventure full of humor, action, tension, fan service and an undeniable pathos. For anyone fearing that all the hype – years and years worth of hype – might cheapen or otherwise overshadow the final outcome, you may at last be at ease. Because the Joss Whedon! Avengers movie! is exactly as good as we all hoped it could be.

Maybe even better.

The Avengers, of course, are a superhero team made up of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Other heroes have come and gone amongst this happy few, in comic form, but here all you need to know is that this film serves as kind of a sequel to previous Marvel movies Iron Man (both 1 and 2), The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, bringing the billionaire Tony Stark, the scientist Bruce Banner, the demigod Thor and the recently defrosted World War II veteran Steve Rogers together to fight against an invading alien threat, alongside spies Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) and under the auspices of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Man, it’s awesome. AWE. SOME.

Oh, it’s by no means a perfect film. Whedon is perhaps just a shade too in love with S.H.I.E.L.D. technology, and the weight of portent given to some truly innocuous lines – especially the final line – feels a little off-kilter. Flashing up a computer image of Natalie Portman’s Jane (Thor’s love interest from his movie) felt a little like an apology, and the shadowy government hacks who attempt to control Nick Fury are by-the-numbers backroom power players of the Cigarette Smoking Man-school, ruthless and annoyingly cliché.

Everything else, though? Simply, outstandingly, without a shadow of a doubt incredible.

Just for fun, let’s talk acting. All our returning superheroes reprise their roles with ease, Downey Jr. once again a delight as the arrogant billionaire Stark and Evans stoic and earnest as the displaced Cap. The award for Most Improved has to go to Chris Hemsworth, whose Thor is given a chance to rock some deadpan wit here, and rock it he surprisingly does. Johansson, of course, is gorgeous and ass-kicking as ever in her Black Widow leather, but is happily also given new levels of intriguing backstory at which to hint and play out, and her friend Hawkeye is given somewhat more to do here than he was allowed in Thor, Jeremy Renner’s relaxed performance once again worthy of my beloved marksman’s bow and arrow. Clark Gregg’s mild-mannered Agent Coulson is adorable in his hero worship; meanwhile our main antagonist in this film is Loki, Thor’s resentful trickster brother, once again played with consummate creepy cool by Tom Hiddleston.

Oh, and hello again Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts! Aren’t you funny and great?

Of the newcomers, I will admit to having had some reservations about Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, as I had been a true devotee of Edward Norton’s turn in the role, but I am big enough to admit when I am wrong: he is terrific here as the mousey, mild-mannered science guy with a chip on his shoulder, and the uses to which his Hulk is put throughout the course of this movie has almost entirely changed my mind about his place in the Marvel Universe. It’s all that good. Elsewhere, How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders, as an agent of S. H. I. E. L. D., did a lot with a little –  enough to hope we see more of her lithe and loyal lieutenant character in Avengers 2.

Indeed, after a rollicking, outrageous, hilarious outing like this one, who wouldn’t already be eagerly awaiting a sequel? It is, unequivocally, the best comic book movie I have ever seen (and I’ve seen, well, all of them). More than that, it is my favorite movie so far this year – whew! I was so hoping Battleship wouldn’t continue to hold that title for too much longer – and one I cannot wait to see again.

Avengers assemble, they say? Audience assemble, I say! And assemble, and assemble, and assemble again…

(And make sure you stay through the credits for the now-expected next-movie teaser… Buffy and Angel fans will be particularly happy, even if they don’t quite get the somewhat obscure comic-y reference.)

Rachel Hyland

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