There are six certifiable heroes, each worthy of a feature film, each played by a superstar actor capable of carrying a feature film.
But there is no “I” in team. And there is no “I” in Marvel’s The Avengers, either.
It is the beauty of Joss Whedon’s superhero mashup, the finest superhero teamup film yet. The constantly evolving genre that is the superhero movie enjoys its finest two hours with The Avengers, thriving because of the skillful balancing act pulled off by a loaded cast of characters, and a healthy dose of unwavering comic book vision.
The Avengers builds on a quintet of previous Marvel films – Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk,Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger – and that is the film’s greatest strength. Marvel’s biggest blockbuster yet doesn’t need to spend too much time developing its characters.
We already know all about Captain America’s idealism and Tony Stark’s playboy ways – heck, we even know Agent Colson – so The Avengers can speed into its action. You’re into the plot immediately, learning of the return of Loki (Thomas Hiddleston) and his plans for the Tesseract and, naturally, world domination.
Comic book fans know that this is what the Avengers do; they save Earth from such cataclysmic events. But they always do so while constantly bickering amongst themselves, and that’s what they do here.
The rule-abiding Captain America (Chris Evans) and free-spirited Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) are true to their comic-book rivalry, challenging each other’s virtues throughout. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) spouts Shakespearean idealism, while Mark Ruffalo – the new Hulk thanks to Ed Norton’s unceremonious departure from the series – injects edgy wariness into Dr. Bruce Banner.
It’s these characters who generate the film’s true tension, not Loki. Hiddleston is a scene-stealer throughout, perfecting the God of Mischief’s wry grin and off-balance sense of humor, but that world domination plot is as trite as it comes: Steal Tesseract, insert some Loki soliloquies, unleash interplanetary military force on puny Earth.
But it’s the perfect vehicle for the interplay between Avengers to come to life. Instead of making us sit through some overwrought plot with synthetic tension, Whedon lets everyone watch the Avengers fight themselves, both in dialogue and in the field. Whedon has a strong comic-grounded vision for each character as well; only the bet-you-didn’t-think-I-could-fight-with-them superheroine Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) comes across as a stereotype.
The smart writing and witty dialogue – not to mention another brilliant turn by Downey as Stark – underlie everything, carrying you through the first half of the film just as much as the action. A taut script blends easy references to prior movies with comic-junkie inside jokes and good old-fashioned movie humor.
It all turns grave during one pivotal sequence that brings the ragtag team together with equal parts gravity, irony and fun. And from then on, the absolutely breathtaking action takes over, electric set pieces shining throughout the latter portions of the film.
Whedon’s clear action shots, some of which could easily be in comic book panes, will satiate Avengers fans and newcomers alike, and, even more impressively, Whedon finds a way to give every single star an ample amount of screen time.
You’ll leave the theater feeling exhilarated from the action (I’ve done so twice), but you won’t leave the theater immediately. No, throughout the Avengers leadup, Marvel has gradually conditioned everyone to sit patiently and await a post-credits teaser.
No spoilers here, but the fact that you won’t leave speaks to Marvel’s most brilliant accomplishment. The Avengers is as much brilliant film as it is the ultimate harbinger of the big-screen Marvel Universe. At the end, you will know that this is only the beginning, that Thor, Captain America and Iron Man will be back.
And at the end of this film, you won’t mind that one bit.