Believe it or not, “Marvel’s The Avengers” — the much-hyped superhero epic that arrived on movie screens everywhere Friday, in formats ranging from Digital 3D, RealD and IMAX 3D — delivers just about everything it promises and more.
That "more," however, has both positives and negatives. To dispose of the negative, at 143 minutes, this film is just too long and, like so many action movies, offers too many high-energy battles that turn out to be anti-climactic before the final showdown arrives.
The positives are a snappy screenplay by director Joss Whedon (“Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”) from a story by Whedon and Zak Penn, Whedon’s spot-on direction (except for that overindulged hyperactivity), and a cast of superheroes with super egos whose constant bickering and vying for position makes for some of the funniest dialogue around. After all, how do you keep a bunch of costumed idols known for their individual feats of derring-do in line?
That’s exactly the task undertaken by S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) when he assembles his superhero taskforce to reclaim the tesseract (don’t ask: some sort of vital energy source) from the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston), an Asgardian prince who serves as the movie’s supervillain and whose mission, by the way, is to free the world from freedom.
With his commanding vocal presence, Fury makes a perfect ringmaster for Whedon’s three-ring circus — and its elaborately dressed performers: Robert Downey Jr., reprising his screen persona as Tony Stark/Iron Man; Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America; Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/the Hulk; Chris Hemsworth as Thor; Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow; and Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye. The familiar Clark Gregg appears as all-too-human agent Phil Coulson, and we even get to glimpse Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony Stark’s reliable Pepper Potts.
If you like Downey’s smart-alecky humor in the “Iron Man” (and “Sherlock Holmes”) movies, you’ll love it here, where it’s put to good use ridiculing the all-too-heroic Captain America and devising plots to control his cohorts. Johannsen kicks it (literally and figuratively) as the Widow in her black bodysuit with a soft spot for Hawkeye, who is temporarily disabled by the nasty Loki. There’s family feuding between Thor and half-brother Loki, and Director Fury’s motives come into question along the way.
But the role that really sets this film apart from its source material belongs to Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner, a self-effacing physician just trying to avoid his uncontrollable alter-ego, The Incredible Hulk, or as he refers to him, “the other guy.”
As always, the Hulk’s physical transformation is a fantastic special effect, but what’s truly special here is the sensitivity Ruffalo brings to his crazy condition. Kudos to the actor, and the writer-director for what could be an Oscar-nominated performance.
If you’re looking for transformer-like special-effects and battles to save the world from evil — some set on and over the familiar streets of New York — you’ll find more than enough of them in “Avengers.” After all, Loki, as he likes to boast, has “an army.”
“The Avengers” counters this with the fact that they have The Hulk. Turns out, that’s an advantage in more than one way.
This film opened Friday, May 4, nationwide.