The Avengers

You probably know the basics already: An impossibly powerful energy source, a Norse god or two, the original 1940's superhero, a noted assassin, a narcissistic billionaire playboy inventor, and the world's best archer. Okay, that last one ends up sounding a little lame summed up in so few words, but the effects of a well-placed exploding arrow should not be underestimated. Oh, and there's an alien invasion. I almost forgot.

Robert Downey Jr. is back as Iron Man, of course, and Scarlett Johansson, also last seen in Iron Man 2 is still the Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff. This is the easiest list of previous credits ever, actually. Chris Evans is still Captain America, while Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk was last reviewed here in Shutter Island. And Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Clark Gregg as Agent Colson, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and Stellan Skarsgård as Dr.Selvig are all back again after being in Thor. There, done. That saves a lot of linking later.

The fact that basically all the characters are previously established is the only thing that saves this film from utter confusion, since I doubt they could get away with releasing a movie that's six hours long. If they weren't allowed to do that for the Harry Potter franchise, a mere Marvel Comics blockbuster won't get the chance. Even so, it's still a really huge ensemble cast, and while Robert Downey Jr.'s agent clearly won the battle over who would squeak into the "main character" spot, everyone gets at least a few chances to shine, and that isn't easy. At times, you can almost feel the script straining to manage it all.

It's the sort of problem I talked about earlier -- If we rate Thor as ten on an overall superhero scale, then the Black Widow and Hawkeye are somewhere around three, and Captain America four. Obviously better than, say, Color Kid, who'd be a one on this scale, but that's still a pretty serious discrepancy, and it takes some doing to make it work. Therefore the script has to bend and twist a little to give them all useful roles. Captain America can lead, of course, and use tactics, so that's fairly simple to manage in his case, though the poor guy certainly has an uphill battle getting anyone to listen to him.

While the aliens are invading -- I almost forgot about them again -- Hawkeye has to have a high perch where he can shoot arrows and notice things other people miss -- things which in some cases they really should have noticed, but they can't, because Hawkeye needs something useful to do. It's easier for the Black Widow, who's really good at getting people to talk, so she gets to do fun things like worming information out of Loki. Actually, now that I write that out, it seems terribly improbable for any human to trick anything out of the trickster god, but oh, well. It's superheroes, the whole script is fundamentally improbable from the start.

Let me talk about the aliens before they slip my mind again. They're the Chitauri (I thought everyone was saying Tritauri, but then, the audience was annoyingly loud at times), an established Marvel alien race who are very warlike, and a lot like the Skrulls, which probably explains why the rumors said the Skrulls would be the villains. They're supposed to be able to change shape, but they don't here -- they're entirely unsubtle and just want to kill things. And thanks to an uneasy alliance with Loki, they want to kill humans.

I thought Mark Ruffalo was a really good Bruce Banner (though I've not seen any other Hulk movies, and yes, that is a little odd for me), but the person I went to the movie with didn't agree. We did, however, both agree that it was a highly entertaining flick, and that we wanted to smack certain members of the audience who insisted on laughing and laughing and laughing at the one-liners until they drowned out the dialogue that followed. Yes, it was funny when Iron Man called Hawkeye Legolas, but let's not get carried away.

Four and a half out of five. There were some very nice human touches, which often get overlooked in the hero extravaganzas. There's a good camaraderie between Hawkeye and the Widow, for instance, which parallels the comics, and even Tony Stark seems like a downright ordinary guy at times. He wants to go eat at this little Shawarma place down the street, even though he doesn't know what it is. Turns out it's this middle eastern dish that looks vaguely like a Greek gyro sandwich, though it usually contains different types of meat and is more often served with garlic sauce than cucumber sauce.

And do I need to tell you not to leave before the credits are done? There's a teaser scene towards the beginning of the credits, but also another at the very end, and while the second one is much more low-key than the first, I liked it a lot. Also, for the five or six guys who were sitting behind me, loudly discussing the mid-credits teaser scene, I hope you realize by now that Galactus wasn't in it. I tried to tell them, but they wouldn't listen.

Yeah, it's awfully stagy, I know, but you need the group cast shots.


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