The Avengers.

While I still think Prometheus will be my fave film of this summer, The Avengers will probably be a really, really close second. This movie is everything everyone has said it is — a great action flick, enormously entertaining, the preeminent popcorn movie. And it’s all the more awesome because of the way it was brought about.

For the reading audience living in caves up until this point, I’ll point out that The Avengers, while a standalone movie in its own right, is also a sequel to four different Marvel movie properties — Iron Man (1 & 2), Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Incredible Hulk (no, not that well-intentioned but ultimately over-dramatic Ang Lee flick with the Crayola Hulk via Industrial Light & Magic). The proposed “Avengers Initiative” (hinted at in after-credits scenes in the above-mentioned films) promised something really big was on the horizon for each of these heroes as we got to know them — a forgone conclusion to each of their stories. Several years ago, when the first X-Men movies came out, this sort of thing would’ve seemed preposterous — what you’d only see posted on some internet forum (I’ve read several such fanblurbs, actually). But in the post-Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter (and current Dark Knight) cinematic landscape, a campaign leading to culmination like The Avengers almost seems logical. It still took major balls for Marvel Studios to pull it off, and was one whopper of a Tetris piece to land into place.

Such a proposal would also have to deliver a movie that not only fired on all cylinders as far as the separate franchises it grew from were concerned, but would also stand on its own legs. As we learned from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, having too much to juggle in the same film can easily weaken all the whole production — and drive Peter Parker to go Emo. Bad juju for any movie, but really bad juju for some lead up to like The Avengers  has been. So, box office success-wise — not necessarily based on any artistic merit — The Avengers would have to have the right combination of The Dark Knight and The Towering Inferno. It, of course, delivers on that level and much more.

Again, for the cave-dwellers (and comic-phobes), The Avengers is based on the comic series created by The Man Himself, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, one of the greatest artist/writers of comicdom. The movie uses a similar plot device to the first issue of the comic — with the Asgardian trickster Loki (Tom Hiddleston) seeking to undo the workings of his brother, Thor (Chris Hemsworth). In the movie version, of course, the odds are significantly ramped up and Loki seeks the enslavement of all humankind. His actions involve the Tesseract, otherwise known as the Cosmic Cube in the print Marvel mythos. In the filmic realm it was last seen in Captain America: The First Avenger — under the care of Tony Stark’s father, Howard — but is here seen to be under the protective eye of S.H.I.E.L.D., headed by perennial badass Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). It is Fury, upon the Tesseract’s theft, who sounds the call to the other leads, from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers (the erstwhile Captain America, Chris Evans), his own operatives Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Coulson (Clark Gregg), and the ever elusive Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Of Jeremy Renner and Hawkeye I will not spoiler, but needless to say, his character comes into play (at least, for the good guys) late in the game.

I won’t go into detail over the movie’s plot (which honestly doesn’t involve a lot), since its strength truly lies in the characters and their inter-development. At this point I really need to commend writer/director Joss Whedon. The man who gave us the television series Firefly (before Fox snatched it away after one season — don’t get me started on that) and its cinematic sequel, Serenity (his directing debut) — not to mention a show about some girl vampire slayer — has truly found his niche, or at least Marvel may have found their niche in him. Nothing against Jon Favreau or the directors behind the other films, but Whedon has come into his own realm with The Avengers. Not only does each character get the spotlight and healthy bit of definition onscreen, but their relationships feel genuine and honest. Snarky Tony Stark and the humble Bruce Banner nerd out in the laboratory, while the overgrown boy scout Steve Rogers goes to blows against the noble demigod Thor. And don’t get me started on The Hulk.

Okay, do. The movie goes on for some time before he’s first seen, the wait made considerably less painful by the amazing Mark Ruffalo, who in my opinion blows Edward Norton (from The Incredible Hulk) away as the affable Banner. But when he did show up, I really lost it. This is the Hulk I’d dreamed of seeing when the Ang Lee movie came out, and then again when The Incredible Hulk was  brought to the screen — but to no avail. This Hulk isn’t a weird shrinky-dink, nor does he look so garishly green as to mistake his very existence. Most importantly, he looks like Banner — but plays onscreen like a mobile nuclear warhead full of destruction. I honestly felt the same way as I did with Heath Ledger’s Joker — somebody finally got it, understood what the character should be about. I have to admit it, I teared up when Cap turned to him and gave the order: “Hulk, smash.” I will say no more.

Basically this one’s a no-brainer. Not that the story’s that vacuous, but that this movie must be seen. Don’t worry about the 3D either, it was done post-production and probably sucks (I didn’t bother with it). Besides, as explosive as the action onscreen will be, there won’t be time to notice. So, go forth, assemble and exccelsior!

9/10

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