You can’t say you weren’t warned. We’ve been building up to The Avengers for what seems like an eternity, with previous Marvel movies such as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and The Hulk all teasing this eventual super-group collaboration. Now those characters have been joined by a couple more who never quite got movies of their own: Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). It all takes place under the watchful guise of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, the man all actors should aspire to be (if you believe the New York Times).
Fury has every reason to be furious: Thor’s pesky brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston, upping his game considerably) is threatening Earth’s very existence by harnessing the power of the Tesseract (which might as well been called a Macguffin — such is the level of plot we’re dealing with here). Loki is a piece of work, leading Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to dryly note that “he’s adopted.”
And that zinger actually gives away the dirty secret to The Avengers, which director Joss Whedon and studio Walt Disney might not want you to figure out: the movie is at its best when the interplay between the characters dominates the frame, rather than the largely cumbersome action sequences. The standout performer, naturally, is Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man) who is so charming, it’s as if he’s channeling Humphrey Bogart as scripted by Aaron Sorkin. But also surprising is Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner — The Hulk — with credit due to whomever worked out that less is more when it comes to the “enormous green rage monster” (another Stark line).
Most critics are falling over themselves to praise Avengers. “It’s an enjoyably absurd and absurdly enjoyable extravaganza, both delirious and surrealist,” notes the Guardian. “Yes, Hulk will smash, but he’ll also feel. Don’t struggle if you do too,” concludes Time Out New York, while our very own superhero Richard Corliss concurring: “The movie guarantees fast-paced fun without forcing anyone to think about what it all means, which is nothing.”