With a cast of literal heavy hitters that includes Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and Captain America, plus the more vulnerable Hawkeye and Black Widow, "The Avengers" registers in the red on the Nerdgasmatron.
That's the gist of the message delivered by many of the mostly positive advance reviews of this Marvel Comics all-star assembly. True, the so-called fanboy may have smoke blowing from his ears like a cartoon steam whistle when he sees Scarlett Johansson in skintight leather put the hurt on a computer-generated space alien; but when a movie sells close to $160 million worth of tickets in the U.S. in advance of its opening date, it's time to stop suggesting that "nerds" or "geeks" or "fanboys" are responsible for the supremacy of the superhero at the multiplex.
Clearly, these thrilling yet comforting modern myths of peril and rescue and gods and champions appeal to many, many moviegoers who couldn't tell you that Comic-Con takes place each summer in San Diego, or that the original comic-book lineup of "The Avengers" included a guy named Ant-Man. When Thor's unyielding hammer meets Captain America's mighty shield at the climax of one of the film's impressive fights, the reverberating claaang will summon novitiate and convert alike, by the millions. "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" -- as the superteam was dubbed in the comics -- will earn the nickname by dominating the summer box office, and its uncertain whether even Batman (who returns July 20, in "The Dark Knight Rises") will be able to overpower them.
"Marvel's The Avengers"-the Super Hero team up of a lifetime, featuring iconic Marvel Super Heroes Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and ...
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference
Length: 142 minutes
Released: May 4, 2012 Nationwide
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Joss Whedon
Writer: Zak Penn, Joss Whedon
"The Avengers" -- or "Marvel's The Avengers," as the title appears onscreen -- will deserve its success. The movie lives up to the hype. Directed and primarily written by "Buffy the Vampie Slayer" creator and professional über-fan Joss Whedon (also the writer of the current horror homage "Cabin in the Woods"), "The Avengers" is a witty, spectacular, action-packed triumph. Unlike many of its genre predecessors, it does everything right; it's entertaining and coherent for newcomers, yet true to the spirit of its source material. It's rich with the superhero angst and personality clashes that were a Marvel innovation, but does not neglect the no-holds-barred hero-vs.-hero throw-downs that were a speciality of the so-called "Marvel Age of Comics."
Yes, True Believer, "The Avengers" gives you Black Widow vs. Hawkeye, Iron Man vs. Captain America and the Hulk vs. Thor. What's most impressive is that Whedon works these set pieces and the other flawlessly executed special-effects highlights into a smart and propulsive narrative, while also managing to fashion memorable scenes and distinctive personalities for every member of the story's large, sometimes green cast of characters. (The depth of the heroes is welcome, but the dimensionality of the 3D process is redundant; the movie works fine "flat.")
The culmination of a Hollywood/Marvel master plan that began in earnest with "Iron Man" (2008) and continued through "Iron Man 2" (2010), "Thor" (2011) and the promotionally titled "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011), "The Avengers" finds Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), agent of SHIELD -- Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division -- resurrecting the discarded "Avengers Initiative." Fury's action is an attempt to stop the Asgardian, demigod Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has stolen a powerful energy source to open a gateway in space to enable an alien invasion of Earth; Loki intends to rule our planet, as an act of vengeance against his Earth-loving half-brother, Thor.
When Loki is told the people of Earth have no quarrel with him, he responds: "An ant has no quarrel with a boot." He tells his human foes that they "crave subjugation. You were made to be ruled."
The heroes assembled for the "Avengers Initiative" disagree. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), alias Iron Man, is the wisecracking billionaire playboy industrial genius; Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, is the man-out-of-time patriot; Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, replacing such past Banners as Eric Bana and Edward Norton), is the anguished loner who fears the release of his inner "rage monster," the Hulk; and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the noble god of thunder with the magic hammer.
Johanssen is the acrobatic Russian former assassin called the Black Widow, while Jeremy Renner is Clint Barton, the master of bow-and-arrow trickery known as Hawkeye (in the comics, if not onscreen: the character's "superhero" name never is uttered). Also back is efficient but un-super SHIELD agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), a relatively gentle and conventional soul among this "handful of freaks." The group spends much of its time aboard a gigantic flying battleship/aircraft carrier that is worthy of such Marvel master artists as Jack Kirby or Jim Steranko.
Kirby -- co-creator of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men and many others -- was an innovator and a true original. Whedon is a master synthesizer, which is just what a potential interstate pileup of a superhero movie like "The Avengers" needs. (He's also a good comedy writer: The film has some of the best jokes and funniest sight gags of the year, often courtesy of the Hulk.)
One might complain about the immaturity of a culture or even a species that demands such reassuring if elaborate parables of good and evil, and that dreams of guardian angels. One might point out that the global communication surveillance technologies employed by SHIELD are likely illegal and arguably immoral, and ripe for abuse. One also might wonder why the Manhattan zoning commission allowed Tony Stark to trump Trump with a tower that looks like a supervillain magnet.
These are valid topics, but you're unlikelty to hear them being discussed in many theater lobbies after screenings of "The Avengers." Instead, you'll hear kids begging their parents to take them to see the movie again, and the parents offering little resistance.
-- John Beifuss: 529-2394