My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to convince you that you should see The Avengers. It's one of the easiest missions I've ever had, and one of the most difficult missions I've ever accepted. I'm sure most folks out there see ads for a movie that throws a bunch of super heroes who have won big screen acclaim into a blockbuster-building-blender and think something to the effect of "Well, duh, I'll see that." Those people have my eternal respect. But there are some other folks out there who look at The Avengers and see a comic book cinema vending machine and think something like "Man, there can't be anything substantial in such a convoluted concept". I dig those folks too - the skeptic always has something good to say, no matter how crazy - but I aim to convince them that they are dead wrong.
I have to admit, I was almost one of them skeptics. I adore comic book mythology to a fault, and have dug at least 87% of the Marvel adaptations to come down the pipeline in the past decade. (Even Daredevil. I regret nothing.) But I was really unsure that The Avengers could hold the weight of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, and friends without falling apart and slipping away from the filmmakers. Really, the whole project needed its own hero. When cult icon Joss Whedon - the dude behind Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and plenty of other nerdy favorites (Like The Cabin in the Woods, which is now my second favorite thing I've seen in theater this year) - took over the project, I should have put my doubts to bed. But I had to see it to believe it.
Now that I have seen it, it is certain in my mind that Joss Whedon is the true hero of The Avengers. His script, which is filled to the brim with scenes that are honestly hilarious, is also incredibly faithful to the heroes as they've appeared in the comics and films that led to this point. I really didn't know how someone could make all these characters fit together in one place - you are mixing Asgardian demi-god with 1940s soldiers and billionaires with fancy toys, after all - and anyone with a passing knowledge of Avengers comics knows that personality clashes are par for the course with Earth's greatest heroes. Whedon deftly handled each character with this in mind, using the differing personalities to create a lot of humorous interactions that build the characters while keeping the audience engaged in a lighthearted manner. In a great way, Whedon even manages to turn some jokes, like a modern SHIELD agent's "fanboy" love of Captain America, into dramatic events that advance the plot. And he does all this comedic styling - I honestly can't remember the last time I've laughed so much in a theater - while keeping the action going and making a 140 minute film fly by the viewer's eyes in a flash.
Whedon's masterful ability to bring a bunch of legendary heroes together in one film wouldn't work if the cast didn't meet or exceed the viewers expectations, and pretty much everyone in the film is on top of their game. Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson all reprise the roles they held in Marvel's latest wave of superhero films (Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: the First Avenger), as does Jeremy Renner, who expands his Thor cameo as Clint Barton (Does the film ever actually call him Hawkeye? I don't think it did.) into a pivotal role in the plot here. Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg return on the SHIELD side, alongside newcomer Cobie Smulders of How I Met Your Mother, on the side of SHIELD, the agency who brings the group of heroes together. Everyone is right back on track, picking up where they left off in the previous films, which means Downey chews up the scenery, Evans looks heroic, Hemsworth hams it up with a chiseled jaw, and so on. But none of them are the most impressive returning cast member.
That honor has to go to Tom Hiddleston, who returns as Loki to play villain to not just his half-brother Thor - but to all six Avengers. It's a gigantic task that worried me as I watched the film coming from a distance. I wasn't that impressed by Hiddleston's Loki in Thor - the best thing I had to say about him in my Thor review was that he was "serviceable" - but his power-hungry turn as the man who may destroy Earth here is really fantastic. The London born actor manages to be physically imposing, despite his diminutive stature, and it's pretty easy to buy into him as the God of Mischief (with a Zod complex) from his first appearance in the opening scenes. He's aided by an alien force - make sure you stay through the end credits for more info, as is common for Marvel films - but the film doesn't feel like it needs anything more than this one well-drawn villain to make us feel like the world needs heroes.
The biggest winner in the film, however, is the hero who's played by a new face to the Marvel universe. Dr. Bruce Banner and The Hulk - formerly represented by Eric Bana and Edward Norton and a bunch of CGI creations - are now represented by Mark Ruffalo (and some more CGI) and are better than we've ever seen them on the big screen. Ruffalo plays the scientist Banner with a nerdy charm that's kinda pitiful, but kinda charming, and interacts very well with his peers, particularly in some science lab interactions with Downey's Tony Stark. Though Ruffalo's banner is sufficiently nerdy - this is the closest anyone's been to recreating the beloved/pathetic Banner character that Bill Bixby portrayed on the famous TV show of the late '70s (I so wanted to hear the lonely man theme with Ruffalo's character) - it's his Hulk form that really steals the film. Once "the other guy" is released in this universe there is no turning back, and a combination of breathtaking choreography and fantastic special effects make this Hulk the best visualization of the character that's ever been seen. Though the film's final battle sequence showcases all of these heroes, everything really boils down to Hulk smashing things - and he does so in an incredible manner. This is his movie, the rest of our heroes are just living in it. (Also living in it, and making my nerd face smile? Harry Dean Stanton. You'll see why.)
With very few missteps - I wanted a little more Thor because I didn't feel he was used as well as he was in his own film, that's about the only quibble I had with the film - and so much humor and action and so many general awe-inspiring moments, I can't complain at all about The Avengers. Heck, I want to see it again right now. It's the prototype for what a summer blockbuster should be, because it's written for nerds by nerds and is still incredibly accessible to any filmgoer. Heck, this is more than what summer movies should be....this is what movies should be. Don't miss it.