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“All Together Now”

The culmination of several franchises have been brought together for Joss Whedon’s  The Avengers,  tying together stories we’ve already seen in  Iron Man 1 &2, Thor, Captain America and the two Hulk films.  For Marvel enthusiasts, Whedon’s faithful and rousing chapter will be cause for Hosannas.  For those members of the Whedonverse who are not comic book fans, (I know there are only a few), who revel in Whedon’s mastery in deconstruction of genres, this is NOT a film for tinkering.  Marvel wouldn’t allow it anyway.  Once I got over that I would not be seeing the Buffy of Marvel films, I was able to enjoy the action, the deep characterizations and witty dialogue that are ALWAYS part of the Whedonverse.

A fascist alien world has declared war against planet Earth.  They recruit the already emotionally unstable, displaced Loki (Tom Hiddleston), adopted brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth).  Loki hops a portal for Earth and attacks S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, demolishing it and turning several heroes into somnambulist followers.  S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a team with superpowers to combat this global apocalypse.  These misfits, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) form an alliance known as The Avengers.

Gathering the team, despite their being spread across the world, is the easy part.  Getting this motley crew to work together is nearly impossible.  Each is used to working alone, claiming the glory solo and not used to playing well with others.  They’re almost useless, fighting each other, giving their enemy exactly what he wants: disunity.  If they can’t learn to work together, the world is doomed.

Whedon has always been a master of subtext.  Even with nine leads, none of the characters are skimped upon.  A lazy writer would have figured that with six hours of back-story already available on DVD from the past films, there would be no reason to build on the characters.  Instead, Whedon continues to pull back the layers, making the relationships richer. The script is filled with repartee and honest emotion. 

For a villain, instead of a cooker-cutter, James Bond killer, we’re presented a psychopath with a serious God-complex, one so insecure that he’s desperate to have an entire civilization bow down to him.  Hiddleston is captivating as the monster, using just a smile; one out of context would be warm and inviting but here is creepy and malevolent. 

Ruffalo, the third actor to play Bruce Banner in this film saga (after Eric Bana and Ed Norton), brings a loneliness but a hunger for human interaction to the role.  His inner conflicts, his fear of losing control are measured in the pain in his face.  Evans captures the confusion of having been out of the loop and under the water for 65 years. Johansson finds empathy in her explosive past and her desire to right her wrongs.  And as the biggest of the egomaniacs, Downey Jr lends his usual wit, childishly chiding his “co-workers” but showing resolve in the end.

The action scenes are well choreographed, paying homage not only to past Marvel films but also the Return Of The Jedi speeder bike chase.  The effects in 3D are well filmed, however personally, they don’t outweigh the pain of the glasses and strain to the eyes.

The Avengers, the opening game in the Summer movie marathon sets out to entertain and tickle both the brain and the heart.  Though its director is forced to be a craftsman, not using his auteur genius to deconstruct the comic genre, Joss Whedon has made an exciting and fulfilling popcorn film.  Grade: B+

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