Even for the not necessarily comic book-ish among us, The Avengers manages to work a potent magic on the big screen, a testament to its success beyond and above the genre it proudly inhabits and sometimes gamely pokes fun at. Natch, the very idea of superheroes commissioned to save the day and defy enemy odds at every turn is patently, loveably absurd, but the idea of bringing together an A+ team of Iron Man, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, and Thor ups the ante of preposterousness and, in this case, the fun factor.
To its credit, this tale of a superhero posse saving N.Y.C. — and, by extension, the world — from a reign of terror by evil ETs has self-effacing humor and dazzling visuals to save the movie from insufferable excess. Even Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee gets in on the winking act, in a television news montage at the end of the film, making a cameo with the line “Superheroes in New York? Give me a break.”
For you superhero semi-newbies, it can be hard to keep track of whose power does what and which heroic attribute trumps another. So the Hulk (mild-mannered Mark Ruffalo, until the transformation occurs) relies on staggering brute strength, while Captain America (Chris Evans) combines agility, buff muscle tone, and a killer shield. Then we have hammer-and-lightning-wielding Thor (Chris Hemsworth, with the hippie Viking countenance), and Iron Man is the high-tech costume-donner and resident cynical wiseacre (a role well suited to Robert Downey Jr.’s smirking charms). Scarlett Johansson plays a super-hot superhero of the more mortal sort, relying on her wits and kick-ass fighting chops, whereas Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye makes a name for himself as a deadly good marksman with a bow and quiver of tricked-out arrows. Together, they bicker and parody each other, before getting with the team spirit and the Earth-protecting mission.
Writer/director Joss Whedon has engineered a thoroughly entertaining pre-summer popcorn blockbuster, a breezy and visceral film pumped up with comic-book energy and big-budget overkill put to good use. At movie’s end — and the Avengers’ adventure’s end — someone says “They’ll be back.” “Why?” “Because we’ll need them.” We wonder if that’s partly the studio heads talking, smelling sequels in the offing. In this case, that’s not such an odious proposition.