Zimbio Review - 'Avengers' an Extraordinary Exercise in Comic Book Excess

(L to R) Actors Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddlestone, Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo attend "The Avengers" photocall at De Russie Hotel on April 21, 2012 in Rome, Italy. (Getty Images | poster: Marvel Studios)more pics » The Bottom Line
Should you see it? Yes.

A true summer blockbuster, The Avengers doesn't rewrite the book, but is about as fun as it gets at the box office.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe isn't approaching Dark Knight territory yet, but it's getting there. The newest hotshot extravaganza, The Avengers, is easily the best in a series that has included Iron Man I & II, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Each of those films was a big-budget adrenaline rush featuring some of the most iconic names in comic book lore. The Avengers is in the same vein, but with more humanity, witty banter, and comic book spirit than all the prequels combined.

To begin, one should see the aforementioned Marvel films before The Avengers or confusion will creep in. Exiled at the end of Thor, Norse God Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is the chief villain. He is shown at the start of Avengers negotiating a deal with the leader of an evil alien race called the Chitauri. Once Loki steals a powerful device, the Tesseract, the Chitauri army will conquer Earth and make Loki a king. This opening scene is shrouded in the darkness of space and the Chitauri leader's voice echoes as the camera fades away and segues to Earth. This is classic comic book stuff.

Scarlett Johansson and the cast at The Avengers premiere. (Getty)
Co-writer/director Joss Whedon knows the importance of keeping the essence of the source material prevalent throughout the film. His script is filled with ostentatious proclamations of evil. "There are no men like me!" croons Loki. And cutting heroic one-liners. "There are always men like you," responds Captain America (Chris Evans). Whedon and Zak Penn's sharp script walks the fine line between deft comic book excess and outright schlock.

The director may have lucked out, however, as it appears every hero involved in these films may be best suited for a supporting role. It could be argued the biggest fault in the prequels was monotony. As in a similar cinematic spectacle, the Transformers series, shit being blown to bits gets old pretty quick when it's always done the same way. Take Star Wars for instance. The trilogy works because there are so many incredible characters doing so many incredible things. The Avengers does the same thing. You get a dose of Iron Man's breathtaking aerobatics, a pinch of Captain America's punching powers, and a taste of The Hulk's shocking ferocity all in consecutive sequences. The result is simply dazzling, like a superhero Wrestlemania... with better writing.

With a few exceptions, the action is driven by the film's story. The Tesseract is safeguarded by S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and is being tested by a team of scientists including Erik Selvig (Stellen Skarsgard) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). The Tesseract, shaped like a cube and small enough to fit in a briefcase, can be used to open a door between galaxies and, as Hawkeye notes, "can be opened from the other side." On cue, the Tesseract activates and Loki appears. He quickly casts a spell on Selvig and Hawkeye, making them his henchman. They steal the Tesseract and escape, causing Fury to enact "The Avengers Initiative" which calls for Earth's mightiest heroes to band together.

Each of the Avengers is given a grand entrance. The clandestine Natasha Romanoff AKA Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) flips and kicks, Tony Stark AKA Iron Man, (Robert Downey, Jr.) lights up his self-sustaining skyscraper and verbally spars with his sweetheart, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Steve Rogers AKA Captain America (Chris Evans) clubs heavy bags until they burst, and Bruce Banner AKA The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), is convinced to come out of hiding in India while a tactical team surrounds him... just in case. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) joins the team later after he attempts to thwart his brother, Loki, on his own.

Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston on the Avengers set.
The heroes are all vastly different, which is something that drew Whedon to the project. In his words, "None of them should be in the same room, let alone on the same team - and that is the definition of family." Whedon revels in this dynamic and the best humor in the film comes from the verbal interactions between the characters. Downey's "genius billionaire playboy philanthropist" Tony Stark is a walking superego and has the best lines in the film. "No hard feelings, Point Break." He tells Thor. If you had to pick out a lead of all the personalities in the film, Stark is it. Downey embodies the superhero aplomb better than the other actors, and his confidence is contagious.

Stark also provides a welcome contradiction to Evans' militarily-pious Captain America. The Captain has a few moments of soldier naivete that are gag-inducing, but they are short-lived and Stark is usually the reason. Fighting side-by-side, these two may be the most compelling. The Captain's humanitarian intrepidity is all the more impressive as he keeps pace with the invincible Iron Man.

Perhaps more impressive is the shine of Avengers. Say what you will about the Transformers franchise, but those movies look fantastic. The Avengers is just as awe-inspiring. Whedon's sets and interiors are perfectly constructed and shot, blending in seamlessly with the CGI sequences of the film. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s flying fortress, which the Avengers use as a homebase, may be the most glorious effect in the film. It uses reflective mirrors to disappear in the sky and is so well-conceived, it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility.

The Avengers' piece de resistance, however, is the final assault on New York City by the relentless Chitauri army. Loki has used the Tesseract to open a portal at the top of Stark Tower and waves of crusty-looking evil dudes on speeder bikes and giant armored serpents swoop in on the bustling metropolis. The fleeing Manhattanites must be protected and Captain America leads Black Widow, Hawkeye (now on the good side again after being knocked unconscious), and the Hulk on the ground as Iron Man and Thor fight from the sky. In perhaps the most crowd-pleasing scene, Captain is handing out assignments when he turns to Hulk and deadpans: "Hulk!... Smash."

It's in the movie's penultimate scene the green guy takes over. The screening I attended in San Francisco howled with excitement watching Hulk run amok in New York, throttling and power-crushing bad guys in every scene. Again, as a lead character, Hulk's one-act grows tiresome, but in doses, he is a stirring and miraculous sight. He has two scenes during the final battle that steal the show. I won't ruin them here, but if you are hesitant about seeing the film, rest assured, Hulk is worth the price of admission.

So what is the final word on The Avengers? Well, it does not transcend the genre. There is nothing critically unique or reborn here. We have seen superheroes, their powers, flying fortresses, incredible evil armies, speeder bikes, and major cities destroyed before (although I don't think we've seen The Chrysler Building weaponized). What The Avengers does is take all these fantastic elements and make them new again. Whedon didn't set out to rewrite the book on superhero films. He wanted to make a thrilling blockbuster of a movie and he has. The Avengers does true justice to Marvel's wonderful world of fantasy and fantastic heroes.

See photos from the premiere of The Avengers:
  • Robert Downey Jr. in Stars at the London Premiere of 'The Avengers'
  • Robert Downey Jr. in Stars at the London Premiere of 'The Avengers'
  • Robert Downey Jr. in Stars at the London Premiere of 'The Avengers'
  • Robert Downey Jr. in Stars at the London Premiere of 'The Avengers'
  • Robert Downey Jr. in Stars at the London Premiere of 'The Avengers'
  • Robert Downey Jr. in Stars at the London Premiere of 'The Avengers'
  • Robert Downey Jr. in Stars at the London Premiere of 'The Avengers'
  • Robert Downey Jr. in Stars at the London Premiere of 'The Avengers'
Senior Editor at Zimbio. I'll take Johnny Clay, the Rev. Harry Powell, and Annie Savoy. You can have the rest.