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'Avengers' Goes Above and Beyond

Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012

Updated: Thursday, May 10, 2012 17:05

The Avengers

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth

Directed by Joss Whedon

Rated PG-13

Opens Friday

Grade: A-

 

In recent years, physicists have proposed the possibility of universes outside our own. While the scientific implications are mind boggling, the idea is, if something is physically possible, then it’s likely to occur in many other universes.

Movies are basically other universes; even those based on real events, since, in that reality, the person looks and sounds like the actor playing him. It’s amazing to think of the power storytellers have over the lives of their creations, but the best movies make you feel that the story and characters are real enough to connect with emotionally.

“The Avengers” is very much a universe film. Not just in the way it’s a fully realized comic book world populated by three-dimensional characters. “The Avengers” succeeds in creating a shared, continuity-driven reality that is connected by its varying conflicts to make an authentic world, and it does so with a movie-release tactic that has never been tried before. The fact that the movie is great, is really just icing on the cake.

The story is this: Thor’s evil brother, Loki, has arrived on Earth, looking to conquer humanity with the help of the Tesseract, the glowing cube from the “Captain America” movie and an army of ugly, angry aliens. Knowing that humanity is pretty much screwed, S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) activates the Avengers Initiative, calling together Earth’s mightiest heroes to fight the alien threat.

This being the first of at least two other “Avengers” movies, it is also a sequel to four different franchises and a set up for the next movies in those franchises. This is beneficial since audiences who’ve seen the other films do not need much of a primer on who’s who. That also makes the necessary re-introduction of the heroes boring, but needed, for the five fans who haven’t seen a Marvel movie. But still, it’s a joy to see Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Captain America (Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) knowing that they will eventually run into each other.

The linchpin of this whole endeavor falls on the villain, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, who makes a strong enough “big bad” to justify the combined force that is the Avengers. Leading up to what is most certainly a huge, final showdown, it’s Hiddleston who injects life into those slow introductory scenes.

Once that’s done, audiences are treated to the conflict that could sink the team and movie itself: putting six disparate personalities together, each of which could easily level a building. Fortunately that’s where “The Avengers” succeeds. Each of the main three heroes (Cap, Iron Man & Thor) maintains the traits first seen in their respective movies, but shows growth on all fronts. There’s a reason these actors were cast for their roles, and it’s only in this movie where the different actors work together that the casting truly pays off.

Writer/Director Joss Whedon does show his trademark love of strong, badass women, giving Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow more than likely any other director would have done. Sadly, the modern-day archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) really gets the short end of the stick in what feels more like a sacrifice to the running time gods rather than poor planning.

That just leaves Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, a hero that has thus far been played by three different actors in movies and two separate actors in the much-loved TV show. It’s safe to say that Ruffalo has finally nailed the pathos and dichotomy of character. Jaded by his condition, Ruffalo’s Banner has resigned himself to his fate, while the Hulk, a CG creation that visually is on Gollum levels of impressiveness, steals the entire movie.

Make no mistake that Joss Whedon was the right choice for director, either. Chalk it up to his geek credibility, apparent admiration for the task and the right storytelling techniques. In lesser hands, “The Avengers” would have simply been big, dumb fun. Instead, Whedon finds that balance between these larger-than-life characters, including one who shoots lightning out of a hammer, and the basic human emotions that make them so relatable and very, very real.

It’s not fair to the rest of the summer movie crop.

The Avengers have assembled and they are fantastic.

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