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May 4, 2012 | 11:19 a.m. CST
It’s been five years since Samuel L. Jackson’s first ominous reference to the “Avengers Initiative” after the end credits in Iron Man. Since then, die-hard comic fans and film buffs alike have been salivating for The Avengers film. Now, at long last, their patience has been rewarded.
To say that a lot was riding on the success of this film is a massive understatement. After the box office flop that was John Carter, Disney needed heroes as much as the world did. Plus, disappointing millions of fans after so much build up would have been almost impossible to recover from. The Avengers delivers on all its promises and then some, however, with pitch perfect character development, excellent use of big-budget visual effects and a seamless blend of epic drama and light-hearted humor, courtesy of director Joss Whedon. As the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and an accomplished comic book writer in his own right (Astonishing X-Men), Whedon is no stranger to balancing large casts of protagonists, and he makes every character shine brightly, especially the deviously grinning villain, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and the longsuffering-yet-unflappable Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.Related Movie
The Avengers themselves are established well, too. Initially at odds with one another, the diverse cast of heroes has to put aside its differences to work together as a team. Of course, between the caustic wit of Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man), the chip on Thor’s shoulder and Bruce Banner’s hair-trigger temper (which proves that it really is easy being green), there are plenty of rivalries and slugfests along the way to keep things interesting. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey, Jr. reprise their roles (as Captain America, Thor and Iron Man, respectively) without missing a beat, and Whedon’s penchant for snappy dialogue serves the film well in terms of integrating these three very different characters.
Although the Hulk is the most visually impressive to watch, with Mark Ruffalo stepping in for Edward Norton, and Iron Man brings his usual snarky attitude to the table, Captain America is the most fun. He, more than Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, is the pure, noble and rational adult who has to step in and keep the team together. But he’s also out of his element as a WWII soldier who has to adjust to 21st century technology and manners. Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner play battle-hardened S.H.I.E.L.D agents admirably, and Mark Ruffalo’s more confident Bruce Banner is a welcome change from Norton’s milquetoast performance in 2008. However, he lacks the cold exterior and internalized rage that made Eric Bana’s performance great in Ang Lee’s Hulk.
The Avengers is a film just about anyone can enjoy. Although some of the action might be a bit intense for small children (a scene in which the Hulk furiously chases down the Black Widow, a.k.a. Scarlett Johansson, is particularly intense), well-placed levity keeps it from delving too far into the darkness.
2012 started off relatively slow in terms of superhero movies. There was the mediocre Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and the sleeper-hit Chronicle, but the big guns (The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man) are being saved for summer audiences. The Avengers, however, sets the bar almost insurmountably high; Batman should be quaking in his cowl.