By Carl Kozlowski
In the pantheon of movie styles, superhero movies offer up some of the biggest highs (Spider-Man, Superman, The Dark Knight) and lowest lows (Batman and Robin, Superman IV and the Nick Nolte version of The Hulk) that cinema has to offer. But in the last four years, Marvel Comics refocused its cinematic efforts in an attempt to literally change the way the game is played.
The key element has been that despite delivering a series of rousing good times at the box office with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, each of these smash hits was created to be a piece of a much bigger creative puzzle: the all-star superhero action fiesta known as The Avengers. It was a tremendous risk that has paid off with even more astounding rewards, as each of the mega-budget films became solid successes while setting up a brilliant payoff with this weekend’s grand finale.
With Steven Spielberg hopelessly mired in been-there, done-that sap and historic epics, the only person who could possibly handle the job is fanboy-favorite extraordinaire Joss Whedon. Whedon created the classic TV version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its fellow cult favorites Angel and Firefly. And as writer-director of the new extravaganza, he delivers enough whizzes and bangs to propel another dozen normal superhero films.
In this adventure, secret agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of the international peacekeeping agency S.H.I.E.L.D. picks up from the series of standout end-credit cameos he did in each of the prior films to round up the Avengers from their individual global escapades and team them up against the forces of Loki, Thor’s evil godlike brother. Loki has reached Earth and started bringing in his evil minions and their armies because Earth’s human scientists have been studying the Tesseract, a small blue jewel-like object that turns out to be a much larger portal window between this dimension of the universe and the alternate realities that take place in Asgard, where Thor and Loki hail from.
As Loki manages to defy earthly interrogations, he instead attempts to divide, distract and destroy the Avengers by turning them against each other through mind control, until clever thinking by the team manages to set them aright and eventually save the day with some of the most wildly entertaining and spectacularly visual special effects battles ever committed to film.
Whedon maintains the outrageously fun spirit of the Marvel films’ best efforts such as the first Iron Man, while vastly improving on their weaknesses. For instance, Loki was an annoying pest in the mediocre Thor, but here proves to be total fun as he veers between a truly wicked sense of glee and a genuine sense of menace. And after two other tries, this is the first time the Marvel team has managed to make The Hulk fully work as a hero and they allow him to wreak havoc in the best way he knows how: smashing things.
The Avengers is not only great spectacle, but is laden with positive messages throughout about good versus evil, teamwork over division, and immense patriotism to boot. While the intensity of the action is overwhelming for young children, certainly teenagers and perhaps mature-minded children ages 10 and up will find it fantastic entertainment that can be enjoyed with family or friends of any age.