Raja Sen writes The Avengers is an absolute blast.
The good versus evil mythology built on the bones of classic comic book legend needs for the right side to triumph, against seemingly insurmountable odds. Which is why when we walk into a comic book movie, no matter how formidable the foe initially seems -- no matter how humongous Mickey Rourke's muscles and how many intelligent arms Alfred Molina has -- we always know he'll be licked by the end of it.
Which is where Joss Whedon's The Avengers truly scores.
The film isn't about the bad guys -- even though it has a captivatingly slimy villain -- but about an ambitious assemblage of larger-than-life superhero icons; heroes yet aglow from their own individual blockbusters totting up over $2 billion over the last few summers.
Men, in short, with preposterous identities, egos and issues with authority. And it is by wittily mining their invariably tempestuous dynamic that Whedon strikes comicbook gold.
The Earth is under attack -- from spurned Norse God Loki (played by a creepy Tom Hiddleston) -- and the eyepatch-wearing Nick Fury (an appropriately commanding Samuel L Jackson) decisively begins to put together a squad of superheroes equal to the task. Forever the man with a plan, Fury's been glimpsed in all the component blockbusters leading up to this one, speaking of an Avengers Initiative, the heist-master putting together his ace crew, step by slow-burn step. Those familiar with the books and recent Marvel movies have more than an inkling, but the rest need only know the basics -- -- and trust in the fact that the gents gathered here can spank an army apiece.
After they find their own groove, that is.
A film throwing as many one-liners as it does punches, The Avengers consists of the drily snappy Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), swiftly angered hammer-weilding God of thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), quaintly vintage Captain America (Chris Evans) and Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark, that Iron Man treading on everyone's shoes with his serrated-edge sarcasm. Somewhere in the mix also lie Scarlett Johannson's redheaded Russian superspy Black Widow and Jeremy Renner's impossibly good marksman Hawkeye, but while they too have their moments, they simply aren't super enough to trade quips with the big boys.
There is much to admire and to applaud, and all of it too well-written for a review to play spoiler. The words and the cast deliver, earning guffaws, gasps and wolf-whistles.
It's Stark -- that Jack Sparrow of superheroes -- who takes the obvious lead, literally poking Banner with a stick to bring out his big green alter ego, and making Shakespeare jabs at Thor, but despite his immense quotability, the film's genius lies in letting each icon get a rightful piece of the pie.
Cap A is positively irresistible when he, frozen from World War II, triumphantly catches on to a pop-culture reference (to 1939 classic The Wizard Of Oz), Thor is quick to retract sibling-love hearing of his half-brother's homicidal madness, and Ruffalo's Banner is an absolute masterstroke, an in-control scientist who strangely but perfectly seems almost proud of the beast within. The role has been played before by Eric Bana and Edward Norton, but Ruffalo's Hulk is by far the truest to the character's spirit, and has a hilariously electrifying screen presence. (He is also responsible for the film's finest line, a two-word instruction given to him by Cap, one that will cause many a fangasm around the globe.)
Yet when the villain imperils the world, oneupmanship is instantly sacrificed as the Avengers do indeed assemble. Each member of the team finds a role and is ready for the banal as well as the big: in one brilliant scene, with every Avenger surrounded by volcanic chaos and striking more glamorous blows, Iron Man, the inevitable star of the piece, sees his task reduced to that of a welding job.
By the time the heroes arrange themselves into a unified force and take attack positions, Manhattan is being ravaged by gigantic alien vertebrae, skyline-crumblingly snaking through midtown. This is the cue for a long and ridiculously enjoyable action setpiece that -- while amplifying the ante for a big-screen 3D spectacle -- keeps things cheeky as it oscillates from Avenger to Avenger (once even in a breathlessly unbroken shot) each getting the job done in their own uniquely awesome way.
The Avengers is wall-to-wall action, executed with a fluid coherence we don't get to see in most superhero films, and yet what stays with you are the lines and, resultantly, the characters. As this big, meaty film -- this hero sandwich of a film, even -- winds down, Whedon makes us do something increasingly rare in these over-franchised times: root for a sequel.
The Avengers -- from ambition to scale to the way it justly balances each remarkable character -- is an absolute blast, and it's far easier to lose yourself than to find fault. It's the most spectacular superhero party of all time. And you're invited. Go smash.