Directed By: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson
Line from this film: "Puny god"
Trivia: The film was promoted at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con International, during which a teaser trailer narrated by Samuel L. Jackson was shown
With 2012’s The Avengers, Marvel brought to a close “Phase One” of their Cinematic Universe (a collection of movies that includes Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger). Having already established each hero’s distinct personality (most had been featured in their own film), the challenge was to ensure they all had equal time, while also delivering what amounts to a kick-ass action extravaganza. It was an ambitious project, to be sure, but in true Marvel fashion, they not only pulled it off; they managed to exceed expectations, setting the bar for the entire subgenre higher than it had ever been set before.
As the story opens, S.H.I.E.L.D. (which stands for “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division”), under the leadership of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), is conducting tests, headed by physicist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), on the Tesseract, a priceless gem that’s also one of the galaxy’s most powerful energy sources. Suddenly and without warning, the Tesseract opens a wormhole, through which Loki (Tom Hiddleston), an Asgardian God and the step-brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), enters earth’s realm and steals the mighty stone. Using his power to control the minds of Selvig and several S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, including archery master Clint Barton, aka “Hawkeye” (Jeremy Renner), Loki manages to escape with the Tesseract, which he’ll use to open a portal that’ll allow an alien army to invade earth (once the aliens have taken over, Loki intends to set himself up as ruler of the entire planet).
To stop Loki, Nick Fury puts into motion the "Avengers Initiative", a plan that allows him to assemble the world’s greatest heroes, who he hopes will work together to end this global threat. With the help of Agent Paulson (Clark Gregg), Fury contacts millionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), better known as Iron Man; super spy Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson), who goes by the name Black Widow; and Captain America (Chris Evans), who’s still trying to cope with life in the 21st century. Hoping to both stop Loki and take the Tesseract to Asgard for safe keeping, Thor eventually joins the group, as does the recently rescued Hawkeye. To round out the team, Fury sends Natasha to track down Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), whose alter-ego, the Incredible Hulk, could prove to be a useful ally. But the question remains: can this group of heroes function as a team, or will they spend more time fighting each other than they will battling Loki and his army?
Along with its wall-to-wall action, The Avengers is also an exemplary character study, showing what happens when a group of individuals who’ve grown accustomed to working alone are asked to join a team. Some have no issues whatsoever adapting to the change (once a soldier in the U.S. army, Captain America was already used to fighting alongside others), while a few, like Tony Stark, have spent so much time relying on their own wits that they have no idea how to function as part of a group. This leads to some intense showdowns within the ranks of the Avengers (Iron Man and Thor have a particularly violent fight at one point), which makes the moments that they do work together all the more satisfying. When the chips are down, however, they come together to get the job done, and by the time the final battle takes place, Joss Whedon has ensured that each and every member plays an integral part in it.
Having portrayed their characters in previous movies, Downey Jr., Evans, and Hemsworth are predictably strong, as are Renner (who had a bit part in Thor) and Johansson (whose Black Widow wowed Tony Stark in Iron Man 2). The real standout, however, is the new guy, Mark Ruffalo, who replaced Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner / the Incredible Hulk. Arguably the most complex member of the Avengers, Banner must live with the reality that he has a monster inside of him, one he himself can’t control. In those moments when he loses his temper, he becomes a wrecking machine, sending everyone, including the other Avengers, running for cover. Throughout the film, Ruffalo perfectly conveys his character’s inner turmoil, and as a result, his Hulk is, at all times, the most sympathetic and the most frightening member of this illustrious team.
Yet as intriguing as the group’s inner workings are, it’s the action that makes The Avengers such an entertaining experience. From the opening sequence, where Loki swipes the Tesseract, to the final showdown (which has to be seen to be believed), The Avengers is a thrill-a-minute motion picture.
The fact that it offers something more besides? Well, that's a nice little bonus.