There is a film phenomenon that I’m going to call the “awesome threshold”: beyond a certain level of explosions, breathtaking technology and superpowers, one has to stop demanding stellar acting or emotion from a movie. The Avengers, a long-awaited amalgamation of Marvel superheroes whose individual films have been coming out since 2008, is the perfect proof of this principle. The amount of sheer skull-busting awesomeness present in the film’s two-odd hours outweighs any complaints a perceptive viewer could have about its quality.
The background mythos of The Avengers strikes a strange but successful balance between Norse magic and modern technology: the Tesseract (captured by Captain America in the 40’s and buried with him underneath layers of Arctic ice), a powerful artifact containing pure sustainable energy, is sought by the evil Norse demigod Loki (brother of the noble demigod Thor), who intends to invade Earth with an evil army of zombie-alien minions in order to get the Tesseract. This calls for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of a global defense force called S.H.I.E.L.D., to round up the world’s superheroes to counter the invasion. The roster includes Cap (an unimpressive Chris Evans), Thor (a more unimpressive Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (the inimitable Robert Downey, Jr.) and radiation-scientist-turned-green-rage-monster Bruce Banner / the Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo, a fine replacement for the 2008 Hulk’s Edward Norton. Also included are Black Widow (a decent Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Reiner, nowhere near as good as he was in The Hurt Locker), two master assassins who didn’t have their own movies.
With all of that aside, let’s get down to it: The Avengers is awesome. Black Widow kicking the teeth out of Russian generals is awesome. Loki’s terrorization of a German city is awesome. Iron Man and Thor duking it out with missiles and hammers in a Norwegian forest is awesome. S.H.I.E.L.D’s enormous flying aircraft carrier is awesome. Director Joss Whedon (of Firefly fame) knew very well that in a film starring four irresistible superheroes (and two master mercenary people without superpowers — I’m sure I’ll piss off a lot of fans of the Hawkeye comics by saying this, but Hawkeye can’t really compete with the likes of Iron Man) every moment has potential to be a wallop in the stomach. And that’s just how he did it. It’s not even that the action never stops, because it does — it’s that even when there’s no explosions or gigantic alien fish or tremendous lightning strikes, there is always tension, or humor, or an opportunity to marvel at how incredibly suave Robert Downey, Jr. is. Avengers is breathtaking, and not just for its action, but for its writing (also Whedon) and direction as well. And as the film goes on, everything just gets more awesome, to the point of heart palpitations, then teeth-grating, then sheer absurdity and hilarity and wonderment.
Just go see it, honestly. Go see Iron Man fly a nuke through a space portal. Go see Thor pluck Loki out of the sky. Go see it. There are complaints I could level at the acting of Captain America and Thor, but Cap’s battle through the streets of Manhattan and Thor’s duel with Loki override any blandness of acting. I could level complaints at the pacing of the film’s first half, but that would be like criticizing the Olympic gold medal runner because he tripped out of the starting gate on the run that won him the medal. This movie is so awesome, so unspeakably cool, so funny and with so many jaw-smashing scenes and heart-stopping climaxes, that it transcends its flaws. Honestly, go see it. It’s the embodiment of everything blockbuster movies are supposed to be. Score: 9/10.
Jake Bittle / A&E Editor