In writer-director Joss Whedon's blockbuster hit, The Avengers, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) faces a major challenge. The super-spy head of the secretive organization S.H.I.E.L.D. is struggling to pull his team of superheroes together before an alien force invades Earth. Fury needs to tame some big egos—Tony Stark, ahem!— and get team members to trust one another, or else the planet is doomed. Whedon's flick not only brings the Marvel comic book universe to life, it also achieves a rare balance between electrifying action and compelling characters. With a funny, brilliant screenplay, superb acting and awesome effects, this movie deserves all the attention it's earning at the box office.
The adventure begins as S.H.I.E.L.D. attempts to harness the powers of the Tesseract, a powerful mechanism of unknown origin. The device opens a portal and lets out the mischievous god Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who had been exiled by other Norse gods and is newly allied to a warlike alien race, the Chitauri. Preparing to wage war against earth, Loki steals the Tesseract and brainwashes some of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s own agents. When the brilliant but unstable Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo)—a.k.a. the Hulk—joins Fury's squad to help find the Tesseract, he might be playing right into Loki's hands.
You don't need to know much about comics to get excited about the Marvel universe, thanks to the film's clever script. Whedon and co-writer Zak Penn (The Incredible Hulk) come up with snappy lines that bring out the personalities of the comic book characters first invented by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the '60s and '70s.
The creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and writer-director of the recent comedy-horror smash The Cabin in the Woods, Whedon enjoys a reputation for developing irreverent, distinctive characters. He certainly delivers in this movie. Despite a complex plot (multi-dimensional schemes to take over the world are complicated, after all), the script builds steadily to a ridiculously action-packed climax that shines the spotlight equally on each of the six superheroes.
A script goes nowhere without the right actors, and this blockbuster features an outstanding cast, many repeating roles from previous Marvel films such as Iron Man and Thor. Robert Downey Jr. continues as the delightfully snarky Tony Stark. In contrast, Chris Evans conveys dignified heroism as Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America—even when others poke fun at him for the decades he spent frozen in ice, calling him "Capsicle." Ruffalo is pitch-perfect in his double role as mild Bruce Banner and the raging Hulk. Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner bring athleticism, brains and a bit of sexy smolder as Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) and Clint Barton (Hawkeye). Chris Hemsworth rounds out the superhero team as Thor, Norse god of thunder. Hemsworth and Hiddleston, playing ancient Asgardian gods, roll off one archaic phrase after another with pseudo-Shakespearean swagger.
Audiences will find themselves on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. From aerial attacks on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s helicarrier to the wholesale destruction of New York City by robotic hive-minded Chitauri invaders, there's no shortage of action. The invaders' snake-like space ships and the hi-tech gadgetry of Stark Industries look pretty cool, too. Yet it's the human drama, the play of personalities among the characters, that makes The Avengers one of the best superhero movies in cinematic history. Before they can enter the real battle, Whedon's memorable heroes struggle with themselves and each other.
The film is in theaters now, so grab your crew. Stay through the credits to catch two bonus scenes—they are worth the wait. For more information, visit the Marvel website.
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