Published May 03, 2012Consider the gauntlet thrown. Under the loving stewardship of Joss Whedon (Serenity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Marvel's superhero team-up event, The Avengers, proves that massive spectacle filmmaking can co-exist with clever plotting, witty dialogue, thoughtful characterization and great ensemble acting.
It's been a long and exciting road for the mostly very strong pictures (ahem, Incredible Hulk, I'm looking at you) leading up to this first franchise crossover movie event and all the careful setup and deliberately engineered hints pay off big time in this clash of modern mythological titans.
As the head of global peacekeeping force S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) steps out from his connecting cameo roles to lead the assembly of a super-human team to handle a threat too big for the god of thunder, a billionaire genius in a suit of hi-tech armour, a recently thawed nazi-slaying super-soldier from WWII, a giant green rage monster or the world's top super spies to handle alone.
Of the prior solo missions, it's most essential to have seen Thor and Captain America, for familiarity with elements of Marvel lore contained within that play a vital role in this world-threatening sci-fi action drama. Although the references that come up organically throughout the script should render the various back-stories and dense mythology clear enough for the uninitiated.
Each of the primary players gets his or her due, reintroducing Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as the plot requires, and greatly expanding on the characters of Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye, Jeremy Renner). Hearing Whedon's dialogue as read by Robert Downey Jr. is every bit as thrilling as expectant fans would hope. But it's the interplay between Stark and Steve Rogers ― egomaniacal irreverence versus old-school nobility ― and the satisfaction of finally seeing someone nail the barely concealed rage and violent humour of the Hulk that help the film rise above its already lofty expectations.
Oh, and The Avengers also contains the most thoroughly and consistently wowing action and effects-driven carnage ever filmed. Inventive, often angular, sweeping cinematography, bold perspective switches and jaw-dropping tracking shots, with an extremely clear sense of spatiality, deliver greater visceral excitement than Michael Bay at his best, all in the context of a great story with interesting, relatable characters, even though these heroes are so much larger than life.
There you have it: the proof exists that excellence in storytelling and visual spectacle need not be mutually exclusive. You can catch the second must-see movie of the year (Cabin in the Woods was also co-written by Joss Whedon) in 3D, but it's not designed to be essential to the viewing experience, and a few dimly lit scenes early on would be better seen without the additional tinting more than the rest of the film benefits from superfluous dimensional thickening.
Either way, make sure you see the new standard of tent pole filmmaking on the big screen. (Buena Vista)