Welcome to Superhero Summer 2012. Your orientation will include a smattering of popular and anticipated superhero movies, ranging from a dark knight to an acrobatic web-slinger. There will be villains bent on destruction or accumulation of wealth. There will be intense battles using everything from the latest technology to the most powerful of ancient magics. Heroes will undoubtedly be beaten to some extent, only to rise from the ashes and claim victory.
Your first lesson: Marvel's The Avengers.
The Avengers is a beast of legendary proportions, both in its strengths and weaknesses. For a movie so marketed, any flaw is magnified simply because of heightened expectations. But its talents are equally remarkable, given those same expectations.
The reason to see The Avengers, however, lies not with the over-the-top cinematics, but with the clever dialogue reminiscent of director's Joss Whedon's past creations, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's witty and snappy, and it's surprisingly humorous and charming. Thankfully, it's sprinkled enough throughout the film to keep you constantly chuckling, even if maniacal lunatics seek to wreck havoc on Earth and its denizens.
But it's not enough to save the film from its inherent grandeur. It's hard not to be overwhelmingly grandiose when you're meant to be the next Big Thing. But the clever details and light touches are lost in the epic battles taking place. It says something when the film's greatest battle, against metallic otherworldly creatures that cause untold amounts of damage to Manhattan, falls short in comparison, in both wit and surprise, to the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo in his human form) landing a sucker punch on Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) chin, or the same green beast laying a hilarious smack down on the film's main villain, Thor's adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
Loki, an exiled Asgard prince with a wicked spear in hand, seeks the tesseract, a magical blue cube of pure energy. With the help of some brainwashed lackeys, Loki steals the cube from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a legendary master spy. He assembles a team to retrieve it, composed of Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Agent Coulson (yet again played by a solid, and comical, Clark Gregg), Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye.
The group plays out a bit like the Three Stooges, not surprising considering the immense egos stuck aboard the flying naval ship. Tony Stark is his usual playboy self, Captain America is teased for his true age, and Thor for his flowing locks. (There's even a Legolas joke throw at Hawkeye.) The new guy, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, the calmer version of the Hulk, will now be everyone's favorite scientist-who-turns-into-a-murderous-beast-when-angry.
All in all, The Avengers is a hectic battle royale. It's fun and entertaining and funny more often than not. It's a world you can believe in, even when you know it's not real. And most viewers are going to care little about the flaws noted here or the ones they notice. And even this critic has a hard time criticizing such a fun summer blockbuster. The Avengers will leave you wanting more, and you can be sure you'll be hearing about The Avengers 2 soon enough.
Four heroic stars out of five.