Movie Review: The Avengers

Crédit photo: Handout Movie Review: The Avengers

The summer season lifts off with this mega-budget action movie about a group of superheroes who band together to stop a hostile takeover of planet Earth. With Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk sharing the screen time, director Joss Whedon is forced to spend most of his time dealing out the dramatic cards -- without creating genuine dramatic suspense. A movie that seems to hover without effort, The Avengers looks good suspended in the sky, but it doesn’t actually go anywhere.

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson

Rating: Three and a half stars out of five

With so many turbo-charged talents under its comic-book wings, it’s no wonder The Avengers can hover elegantly without effort, and yet, go nowhere.

An action movie that prefers to chase its own tail of dysfunction for the duration, this long-awaited gathering of Marvel characters tries to go for the psychological side of the equation, before pouring on the pyrotechnic gasoline and throwing a match in the finale.

It’s not a bad bet for director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly), one of a handful of Hollywood creators who brings sincerity and earnest emotion to popcorn formats.

Whedon has a knack for bringing human truths to moronic dramatic exercises, as he proved in his surprisingly deep vampire serial starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, as well as his last scripted piece, Cabin in the Woods.

The Avengers needed a director like Whedon, because, unlike other superhero sagas, The Avengers operates as an ensemble piece, where feelings really matter, and too much edge on one ego could have proved disastrous.

To his credit, he does a good job balancing the all-star pyramid of talent headlined by Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson, ensuring each bigger-than-life character is given a chance to shine.

The unlikely superhero team is united to thwart your standard “bad guy wants to take over the world” scheme.

Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is still angry at his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) for usurping his royal throne in the heavens, so he forges an allegiance with his space race’s worst enemies: machine-like insects with green skin and metallic bones who desperately crave a forever home on Earth.

They are not nice, nor cuddly, but Loki snuggles up to their riveted breastplates so he can indulge his petty need for vengeance. His new friends will crush humanity like an anthill, but he has to get them to Earth first, and in order to do that, he has to open up a portal with a powerful energy beam.

In the opening scenes of the movie, we watch S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Jackson) lead a crew of researchers to a secret facility, where they test an energy cube. We learn it’s something from Thor’s home planet in the seconds before it goes haywire, and before you can say “Duck!” former good guys such as Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Professor Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) are pierced with an icy-blue ray that turns them bad.

Now in the service of Loki, these newly outfitted villains are poised to do battle against their old pals.

Approaching the dimensions of a superhero civil war, we’re pulled into the vortex of a dysfunctional superhero family. Iron Man (Downey Jr.) is the arrogant playboy who delivers everything with a fresh coat of sarcasm. Captain America (Chris Evans) is the all-American hero who believes in morality, and old-fashioned honour. Black Widow (Johansson) is a Cold War survivor and master spy who fell in love with Hawkeye (Renner) before he lost his good-guy mojo, and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is a mild-mannered physicist with a hulking anger problem.

Eager to exploit these incredible talents to protect the planet from all foreign and domestic harm, team leader Nick Fury tries to form a supergroup.

Fury’s urgent plea is answered by the disparate heroes, but since they’re all suspicious loners who’ve been ostracized as oddballs, they have a hard time surrendering all doubt, and blindly following their new, tight-lipped leader.

These scenes are the ones that always prove the most interesting, because they show the superheroes are thinking for themselves, opening new loopholes in the dense weave of genre.

The Avengers won’t surprise anyone who has seen a feature-length comic-book movie before. Whedon does not reinvent any big wheel, and the movie unfolds almost exactly the way one might predict -- right down to the romantic flourishes and sexual asides.

So why subject yourself to all that loud noise, silly drama and unrestrained violence? Easy: It’s fun.

Moreover, the bigger and goofier it gets, the more fun it becomes. Witness Hulk, a character who never found his voice until this third attempt. Thanks to Ruffalo’s understated, subversive charm, Hulk gets to be the emotional scorekeeper -- ignoring all intellect, and acting on pure rage.

His “antics” prove pure eye candy, because, when the evildoers try to psych him out with the standard James Bond head games, he just picks them up and thrashes them like rag dolls. It’s not only funny to see the bad guy throttled, it’s payback for all the pretentious blather we had to sit through in the opening sequence, as he professed his superiority to mere mortals.

There are more than enough moments like this to keep any viewer entertained, but when it’s all said, done and exploded, The Avengers doesn’t leave a lasting impression, because no one really transformed on any fundamental level.

The banter is engaging, and the acting meets every minimum requirement, but the movie never exceeds the sum of its parts. It just hangs there in the sky like a decoration, waiting for the masses to worship. To really care about characters, they have to bleed. The Avengers definitely have flaws, warts and weak links in their armour, but they do not bleed -- and sometimes, a tiny red trickle from the heart goes much further than $220 million from the bank.

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