A smart-aleck sense of humor and some whiz-bang action sequences — especially a grand finale in which New York City takes a terrible beating — make “The Avengers” something more than a cinematic slam-dunk for comic book fans.
Not a lot more, mind you. Digital effects totally drive the movie, as expected of a fantasy based on Marvel Comics superheroes. The plot is a fight over who controls some kind of mysterious energy cube, the Tesseract, a blue glowing electrostatic thing that spews trouble now and then but never does get adequate explanation.
The script has some wincingly bad speechifying here and there, from villain and good guys alike.
“Freedom is life's great lie,” bad guy Loki (Tom Hiddleston) snarls at one point early on. Later, he forces a crowd of terrified onlookers to get down on their knees before him while delivering more vapid nonsense about human inferiority.
Whatever, dude. Let's see some more superpowers.
Loki, of course, is the adopted brother of Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who prevented Loki from becoming king. The fight over the Tesseract is payback, with a dose of megalomania thrown in.
Loki steals the cube early on, vowing to use it to enslave Earth. He mysteriously brings under his power an energy scientist (Stellen SkarsgŚrd) and one of the Avengers, marksman Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), to help him.
That causes Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), head of peacekeeping unit SHIELD, to summon Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), to defend Earth and reclaim the Tesseract.
This proves problematic, but quite entertaining, when it turns out the heroes can't stand each other. Director Joss Whedon uses his trademark in-your-face humor (remember “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”?) liberally as the powerful loners do their best to deflate each other's — and Loki's — egos.
Thor and Iron Man pepper a throwdown in the forest with clever insults, which do not immediately end when Captain America intervenes.
Black Widow and Hulk drily banter as she tries to talk him into leaving his remote, calm haven to help the cause by getting back in touch with his temper.
Even Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, looking good in tight cutoffs) gets in her digs when Iron Man resists being recruited from atop his Manhattan skyscraper.
Fans at a preview screening especially loved when Loki mouthed off to the Hulk, who grabbed him by the collar and slammed him to the pavement repeatedly, like a wet towel. Cue a pathetic groan from Loki.
The digital effects and art direction (love the heroes' airborne command center and Iron Man's penthouse) are first-rate, including the skyscraper-destroying finale that can't help but bring 9/11 to mind. Use of 3-D is less impressive, only occasionally scoring an eye-popping effect.
Whedon does a good job of giving all the heroes some character definition and time to shine, though it's a squeeze even at 2 hours and 22 minutes. The sex appeal of all those buff guys, plus curvaceous Johansson, in profile-enhancing costumes cannot be denied.
It's almost enough to make you forget what a silly story line is unfolding before your extra-wide eyes.
Vapid? Maybe. But fun? Definitely.
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