This may sound like an insult, but “The Avengers” is about as good as it could reasonably be expected to be. It’s a big summer movie, it’s got a huge cast, and it’s essentially serving as a sequel for about four different movies. There are a lot of story lines that have to be worked in here, but writer/director Joss Whedon manages to give every character a moment to seem genuinely human. Or, human-ish, with much larger muscles than the rest of us.
Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly,” “Dollhouse”) is an ace with an ensemble cast. His TV shows tend to feature groups of people struggling to work out their differences and personal flaws in service of some greater good, and “The Avengers” is just a larger scale version of that. The movie does suffer from a bit of what we might call “comic book goofiness.” In other words, there are plots and characters that surely make every bit of sense in comic book form to the pre-teen reader, but when introduced to an adult who’s never read the comics, might seem a tad confusing and goofy.
Thor’s brother Loki is our bad guy here, except he’s working with some weird dude in space, and for some reason the weird dude in space leaves this whole earth destruction thing to Loki. And Loki mostly is just working out some serious little brother issues. And everyone is fighting over a glowing blue cube that’s called a tesseract but is for some mysterious reason not the kind from “A Wrinkle in Time”. Alas.
But the plot isn’t really the point here. It’s more fun to watch the various heroes bounce off each other and try to find a way to be a team. Most of them are unhappy for one reason or another, with Bruce Banner and Captain America perhaps having lost the most. Mark Ruffalo occasionally seems like he’s in the wrong movie, but when he fits in, he uses his trademark Ruffalo sensitivity (or “Ruffalivity”) to make Banner both a nerdy science geek and the saddest man in the world.
Everyone gets a zinger or two, but the majority of them go to Robert Downey Jr., who may be king of the perfectly delivered one-liner. He’s the least tortured of the group, but this only means that he hasn’t thought enough about his role. Don’t worry, he’s a little tortured, too.
Thor can seem a bit like a giant walking muscle, but even he is mourning the loss of his brother, whose defiant ploy for world domination makes no sense to Thor. And the two most human members of the team are also the two most ethically compromised, which for them simplifies their reason for fighting: they have debts to repay to the world.
New York, as per usual, takes quite a beating. That city must have some kind of huge repair budget for the number of times it has been destroyed by some giant intergalactic beastie. You know, other cities can be destroyed by beasties, too. I tell you, it gives you a real sense of being the second city for all the attention Chicago gets from comic book monsters.
There are quite a few Whedony moments in here to satisfy his usual fans, both in the sense of those zingy one-liners and in the sense of him giving you a real gut punch of a tragedy. Thanks, Joss.
Here we are at the end of the review, and I still haven’t even covered all the characters. Don’t worry, the movie gets to them. In the realm of big spectacle summer entertainments, I would say this one mostly overcomes its own goofiness by being genuinely funny and fun.
Oh, and because I know you’re all wondering, yes, you should stick around after the credits.