BUSAN, South Korea — Marvel's ace-in-the-hole, when it comes to film properties, has always been The Avengers. The key players in this event have all had at least one film to establish who they are and what they're made of. With luck, you've managed to see Iron Man 1 & 2, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and maybe one of the Hulk films (though no one would blame you if you haven't). If those films were meant to set the players on the board, then The Avengers is Marvel’s grand strategy, executed with some degree of success by director Joss Whedon, one of the true kings of geekdom.
The Avengers was always going to be a difficult juggling act of balancing multiple characters with narrative structure. The first half of the film is evidence of Whedon's difficult task, as a great deal of time is spent on exposition-heavy conversation. This first hour is surprisingly dull, as Whedon spends time trying to give weight to characters like SHIELD leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his subordinates, Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the interstellar villain Loki (excellently played by Tom Hiddleston), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and so on.
The real sparks of nuanced characterization, however, don't come until screen giants Robert Downey, Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) are given ample time to chew the scenery. Downey owns every moment he's onscreen, as was to be expected, due to the razor-sharp and deliciously witty dialogue given to Tony Stark. Virtually every moment Downey has gives cause for at least a chuckle. In fact, a good majority of The Avengers is surprisingly light and, at times, ridiculously hilarious. Some of the other show-stealing highlights come from the Hulk, moments which caused our near-sold out theater to erupt in laughter in ways which I haven't experienced in quite a long time.
It's clear that Joss Whedon was the only man for the job. His command over the screenplay and slick production is evident, as he is himself an experienced comic book author and die-hard fan of the source material. There was no way that Whedon was going to mishandle The Avengers – and yet, there was never going to be a perfect way to bring all of these characters together on the screen. This is as good as anyone was going to get with a character juggling act of this magnitude.
The premise (‘the world is about to end’) is clean and simple enough to leave the complications to the heroes themselves, having to learn how to overcome their own individual egos and work together. It's this interest in how these extraordinary individuals interact with each other that gives the film its most inspired moments, but unfortunately they don't come until almost halfway through. The action follows soon after, bringing a climax that is so bombastic and over-the-top that it edges towards tedium. Thankfully, the gargantuan battle in New York city is broken up by hilarious crowd pleasing moments that just about anyone will appreciate.
The Avengers is a critic-proof film. It's going to take in obscene amounts of money and, if you're reading this, you're most likely going to see it regardless of what you've read. It's kicking off the summer movie season with record-breaking overseas grosses, and the critics consensus is unanimously favorable. Despite having some kinks in the pacing, and somehow managing to feel sometimes tedious, The Avengers is a solid summer flick that just about everyone will appreciate on some level… and watching Hulk smash is worth the price of admission alone.
Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson,
Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston
Now Playing in theaters in South Korea, opens May 4 in North America
Runtime: 142 minutes