Review: ‘The Avengers’ is one epic ride

After months of hype and media coverage, and years of build-up in previous Marvel superhero films, “The Avengers” is finally here. And it’s one heck of an epic ride. The film was absolutely worth the wait, and director Joss Whedon’s combination of non-stop action, humor and heart adds up to what is arguably one of the best superhero movies ever made.

The film features an impressive line-up of superheroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk. Although I enjoyed all the individual films featuring these characters leading up to “The Avengers,” the superheroes are even better together. Here, they are forced to team up to take on Loki, Thor’s vengeful brother, who has stolen the “Tesseract” (the glowing blue energy cube used by HYDRA Nazis in last summer’s “Captain America: The First Avenger”). Loki plans to unleash an army and take over the Earth, and also get revenge on his brother for denying him the throne of Asgard.

However, while the Avengers are called to work together, they’re a rather dysfunctional team, with conflicting sets of values and egos. They don’t always see eye to eye (at one point, Iron Man and Thor get involved in what amounts to a super-powered smackdown, and Captain America is forced to break up the fight), and they don’t completely trust each other. There’s plenty of verbal barbs passed back and forth (Iron Man refers to Thor once as “Shakespeare in the Park” and also tells Captain America that everything good about him came from a “lab bottle”). And no one knows when or where Bruce Banner will lose his temper and turn into the uncontrollable Hulk.

This isn’t exactly the stuff “dream teams” are made of, and Whedon doesn’t shy away from showing the superheroes’ flaws, in addition to their strengths. But what makes “The Avengers” great is that even though the superheroes aren’t perfect, they are eventually able to work past their differences and learn how to function as a team. Their strengths and weaknesses balance each other out, and they realize they’re better as a team than they could ever be apart.

Whedon devotes time to the struggles and back stories of each character, and he takes advantage of his talented team of actors. I couldn’t think of a more perfect cast to play these roles: from Robert Downey Jr. as the snarky daredevil Iron Man; to Chris Hemsworth as the noble, proud Thor; Chris Evans as the earnest and self-sacrificing Captain America; Scarlett Johansson as the tough, take-no-prisoners agent Black Widow; and Jeremy Renner as the cool yet conflicted Hawkeye. Mark Ruffalo takes over nicely as the Hulk, reflecting the pain and emotional torture that comes from knowing just how much destruction he could unleash, and how he can’t always manage to control it. Actors Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson) and Stellan Skarsgård (Professor Erik Selvig) round out the supporting cast.

Whedon also chose wisely when he selected Loki to be the film’s primary villain. To me, Loki is the best villain out of all the Marvel superhero films; Tom Hiddleston plays him with an eerie elegance, and his hypnotically calming voice belies the madness he has fallen into due to his all-consuming desire for revenge. His performance commands your attention, and he more than holds his own against the cast of superheroes.

There are several great action set pieces, particularly the final Avengers vs. Loki showdown on the streets of New York City, and Joss Whedon also has infused the film with his trademark humor. The film has plenty of great one-liners, many of them courtesy of Robert Downey Jr.’s smart-alecky Iron Man (when Loki boasts he’s brought an army to ravage New York, Iron Man doesn’t miss a beat, firing back, “We have a Hulk.”) And one of the best moments of the movie is Hulk’s response to a tirade from Loki about how he is above all the meaningless masses and deserves to be treated as a god — a moment that drew a round of rousing applause from the audience when I went to see it in the theater.

“The Avengers” was the film I was most looking forward to this summer, and I wasn’t disappointed. Joss Whedon does almost everything right, and the film is likely to please both fanboys and fangirls, and a general audience. I’ve been to see it twice this weekend, and I loved it just as much the second time.

“The Avengers” is a great way to kick off the summer, and while it’s the first blockbuster out of the gate this summer movie season, I have a feeling it’s also going to be the one to beat.

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