It's not for the faint of heart, or those prone to vertigo. But if you're going to sit close to the screen for any movie this year, "The Avengers" would probably be it.
This movie achieves almost exactly what it seeks to achieve, and does so with cheeky attitude.
In case you are culturally unaware (or over the age of 35), "The Avengers" has been carefully set up by a series of films over the last few years. The two "Iron Man" installments, the "Incredible Hulk" remake, last year's "Thor" and "Captain America" pictures, were all preparing the teaming of a troupe of superheroes.
This movie's intergalactic threat was mostly established in "Thor," where a nasty outer-space god called Loki (Tom Hiddleston, a fine villain) spurned his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and brought a mighty battle to Earth.
"The Avengers" leads off with a very satisfactory opening sequence, of near-James Bondian proportions, that hooks our interest right away.
Then we shift to the (even more satisfying) account of how SHIELD agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) gathers his squad of superheroes.
Like the rest of the movie, this part is playfully written, but with a sharp eye for defining the characters and their relationships with each other. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) transforms into Iron Man, but his quips are anything but metallic; he has a wary rivalry with Captain America (Chris Evans), the goody-two-shoes recently arrived from the 1940s.
Natascha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) travels to India to find Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who's been trying to keep calm and not transform into "the other guy" (aka his giant green alter ego, the Hulk).
Unfortunately, the arrow-wielding Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has been zapped by the evil Loki over to the dark side.
The movie's midsection is dominated by the action aboard an aircraft carrier, which can fly as well as cruise; truth be told, in this phase "The Avengers" floats around, aimless for a while, like the giant airship.
The long finale takes place in the streets of Manhattan (of course) and involves much destruction with giant mechanical worms and portals to space and Thor's mighty hammer.
It goes on way too long and blows up way too much, but that's your summer blockbuster, circa 2012: The sense of proportion is completely out of kilter.
As smart and funny as so much of the movie is, there's a sense that it's obliged to be over the top, lest it be outdone by the last "Transformers" picture.
From the fifth row, or even in the back of the theater, you will feel every smash, pow and thwack, to the point that you may wish the film stopped a bit shy of its 142 minutes.
Also: The spectacle of heroes who can be dropped from skyscrapers or clobbered with a tree trunk and jump right back into battle becomes just a bit repetitive after a while.
But give director/co-writer Joss Whedon, a fanboy par excellence, his due. In his usual fashion, Whedon's sharp about kidding the conventions of superhero movies, without undermining the fun of such a movie.
And although you will enjoy "The Avengers" more if you've seen at least some of the previous films, I think Whedon has jiggered it so a newbie could actually understand this thrill-ride, even if you don't get all the references. That in itself is an accomplishment, and a locked-in summer hit.
"Marvel's The Avengers" (3 stars)
Director Joss Whedon successfully stages a frequently witty summit meeting of superheroes, including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans) and the whole gang. The movie crazily goes over the top, but it sure achieves what it wants to achieve, and pulls off some very satisfying large-scale sequences.
Rated: PG-13 for violence.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Edmonds, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Olympic, Stanwood, Meridian, Thornton Place, Varsity, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.
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