Back in the day, a few months shy of fifty years ago, “The Avengers” was one of Marvel Comics weakest titles, a blatant attempt to woo the readership of DC Comics’ “Justice League of America,” itself a rather lame concept of sticking all of its lone-gun, and lone-gun-with-a-sidekick heroes in a room with one another where they could squabble amongst themselves until somebody really nasty in need of comeuppance intervened. How odd that now, after thirty-one other films (including the Republic Picture’s “Captain America” serial, an unreleased and presumably unwatchable version of the “Fantastic Four,” and the much maligned “Howard the Duck,”) the-powers-that-be have finally gotten the formula right (although the previous film, the second in the Ghost Rider franchise, was probably the biggest turkey of the lot.) And Disney is at the helm—who’da thunk it?
It ain’t Shakespeare, it ain’t Greek tragedy, and it ain’t even literature. The endless lapses in logic, the countless coincidental unlikely meetings between friends and foes on the battlefield, the basic silliness of the men-in-tights concept (although Scarlett Johansson and Cobie Smulders fall more into the category of eye candy in theirs,) and the awful comic book trope that abruptly ends the street battle with the aliens notwithstanding, “Marvel’s The Avengers” may be the best of the comic-book-to-movie films to date.
There is plenty of action, a despicable preening fop of a villain, a seemingly endless army of creepy aliens and their ultra-nifty machines, no overlong flat spots between action sequences, lots of super devices, just enough flippant comedy, mostly from Iron Man and (oddly enough) the Hulk, with a dash of the cathartic reminiscent of Greek drama, without the poetry. Bruce Banner, the Hulk’s alter ego is full of pathos, Iron Man is always witty and full of himself, Captain America is overtly patriotic with a conscience—the natural leader of the group, Thor is eye candy for the ladies, and Nick Fury is the archetype of the boss everybody wishes they had. And Harry Dean Stanton makes a brief appearance as a security guard—so you know it’s got to be a decent film.
The plot is comic book basic—villain (Loki) attempts to conquer the earth, enlists some equally despicable allies (the Chitauri—a bit toned down from their comic book counterparts,) brain washes some of the good guys (Hawkeye and Dr. Erik Selvig,) uses some super gadgets to evil purpose, kills one of the minor good guys for a tear-jerk, makes a mess of Manhattan, gets stopped in his tracks by the heroes and their super gadgets in the nick of time, while an even nastier villain (Thanos) waits in the wings, promising yet another installment—more of the same. And, if you sit through the entire credits, there is a bit of honest-to-goodness existential humor to wrap things up.
The cinematography is expertly framed, edited, and always in focus. The CGI is downright cool. All manner of explosions abound. The ensemble cast work well together, although having that many heroes necessitates a bit of dumbing down on the parts of some from time to time so that others can shine. So if you are of a mind to escape reality for nearly three hours, want nothing to dispel the illusion due to laughable production standards while you stuff your face with popcorn, this might just be the ideal time and event for the occasion.