For the past four years, the string of contemporary films from the Marvel universe have teased comic book hero admirers with post-credits scenes and quite a few Nick Fury appearances to lead to a grand payoff—and it’s a payoff worth the wait and then some. The Avengers have arrived for their ultimate team gathering, assembling all the characters you know and love (And will get to know and love even more), epic battle sequences, and plenty of good humor for a consummate summer blockbuster.
Marvel (The studio is now owned by Disney) outdoes every other film they’ve put out—all the titles focusing on each individual Avenger, doozies like the Fantastic Four films, and maybe even last summer’s surprise hit X-Men: First Class—thanks to the life and distinct personalities each cast member brings to their character and a story and script orchestrated with depth from hailed “nerd god” and writer-director Joss Whedon. Films with a large number of primary characters tend to go one way or another: horribly wrong (Spider-Man 3) or out of the funk of going horribly wrong. With Whedon’s detailed yet all viewer-friendly take on this highly important part of the Marvel universe, there is not just escaping that funk, but an end result demonstrating that comic book adaptations (Or any kind of film, for that matter) with a star-powered ensemble can succeed simply by developing strong senses of character and giving all those characters some useful screen time.
Those strong characters make up the heart of The Avengers and what makes the film spectacular. If you’ve watched the film’s predecessors, the heroes and the villain are just as you remembered them, yet even more amped up as they embark on their toughest war to date. It’s highly suggested to check out the previous movies (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk , Thor, and Captain America) to get a tighter grasp on the story of and the characters in The Avengers. However, this installment provides solid background on each hero even if you choose to jump right in to the line with watching this one first. The Avengers opens with an electrifying game of cat and mouse: Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) steals a powerful energy source known as the Tesseract and gets his own alien army in exchange for it. Alarmed by this new threat, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, finally becoming more than “that guy” who appears in all the Marvel movies), with agents Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) backing him, calls to reinstate the Avengers Initiative. Fury personally recruits super soldier Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) after he awakes from the longest cryogenic slumber ever. Coulson revisits with billionaire inventor Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and spy Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) locates Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) during his Third World travels. Completing the group is the Asgardian god of thunder/Loki’s brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). The differing strategies thrown out by each team member, driven by their extremely varied personalities, come into grave (Though usually comical) conflict, but the crucial time to fight as a team comes sooner than anyone expected. Co-starring Stellan Skarsgard and Gwyneth Paltrow in their roles as Dr. Erik Selvig and Pepper Potts, respectively, the movie ties in these supporting characters from the preceding installments of the lead-in series.
The tension between the Avengers themselves is surprisingly more compelling than the duel between good and evil. It’s not to downplay Hiddleston’s deliciously monstrous portrayal of the antagonist, or the action scenes fueled by Loki and his army, including the mindblowing final sequence. It’s more of the chemistry amidst all the bickering between the heroes and the actors in the roles, and how the individual performances pull together yet hold their own ground. Paired with how Whedon wrote each character—staying true to source material and past films while keeping them fresh and fun, especially for the moviegoer without previously held Marvel knowledge—each actor fully shines in character at their given opportunities. You’ll believe that there is no one else but Hemsworth who can be as brash, muscular, and mighty as Thor, or that no one but Evans is capable of pulling off the clueless and innocent yet noble and courageous Captain America act. For Johansson and Renner, whose appearances in the past Marvel films have ranged from minuscule (Hawkeye’s cameo in Thor) to moderate (Black Widow in Iron Man 2), the mysterious auras of their characters remain, but as performers, they show great capabilities as action stars on the rise. Downey Jr., as always, provides much of the knee-slapping hysterics as the snarky Stark. However, the cast’s biggest surprise comes in the form of Ruffalo, who took on the role of Bruce Banner and the Hulk after negotiations with Edward Norton (Who played the character in the 2008 film) fell apart. Ruffalo is more than able to convey Banner’s logical intelligence, struggles, and a subtle sense of humor, and instilling immense fear as the incredibly strong Hulk. He doesn’t just fill Norton’s shoes (And Eric Bana‘s, who took on the role in Hulk, the janky 2003 release from Ang Lee), but grows out of them and sets an even larger size for the pair.
Despite a chaotic raging war as part of the premise, some serious moments, and being an influential-in-a-totally-nerdy-way motivator in saving the world, one other thing that makes The Avengers watchable and lovable is the comedy in it. It again traces back to the script and the actors that deliver. Filled with one-liners, innuendos, and those amazing character interactions, the comic timing in this film is impeccable, yet somehow it still keeps its street cred as an action movie above all. The Avengers is the epitome of a spectacular summer flick—there’s fighting and mean special effects, lots of laughs, well-defined and irresistible characters, a perfect superstar cast, and a brainy script, and at the head of it is Joss Whedon, a man who has already done it all for the nerd crowd and has pulled out all the stops to bring out a genuine crowdpleaser beyond any set demographic. Whether you’re a lifelong Marvel geek or simply love catching movies every week at the cineplex, this is one attraction that’s worth even more than one viewing. Assemble now and definitely never later.