'The Avengers' Review: A High-Octane Superhero Extravaganza

With Joss Whedon's Marvel movie mashup, The Avengers, the superhero movie finally lives up to its paper and ink counter part. In comic books, crossover events are common. Superheroes appear alongside other superheros all the time but, with a minor exception here and there, that tried and true comic book staple never made it to the big screen. In a fantasy-based world, the superhero team up film has long been the pinnacle of "what if?"

The Avengers not only makes that fanboy fantasy a reality, the high-octane superhero extravaganza delivers on almost every level with well-rounded characters, plenty of humor and  jaw-dropping action. A few things do get left out in the wake of all that excitement but odds are you won't really care. The Avengers is as fun as movies come and fans who've been waiting for a superhero team up on the big screen will leave the theater satisfied.

It doesn't start that way though. Almost as if there was a desire to frontload any problems, The Avengers starts awkwardly. We're on another world with an unknown adversary discussing Earth with Loki (Tom Hiddleston). It's not clear who is talking or why but we know this is bad news for the planet. This quickly moves to some set pieces at S.H.I.E.L.D. before the team assembly begins.

As we're reintroduced to Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), each character is given their own grand entrance. If you're well-versed in the Marvel Universe, this section of the movie – the first third – will be enjoyable simply because you're seeing these characters again. If you aren't, it could easily be viewed as slightly disjointed and confusing.

Part of that is because the script overly complicates the issue at hand: assembling The Avengers. Loki wants to use the Tesseract to take over Earth but that gets lost in a slew of compounded subplots: Loki, apparently, has someone pulling his strings, a weird S.H.I.E.L.D. conspiracy is afoot, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) is a fanboy, Tony Stark's arrogance clashes with Captain America's military virtuosity, Bruce Banner's inner turmoil infects the others, and a connection between Hawkeye and Black Widow is hinted, but ultimately glossed over. While some of these strands are really fun, a lot of it feels extraneous and shoved together, thereby taking away from the main drive of the story.

Action scenes are peppered throughout, and the first third features the beginning of standout performances by Downey, Ruffalo and Hiddleston. Then, after about an hour, it's almost as if the film flips on the amazing switch. From there, it's about 100 minutes of perfectly paced action filmmaking littered with great character moments, chemistry and one huge action set piece after another, all on leading up to an epic New York City finale that more than lives up to expectations.

Whedon's dialogue is welcome throughout the film, even if at times it gets overly complicated and laden with jargon. It's obvious he relished in the opportunity to get these characters together to banter back and forth. Some of these scenes approach the excitement of the action. But not quite.

The action in The Avengers is among the most staggering to date in a superhero movie. It's on the scale as Transformers: Dark of the Moon but more coherent and exciting because we care about the characters within it. Whedon, both as a director and a screenwriter, places a premium on character arcs, interactions and relationships. Those elements help elevate the action beyond simple explosions and fighting. Here, along with the rest of the film, the characters are almost perfectly balanced. No one really gets the short end of the stick when it comes to screen time and, because we spend enough time with everyone, you'll be hard-pressed not to jump out of your seat just a little with the iconic moments Whedon has built into his film.

One problem with the action is that while Loki is a formidable villain from the very first scene, his army, the Chitauri, are largely unformed and unexplained. They're just faceless bad guys – a bunch of bodies for The Avengers to beat up. Thankfully, that's entertaining, but it's hard not to feel the slightest bit disappointed that we never really learn anything about them.

The 3D in The Avengers is very solid for a post-conversion but largely unnecessary. It adds depth and scope to shots in almost every scene but it didn't add, or take away, from my enjoyment of the film. If you like 3D, go for it. If you don't, 2D will still rock your world.

The Avengers has flaws - extraneous plot points, a pointless enemy, minor pacing issues –  but the bulk of the film is so fantastic and fun that it's really hard to complain about them. And, in fact, upon a second viewing, many of the issues are dealt with in their own way. No matter, though. The movie is two plus hours of superhero fun on the grandest scale we've yet to see in a comic book movie film. Which is exactly what we all wanted it to be.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10