The Avengers

In the battle for Superhero Box Office Dominance 2012™, the first entry is The Avengers. And boy, does this movie bring out the big guns.

If you’ve been living under a rock, The Avengers is the end result of years of planning by Marvel Studios to bring the famed group to screen. A total of five separate films have been released between 2008 and 2011 to reach this point, with each film working as both box office and critical gold.

Now, the superheroes presented in those films—Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye—come together in a veritable orgy of superhero excess. Under the direction of Joss Whedon, of Buffy and Firefly fame, these superheroes come together to defend Earth.

Well…that, and have some massive ego clashes.

If you’re an Avengers newbie, like me, you might wonder how these disparate superheroes work together. At first, it’s not well. A good hunk of the film shows the conflicts between the motley crew, namely between the narcissistic Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and the duty-bound Captain America (Chris Evans). Basically, if you’re a fan of Whedon’s work in previous forms, the tone of the first two-thirds of the film in particular will work for you.

Of course, any superhero film these days has to have a knockdown, drag-out fight, and The Avengers’ is a doozy. Whedon does a surprisingly good job taking each character’s strengths and making them work together.  Still, it does feel a bit disjointed from the rest of the film, since the bulk of the actual action in the film takes place in this one segment.

It can’t be said enough: Joss Whedon has done an admirable job creating what on paper seems like a nightmare of a film. Whedon finds a good balance in terms of tone, story, and characterization. Just as one example, Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) is more clearly defined in her first appearance in the film than she was in her entire time in Iron Man 2.

The cast also deserves credit for creating a remarkable chemistry. With many of the major players having significant roles in their own films, it’s remarkable how well they all work together. In a casting upgrade, Mark Ruffalo’s take on Bruce Banner/The Hulk is a definite improvement over Edward Norton’s take on the character in The Incredible Hulk. It’s the one role where the original casting may have proven detrimental to the success of the film.

The Avengers should satisfy the majority of diehard Avengers fans, and once the heroes appear on screen, even those with a minimal knowledge of the characters should find something to enjoy. How the film will compare to the other big superhero films of 2012—that’s The Dark Knight Risesand The Amazing Spider-Man, for the record—remains to be seen, but so far, things look good for this film.

Now, as a side note: while watching the five films leading up to The Avengers is not necessary to enjoy this one, I highly recommend it.

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