by Glenn Lovell
After the most expensive trailer of all time ‒ five feature-length action films costing in the neighborhood of $200 million a throw — “The Avengers,” aka The Main Event, is pretty much what you’d expect ‒ noisy, overlong, wall-to-wall CG effects and arcane superhero lore meant to elicit knowing guffaws from the panting target audience (young, male, comic-book savvy).
Plot? A thimble’s worth, with room to spare.
In this installment, Marvel’s Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) join forces at the behest of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson under eye patch) to battle Thor’s evil half-brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
Strike Team Delta, as this confluence of superheroes is dubbed, is eventually joined by quick-draw archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) … after a knock on the noggin that brings him back from the dark side.
Since he was sent packing in last year’s “Thor,” Loki has been looking for payback. Fury and his brain trust, led by Prof. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), inadvertently provide the means, a power cube that opens a doorway to space.
What would superhero screenwriters do without the dreaded portal to other galaxies and dimensions?
Yes, it’s all fairly formulaic, but on a Wow! scale never before contemplated, much less experienced. Two by two, the superheroes square off to test one another’s mettle. And then all hell breaks loose as Loki unleashes his Asgardian army, which includes sled-like gizmos and giant metallic serpents. Will Team Delta be enough to save downtown Manhattan and the Stark Tower? Or will WMDs be necessary? Don’t fret, even as it plies all-out mayhem, this epic comic-book adventure preaches nuclear brinkmanship. Message: Maul now, bomb later.
Directed by Josh Whedon, known for his quirky, postmodern approach to sci-fi and horror, “The Avengers” at its best, and worst, feels like one of those nostalgic “Star Trek” reunions. To his credit, Whedon keeps the sentimentality in check by letting the super-egos go unchecked. Unfortunately, in the cases of Downey’s Tony Stark and Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, this soon wears thin. I mean, how many snarky Stark comebacks or anger management jokes can one take? Evans’ Captain America has the opposite problem. As the presumptive leader of the team, he comes off as something of a drag, at once stolid and humorless
Appropriately, the biggest laughs come compliments of the Big Green Guy, who, after two of his own movies, finally lives up to his name. “Enough! I am a god!” Loki reminds the brawny bad boy. Without so much as a “Huh?” Hulk wipes the floor with the Nordic troublemaker-turned-ragdoll.
THE AVENGERS ✮✮✮ Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner. Directed, scripted by Josh Whedon from the Marvel Comics. 142 min. PG-13 (for slight profanity, adult humor, comic-book violence)