The gang's all here!
Going Rate: Worth full price admission.
Starring:Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson
Red Flags: Comic book action violence, mild language
I'll let you in on a little secret: Iron Man steals The Avengers. With that in mind, this all-star comic-book superhero movie is a highly enjoyable ride that takes itself only moderately seriously, and most of that is due to Iron Man (Downey), whose motor-mouth wisecracks put a reality check on an over-the-top fantasy.
A superhero film filled with superheroes requires the evilest threat a screenwriter can think up. This time, it's the Tesseract, a self-generating energy source so powerful it can punch a hole into the universe and bring forth a whole host of ugly superbaddies. Only in movies does such technology always suck from the bottom of the barrel. What if it brought in a race twenty times smarter than us? Would we resist sharing our turf with a superior intellect or defend our dumbness to the death? I dunno.
This energy source, held by a super-dark security group called S.H.I.E.L.D., brings out Loki, a sinister authoritarian bad guy with a scepter that flips people's allegiances. Imagine what it would do to Rush Limbaugh. Loki inverts a scientist and ace archer Hawkeye (Renner) and takes off with the Tesseract. Not good.
S.H.I.E.L.D.'s topper, Nick Fury (Jackson), realizes this problem will require him to do more than stand around and be cool with one eye, so he starts putting together a team: Captain America as Steve Rogers (Evans), Natasha Romanoff as Black Widow (Johansson), Thor as his Shakespearean hammer-throwing self (Hemsworth), Hulk hiding inside Bruce Banner (Ruffalo), and the aforementioned Iron Man doing business as Tony Stark.
Put this many egos in a room, and you're bound to have trouble, especially if you get Dr. Banner angry -- something he doesn't want to do anymore, thus leaving doubts about his viability as a team player. Captain is the born leader, even if he's a little too flashy-looking. Widow really doesn't have any superpowers beyond bringing a lot of creative hurt to people. We're really not sure whose side Thor is on, given Loki is a relative. And Stark? Let's just get this done and go eat Chinese.
The film delivers everything expected of a summer blockbuster in its genre: lots of CGI, lots of explosions, lots of impossible stunts. What saves it from being a forgettable thrill-ride is Joss Whedon's touch. He made the film for fanboys without making it a fanboy movie, avoiding the mistake that doomed Watchmen. Seeing Captain America and Thor is not a prerequisite. Prepare to be more than a bit surprised. And stay through the end of the credits. I didn't, but a friend tells me it's worth it.