May 10, 2012

'Avengers' delivers on most of its promises


---- — Now this is how to do a superhero movie.

"The Avengers" melds together the egos, powers and box-office appeal of several comic-book heroes into one colossal film that actually delivers on most of its promises.

Written and directed Joss Whedon, it's everything a summer blockbuster should be: action-packed, humorous and pure unadulterated fun.

The story pulls together several of Marvel Comics greatest heroes to, of course, save the world. This time, the threat comes from a familiar source, Loki, estranged brother of the superhero Thor.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) steals a unique power source, the Tesseract — bravely buried by Captain America last year — that can help fuel an invasion of Earth. All that stands before him is the super-secret organization of SHIELD, run by Samuel L. Jackson's stoic Nick Fury, and its tenuous alliance with a handful of well-meaning superheroes.

Iron Man is still on the planet, while Thor has to soar in from Asgard, and Captain America has to emerge from the '40s. Added to that group of solo movie stars is another incarnation of the Hulk, with Mark Ruffalo taking over from the failed Eric Bana (2003) and decent Edward Norton (2008) versions.

Then there's sexy assassin Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who doesn't have superpowers but is good with her hands, feet and any gun that happens to be around; and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), another unaltered human with a really cool bow and arrows.

Perhaps because most of them have had setup movies, the characters are all vivid and colorful.

The heroes are amusingly unfriendly and uncooperative with each other, a squabbling family with some entertaining internal battles.

Whedon does a good job of playing up the personality clashes that happen when such a diverse group is forced together, and many good one-liners follow.

Whedon also does an extremely smooth job of sharing the glory — and the screen time — equally among his heroes.

Iron Man (Robert Downey) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) have the best powers, but Black Widow proves to be surprisingly formidable in her own way. Chris Evans may have the toughest job, but he deftly manages to carry off Captain America's earnestness and retro clothing without seeming too corny and holds his own next to characters who can fly and shoot lasers and lightning bolts.

Whedon even gives deadpan Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) some great moments.

It is the Hulk, however, who proves to be the greatest addition to the cast. Ruffalo is well-cast as the genius scientist trying to repress "the other guy," and the CGI big green monster steals several scenes and even gets off one of the movie's best laugh lines.

"The Avengers" powers through its nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time, leaving the viewer wanting even more. If the rest of the summer is just like this, it's going to be a good one.

Rental Recommendation: If you want to see how a big-budget, star-studded superhero movie can epically fail, just watch "Batman and Robin" one more time. George Clooney wishes you wouldn't. Grade: D+

Email Steve Ouellette: