At long last, the Avengers have finally assembled! I know, I can hardly believe it either. Almost four years on the dot since the original Iron Man’s famous post-credit scene alluded to the Super-Hero Team-Up flick, Writer/Director Joss Whedon’s Mega-Tent-Pole finally arrives on screen. It’s an ambitious project, one the has required four lead-up films (five if you count The Incredible Hulk, and that film’s mother studio seems to hope that you don’t), each tasked not only with telling its own story, but also with weaving together the disparate threads of the Marvel Universe. I’ve enjoyed each entry to varying degrees, but there’s no denying that this is the big one, the one we’ve been waiting for, the one we’ve been told to wait for.
If The Avengers could be described in one word, it would be this: Zippy. Zippy as in a lengthy runtime that goes by in the blink of an eye. Zippy as in one wise-crack bouncing off of another, more tightly-edited incident always just around the corner. The film immediately calls to mind last Summer’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II: Both carried the tremendous expectations of patient fans, both rewarding their years-loyal audiences with a product that picks up right in the middle of the action, and never takes its foot off the gas. Those who found Hallows Part II to be the dessert they’d been craving for all these years will get an absolute kick out of this, but I personally can’t help but feel that a two and a half hour long movie with no beginning is a slightly off-kilter beast. It’s like ordering a steak dinner, and seeing it arrive without the mashed potatoes: You got what you really came for, but a little something to round it out would have been nice.
My main concern coming into The Avengers was how anyone was going to find enough screen time for all of these actors to have an impact. Whedon and co-writer Zak Penn have found a perfectly appropriate solution: Drop the story, focus on characters. Each of the six Avengers is shown the lime-light for a substantial amount of time (Jeremy Renner’s Hawk Eye predictably drawing the short straw), bickering cleverly, sometimes hilariously, and raining down havoc on whoever opposes them. It’s great fun, and some lofty credit goes to Whedon and Penn’s script for establishing and explaining the group’s social inter-workings so effectively. Only problem is, that’s about all that’s going on here.
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki simply doesn’t feel like an appropriately massive villain, and the cohorts that aid in his attack are sloppily explained, and seemingly not so menacing as to require such an elite fighting force. There's a great chance that some of the whip-smart dialogue or the break-neck action sequences will glue themselves into your brain indefinitely, but the narrative arch of the thing will be out of there within the week. The true bad guy in the room is the Avengers’ initial lack of chemistry, and while that’s a pretty solid idea in and of itself, it makes this film, which carries with it such a lengthy mythology, feel like even more positioning for, ‘The Big One.’ That Marvel, always looking ahead. But before we move on to Thor 2, Captain America 2, Iron Man 3, The Avengers 2, and whatever else those geek gods have waiting in their wheel house, let’s give a solid round of applause to this offering. It might not be perfect, and it’ll be up to the individual to decide whether it was worth all of the hype, but one thing is for certain: It’s a damn-good time at the movies.