"The Avengers" brings together many of the heroes from the Marvel universe who have already been featured in their own various films. The pictures have been constructed in an engaging "web" that, in some ways, is tied together in "The Avengers", and will likely be woven in single films (there are already "Iron Man", "Captain America" and "Thor" sequels in the works) whose stories lead back to another "Avengers" film (which is already hinted at in the post-credits scene from this film) somewhere down the line.
"The Avengers" opens with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor's adopted and power-mad brother, breaking into a secret lab and taking the tesseract, a glowing blue cube that has the power to open gateways to other universes. He brainwashes Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Professor Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) so that he can have both a worker and a warrior, and goes about a plan that will open a doorway so that an alien army can begin to take over Earth.
So, Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) calls in all of the various heroes, including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who - carefully - goes to pick up Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) Additionally, Thor (Chris Helmsworth) pops in when he hears that his brother is up to no good.
The picture does take a while to get going, and those expecting a movie where action is sprinkled throughout the entire running time may find themselves a little fidgety. There's a good deal of buildup as the characters come together and a couple of big action moments (including an impressive one when the Avengers find their airborne lair is under attack), but the picture really piles everything into the last 40 minutes or so, with a Manhattan battle sequence that is nothing short of massive.
The film is enjoyable as a popcorn action flick, with solid performances and an impressively skilled level of organization of several main characters. However, the real surprise is the humor - while Downey, Jr's character gets all the great one-liners, there are little moments that are some of the funniest of the year, including a nod to a particular early '80's video game (and what makes the humor of the film work are moments like this, which could have just been the reference, but go the full way and use the visual of the game as the punchline for the joke) and a very quick moment between Thor and the Hulk in Grand Central Station that is pure "Looney Tunes". There's also a great little Harry Dean Stanton moment.
The performances are all quite good, although particular note has to be paid to Mark Ruffalo as Banner/The Hulk. Now the third different actor (after Eric Bana and Ed Norton) to play the role in recent years, Ruffalo really - even with limited screen time - proves himself to finally be a great choice for the role, getting the character's inner turmoil and sadness. Downey, Jr's wisecracking Iron Man persona continues to entertain and supporting performances are fine, as well, including a very different performance from Cobie Smulders (Robin from "How I Met Your Mother") as Agent Maria Hill.
Overall, "Avengers" feels a little long and the plot isn't anything particularly unexpected, but where the movie works, it works quite well - it handles several heroes at once surprisingly well and offers solid performances from the leads. The action is really largely in the back half, but doesn't wind up getting tiring. Overall, it's definitely above-average popcorn fare from director Joss Whedon, and I'm looking forward to more films from this universe.
VIDEO: "The Avengers" gets a delightful presentation from Disney for this 1.78:1 (1080p) Blu-Ray presentation. Slick and detailed, the presentation remained bright and bold throughout. Small object detail is often impressive, and the transfer does justice the sleek shine of the big budget production. Colors sparkle and pop, appearing well-saturated and pure. Overall, this remained a largely terrific transfer that should definitely please viewers.
SOUND: The DTS-HD 7.1 presentation is, quite simply, tremendous. A consistently bold, aggressive audio experience, the sound design is high-intensity both in how forceful it is and the level of immersion and sonic activity. Sounds - especially in the Manhattan battle sequence late in the picture - zip from one speaker to another as sounds smoothly move around the room. Audio quality is tremendous - bass is hard-hitting and thunderous at times, while sound effects come across as well-recorded and precise. Despite all of the activity, dialogue is never overshadowed. Overall, this is a demo quality presentation that has a great feeling of depth and power.
EXTRAS: The key feature is a terrific and terrifically entertaining audio commentary from director/co-writer Joss Whedon, who provides a great deal of insights (working with the actors, effects and a good deal of the challenges encountered) about the production and directing what is easily the largest production he's helmed yet.
We also get a data base/second screen feature ("The Avengers Initiative") that can be viewed on IPods/Pads and laptops, gag reel, deleted scenes, Soundgarden music video, "Item 47" short film (which stars Lizzie Caplan and Jesse Bradford), "Visual Journey" and "Assembling the Ultimate Team" featurettes.
Final Thoughts: Overall, "The Avengers" is definitely above-average popcorn fare from director Joss Whedon, and I'm looking forward to more films from this universe. The Blu-Ray presentation is terrific, with excellent video (and especially audio) quality and a handful of enjoyable extras. Highly recommended.
The Film B-