Release Date: May 4, 2012 Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 143 minutes
All for one, one for all? For almost two-thirds of The Avengers, our favorite Marvel superheroes certainly don’t embrace the motto popularized by the Three Musketeers despite the pressing need for them to assemble to save the world. It isn’t until they share a personal tragedy that Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) unite with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to thwart an alien force led by Thor’s evil brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). While we are overly familiar with the likes of Iron Man and the Hulk, director Joss Whedon allows The Avengers to unfold as an smart and exciting origin story, one that creates a genuine need for the universe’s mightiest superheroes to set aside their differences and fight as one. It works. To have the Avengers meet, shake hands, and lock horns with Loki would be too easy and deathly dull. Whedon understands that each superhero comes with a super-sized ego that ensures they don’t play well with others, that it’s going to take time for them to size each other up in order to place their trust in each other. So Whedon generates as much tension from the group dynamics as he does from Loki’s nefarious plan for humanity. Whedon’s approach also ensures each superhero stands out as both an individual force for good and an invaluable member of the Avengers. Whedon plays up each superhero’s strengths, so there’s never a time when it feels like Thor or the Hulk, for example, have been shoehorned into the proceedings. That doesn’t mean one or two of superheroes don’t steal the show. As Iron Man’s Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr. possesses an outsized personality that is impossible to ignore even within a group setting. Mark Ruffalo assumes the role of the Hulk’s Bruce Banner from Edward Norton with quiet confidence and a surprising amount of biting wit, and the result is the best portrayal of Banner and the Hulk seen onscreen far. Based on The Avengers, Ruffalo certainly deserves a shot at his own Hulk solo adventure. As for Loki, Tom Hiddleston remains as brash but psychologically weak as he did in Thor. Whether Loki returns to take on the Avengers another day remains to be seen, but an end-credits scene hints that the Avengers will definitely assemble again against a foe very familiar to Marvel fans. Any likely sequel, though, must follow the blueprint from which Whedon worked. Given the superheroes involved, the sum parts of The Avengers could easily have been greater than the whole. Instead, Whedon makes The Avengers a true team effort.