The Story: When these guys show up, it’s your signal to stock up on disaster insurance.

The Review: Don’t take this as a sweeping statement of superhero movies, but I tend to think they work best when they’re just straight-up action-adventure vehicles.  Just give people what they want: plenty of thrills and laughs, a solid plot, and you won’t need to mix in any dramatic nonsense or political statement in between.  That latter stuff would be nice—an exciting movie with some relevance is always a good thing, but sometimes all you really need is the excitement.

With that in mind, The Avengers easily takes a position as one of the best in what has been a Golden Age for superhero films.  The prologue alone has enough explosions, gunfire, car chasing, martial artistry, crumbling rubble, and suspense to fill several Daredevils, and the movie only builds in scale right to its very last second, proving that more really is sometimes more, and that you can never go too big or too splashy if you know how to do it right.

The premise is simple: man comes in conquest of the planet, whose only hope lies in a ragtag band of remarkable but radically different individuals.  Joss Whedon, who has a natural genius for bringing out the credibility in truly outlandish plots, wisely sticks to the action points, only occasionally deviating to have Loki (the man coming in conquest) spout some drivel about the uselessness of free will, a poorly conceived bit that leads absolutely nowhere.  Suffice to say, anytime this material pops up, you grow impatient to move on to the more serious business of butt-kicking.

And of course, the whole appeal of the film, and the crux of its success, lies in its fictional stars.  Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man are well-established figures in comic book filmdom, and their actors have already ingrained the characters into the public’s conscious.  We know who they are and they delight us whenever they say or do anything according to our expectations.  This trinity makes the heart and soul of the team, and they drive most of the film’s spirit.

If Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Hulk don’t have quite the wattage of star power that their more famous teammates do, at least they never become mere ciphers.  Sadly, Hawkeye doesn’t exert much of a presence, being denied the opportunity when the plot sidelines him for a major chunk of the movie.  Mark Ruffalo strives valiantly to give his character, whose entire value is either as tank or supporting brainpower, some dimension.  But it’s Black Widow who really breaks out in this film, most likely, I suspect, because Whedon could not bear to have the whole 143 minutes dominated by men.  If you had little use for Natasha Romanoff when you got into the theater, you’ll most likely be a fan once you leave.

And while there’s much else I could praise about the movie (the treatment of Agent Coulson, the breathtaking special effects, the heart-pounding battle sequences), I will spend the remainder of my time talking about its humor.  Whedon’s classic, hilariously out-of-context mixture of sarcasm and understatement is practically a character of its own, keeping you alert and happy even at the slower parts of the admittedly lengthy movie.  Of course, Iron Man gets the lion’s share of zingers and jokes, but the Hulk has perhaps the most satisfying gag of all, a bit of violent slapstick which is pretty much the live-action version of Popeye trouncing Bluto.

Conclusion: For thirteen dollars, you get everything you could expect out of a superhero film, executed to a lavish degree.  You don’t need any political/philosophical commentary when your brain is drenched in cinema-induced adrenaline.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – My favorite part of the film: watching Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Captain America, Bruce Banner, and Iron Man awkwardly eating shawarma in the midst of a broken down dive.  From the looks of their faces as they munch in silence, I’m guessing Guy Fieri isn’t going to be paying it a visit.

– Then again, can you blame the owners if the cooking isn’t at its best?  They just had one of the most traumatic days of their lives, their livelihood is in ruins, and before they can even pick up the pieces, they had to whip up a meal on the fly for six violent weirdoes?  They should get one of those cheesy signed and praise-laden headshots for their troubles.  “Heckuva place to unwind and ‘wrap’ up after a day of world-saving.  Cheers, Tony.”