Marvel Comics has produced many of the most beloved and popular characters in the comic book world. Over the past decade, the most marketable of these characters have been converted into successful film properties.
“The Avengers” has the potential to be the largest of these film franchises to date. Living up to the expectation of comic book fans as well as movie fans is a huge challenge. There is a large cast of characters that need to be fleshed out enough to stand alone without the benefit of an asterisk to refer to prior work, along with a story that needs to be adequately interesting to not be overshadowed by characters that are, by definition, larger than life.
At an isolated base, S.H.I.E.L.D. has assembled a team of scientists to study the Tesseract, an apparently alien object that may be an unlimited power source. The Tesseract begins to behave wildly as if controlled by some outside force. That force turns out to be Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The Asgardian Loki has made a deal with the Chitauri, a race from the far side of the galaxy. The Chitauri will supply an army for Loki to capture and rule Earth and Loki will give the Tesseract to the Chitauri.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives at the base as the staff is being evacuated because of the Tesseract’s fluctuations. Fury learns from head scientist Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) that the Tesseract is still uncontrollable, and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) observes that it may be something trying to come through the doorway the Tesseract provides. Suddenly, the Tesseract opens a portal and Loki steps through bearing an alien spear. After a brief firefight, Loki uses the spear to control Hawkeye and Selvig, who help him evacuate the Tesseract.
Knowing that powerful forces now control the Tesseract, Fury resolves to reactivate the Avengers Initiative: a plan to gather powerful figures from around the globe to fight for the defense of Earth. To that end, Fury recalls Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) from her mission in Russia to bring in Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) from India. At the same time, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) pays a visit to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Fury himself brings in Steve Rogers (Chris Evans).
S.H.I.E.L.D. agents track Loki to Germany and Steve Rogers as Captain America goes to confront him. Before Loki can bring down the outmatched Captain, Iron Man arrives and helps to capture the Asgardian. On their way back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, a storm portends the arrival of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki’s brother. Thor takes Loki and begins interrogating him about the Tesseract, but because his intentions are unknown, Iron Man intercepts Thor and the two fight until Captain America arrives to convince both to fight along side.
With all of the characters in place, and Loki incarcerated in a cell designed for the Hulk, the search for the Tesseract begins in earnest. Dr. Banner seems to realize where the Tesseract is just as Hawkeye, still under Loki’s control, attacks the flying base and disables one engine keeping it aloft. The attacks cause Banner to transform into his alter-ego and the Hulk starts tearing the ship apart from the inside.
Now bruised and scattered, the members of the Avengers learn that the feared portal is open over Manhattan and the Chitauri force are streaming through, attacking the city.
One of the most surprising components of the film for me is how the to assassins: Hawkeye and Black Widow, fit into the group dynamic. Black Widow in particular is a compelling character, as she proved many times to be three steps ahead of the situation. Maybe in sequels she can redeem Daredevil from the blight that character has become in film.
As the story goes, I think there are plenty of twists and turns to keep the target audience interested. Anyone that has seen a preview, or even one of the commercials, will know that the alien invasion makes it to Manhattan, so there’s no shock when the heroes find they are unable to stop the portal being opened. So, much like a comic book, it is expected that the heroes will win, and much of the entertainment comes from these gigantic figures using power beyond what any person can wield to fight back from the brink of failure. If that is your sort of thing, and it is mine, you will likely enjoy “The Avengers.” There is plenty of action, a bit of character development and a hint of spy vs. spy intrigue. All of that fit into a single movie with enough comedy to keep it from feeling too cramped.
All in all, I left the film impressed. Yes there will be sequels. You can’t hint that Thanos is on the horizon and not make a sequel or two, but the bar is going to be pretty high after “The Avengers.”