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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.
. "Marvel's The Avengers"

The earth was calm that day. Oh, there was the usual political conflicts, worries about the economy and, let us assume, warring factions. And, then, a fateful meeting occurs somewhere in space that leads the evil alien called the "Other" (Alexis Denisof) to think he can, with the help of an evil wanderer, vanquish humanity.

Related to this, a secret item called a Tesseract is being studied by espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D,'s physicist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and agent Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) under the agency's director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). They understand the object contains its own energy but what its purpose is, and how to harness it, is yet to be discovered. The best minds are ignorant on this one.

Suddenly, the transparent cube begins to act up, and then goes wild as it opens up an interplanetary portal through which steps a devil from planet Asgard named Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who immediately alters the braincells of Selvig and Barton, putting them at his command, and goes on to demand that humans bow to him. What a narcissist. It's not a way to make friends on our basically friendly planet but what does an evil alien know?

But friends aren't what this monstrously evil son of Odin is after. As the exiled brother of Thor (see "Thor") he holds one mean grudge and, when his wanderings led him to the Other, the result was his control of the Tesseract's power, along with the evil one's army of steel invaders called the Chitauri. Besides the satisfaction of his planet-sized ego, he's here also to exact some devastating revenge on his bro' Thor, for robbing him of dad's legacy, "The Hammer of God."

Such is the setup for an assemblage of all of Marvel Studio's superheros, which sounds an awful lot like Tesseract power at the boxoffice. Pow! And, so it is but with a sharp storyteller's wit and taste. Credit for that goes to director Joss Whedon who rewrote Zac Penn's original screenplay for Marvel and Disney. How much he retained isn't known (at least by me) but this is one action film that has the attributes of a very talented mind with a taste for logic and consistency behind one helluva lot of admirably designed action and effects. The artfully controlled 3D was added in postproduction.

Fury, realizing the scope of the threat before him, sends out agent Natasha Romanoff, aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), to enlist the contrary Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), aka, "The Hulk" on a bad day. Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) interrupts a touchy-feely moment between electronic genius and playboy extraordinaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr), aka "Iron Man") and his, er... assistant, the sensuous Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) to recruit the man in the impervious iron suit as much for the power he possesses as for shedding some light on the Tesseract and his analysis of Selvig's research.

Soon enough, at Fury's personal request, Steve Rogers, The Avenger (Chris Evans) is added to the group, followed by Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and all are put through enough physical action to almost wear out the "super" in superhero, though none will admit it. To a man and woman, they give Whedon their best and most committed work.

But, now, nothing's a slam dunk, even with this crowd and Whedon's got more on his agenda than an excuse to clang metal and show off Natasha's excellent speed and jiu jitsu. He's trying to show us that superheroes are human, too. And, to demonstrate that, he's got the competitive factor set on high, with ego and vanity to match. From the git-go they're at odds over how to fight Loki and his Chitauri horde. Meanwhile, with his magic wand that contains the Tesseract energy to be unleashed at his will, the infrastructure is taking a beating.

Until, finally, someone realizes that separate strategies dilutes their ability to gain on their common enemy, especially this super-energized bunch arrayed before them. Unity is the answer and, once all are agreed, it carries the day.

Two comedic highlights, for me, deserve mentioning. Loki comes up against The Hulk. Thinking that he can deal with the green giant as he has with all the others, he tries his energy-loaded spear. To little lasting effect. Losing his patience with this idiot, Hulk grabs this preening annoyance and flails him about the room as though he's a rag doll. At last we see the villain getting his just desserts by being pounded into submission -- a bad guy capture we've only just dreamt about elsewhere. Sharp. Very sharp.

The other is when Fury and his team are strategizing together and trying to learn more about their adversay, Loki, when Thor explains his sibling relationship. "He's your brother?! someone says in disbelief. "Well," Thor kittenishly adds, "he's adopted."

When you're Marvel, and you're making a big action film for Disney that has to outdo all the preceding ones, the challenge is to dream up things no one's seen before. One of these, in a a major conceptual coup in armament design, is the Helicarrier, an aircraft carrier with four massive aerial engines that afford the largest ship in the navy to fly.

Downey and company get a workout in whatever green-screen confrontation they find themselves, and all are up to the demanding task. Prime physical condition is the single most common attribute among the cast as out-of-breath moments abound. Downey has the added challenge of lots of close-ups in the tight confines of his suit. Though they are snippets shot out of continuity, these inserts are edited into the action supportively and seamlessly. Watching Johansson in action, even given the benefits of quick-cutting and sound effects, is great enjoyment. Ruffalo delivers a nice, straightforward performance and Evans a Captain Avenger with attitudinal shadings. Hiddlestons' so good a villain you just want him to go away. Everyone's out there; no one's buried.

The tension and our basic love of these characters in such an even distribution of involvement and grand context of good and evil make for maximum enhancement of a terrific script carried out with conceptual profiency and, even, sensitivity. Interestingly, save for that brief moment between Stark and Potts, and some suggestive dialogue between Natasha and Clint Barton, there's a deficiency of intra-gender emotions. It seems that the drive of the story and the psychological complications behind the conflicts -- even through 142 minutes that doesn't seem any more than 120 -- diverts any thought of who might get into the sack with whom from being a relevant concern.

Summing up, this is a highly satisfying night out for everybody from fanboy to action-loving senior, plus a whole lot of foreign folks where the film was initially released (following its Hollywood premiere) and enjoyed massive attendance.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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