By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin May 4, 2012 at 1:01AM
If every summer blockbuster or comic-book movie were as good as Marvel’s The Avengers I’d greet the upcoming release slate with a lot more enthusiasm…but there aren’t many writer-directors as talented as Joss Whedon. Indeed, it’s the writing that sets this film apart from the crowd, in harmony with perfect casting, first-rate visual effects, and other key ingredients.
During the past few years, as we’ve been teased about this gathering of superheroes in the epilogues to Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, andCaptain America, I’ve wondered how Whedon—or anyone—would deal with so many strong yet distinctive personalities in a single picture. The answer lies not only in the imaginative, superbly orchestrated script but in the baggage we bring to the theater. We’ve already met Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Chris Evans as Captain America, seen Scarlett Johansson strut her stuff as Black Widow, and enjoyed Robert Downey, Jr. as snarky Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). Even Clark Gregg is by now a familiar presence as Agent Colson, not to mention the formidable Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. honcho Nick Fury.
Yet The Avengers is better than any of the films that led up to it, and I for one had no problem embracing newcomers Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (The Hulk) or Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. The story, which Whedon conceived with Zak Penn, establishes territorial tension among these larger-than-life figures, presents them with a way to work out their problems, and unites them against a common enemy. As for the performances, it would seem that Downey set the bar high and inspired his colleagues to play at the same level. There’s no weak link here.
That leads me to the next not-so-secret ingredient: a great villain. Tom Hiddleston chewed the scenery in the Shakespearean arena of Thor, as the hero’s maligned step-sibling, but here he’s allowed to be sly, sarcastic, and casually cruel. It’s a delicious performance.
Finally, Whedon has injected a welcome dose of humor to the proceedings. With a sure-footed sense of pacing, he has punctuated his screenplay with wonderfully funny dialogue. It’s the first superhero movie I can think of that has made me (and the audience around me) laugh out loud, repeatedly.
We can only invest in an action movie if we relate to the characters and believe that something is at stake. Whedon gives us all of that and more, in a film that clocks in at well over two hours but never seems long.
I can’t say that 3-D made a big difference to my enjoyment of the film; there are moments where foreground pieces really stand out and show off the dimensionality of a shot, but I suspect the film and its spectacular special effects play just as well in 2-D. Content is king in this film, and it’s a marvel to behold.
Marvel's The Avengers is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and by digital download.