MARVELS THE AVENGERS is an audaciously ambitious film with a singularly Herculean task. It must take the disparate superheroes of previous films, their unique tones and styles, and mold them into a cohesive work. Its not unlike the plot of the film itself, which finds Shield, the super secret organization that keeps the Earth safe from things the populace would rather not know about, tasked with molding the superheroes into a cohesive team. Shield succeeds better than the film, but not by much.
Joss Whedon, of Buffy and Angel fame, is tasked with the unenviable requisite of taking valuable screen time to introduce each character individually, and give the audience the story of how they are recruited for Shield. Fandom demands it, and Whedon, a fan boy himself, makes the interludes as puckish and to the point as he can, though things dont begin to really sparkle until Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man appears. Not that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is uninteresting, nor Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) wonderfully and abrasively nerdy when Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) arrives in the backwater into which he has disappeared to use her particular skill set to cajole him and the big guy the turns into when piqued back into action. Its just that Downey himself is so much larger than life. Add the Tony Stark narcissistic charisma and he is the center of attention even when standing in the background.
The threat is Loki (a seductively evil Tom Hiddleston), Thors disgruntled trickster brother who plans on getting over his sibling rivalry by destroying the Earth. The McGuffin of the piece is the tesseract that holds unlimited power, and the twist is that as Loki steals it, he puts one of the Avengers, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) under his spell.
Whedon, in his infinite wisdom and solid sense of both character and fun, doesnt rely on just a premise, coupled with a considerable arsenal of whiz-bang special effects. Aside from the nod to the target audience with a shot of a technician killing time by playing a computer game on a system worth a gazillion dollars, he gives each character an arc, none more compelling than that of Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), newly thawed after a 70-year-long nap and still adapting to the modern world. The inability to catch pop references is a nice running joke, but its the gradual loss of his innocence as the behind-the-scenes machinations of Shield come to light. Once again Evans, in the thankless role of a solid, square-jawed square and made him not just sexy (who knew?), but actually deep. The same can be said of Johannson, with Black Widow the flip side of square coming to terms with her feelings for Hawkeye, and at the same time actually tricking an audience that is onto her wiles, and more than once, with Whedons insightful writing. The man understands strong women.
Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury, with all the Samuel L. Jackson flourishes necessary and expected of him, with Clark Gregg as his sidekick, Coulson, who delivers the most unexpectedly subtle performance in the film.
The only fault in the film is a floppy middle act spent aboard the Quinjet flying fortress playing cat-and-mouse with Loki. Storywise, there is much territory to cover, to be sure, and even with some tidy use of exposition to fill in backstory for Black Widow and Hawkeye, iT feels as though they are getting short shrift in that department.
MARVELS THE AVENGERS if the perfect popcorn movie that respects its audience, fan boy or not, though the former will be more excited than the latter to see the Stan Lee cameo. Excellent performances, thoughtful writing, and an overriding sense of exuberant fun with a super villain worthy of having so many superheroes on his godly tail, set a high bar for the inevitable sequel.