The Avengers

Blown away! — If you don’t want a movie with character, humor, grit, spirit, and over two-hours of gripping-the-armrest entertainment, then check your pulse and find something that matches it. This movie ain’t for you.

In the midst of immediate chaos, head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) strides across the screen with that signature black eye-patch, his long, leather coat hem whirling as he purposefully and aggressively channels the action, constantly assessing, pulling in these separate and disparate powers and personalities into a cohesive whole. His faith in the “rightness” of righting wrong never flags as he fights for all he believes in.

Samuel L. Jackson as head of S.H.I.E.L.D Nick Fury

Loki, the adopted brother of Thor, is the embodiment of all of this world’s black headlines, writhing crawl lines, and heart-stopping Special News Bulletins. He is Wall Street, CEO’s, corrupt politicians, and drug pushers all rolled into one; he is the embodiment of all the little militant crazies of the world who push the big guys around because the sane people are stuck in the mud of convention and balance. So when Loki comes shoving his way into “our world”, we long to shove back. Loki is the focal point for all our collective pent-up, frustrated rage.

Tom Hiddleston as the trickster Loki

Tom Hiddleston plays the part of Loki with such alien panache, such delusional unconcern for our concerns, that when the time comes for The Hulk to mop the floor with him we are screaming a collective YES! as we also roll with laughter. But Loki has found allies in the alien race called Chitauri and finds a new source of power in the object called the Tesseract, which he wrenches from the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Thor, the mythical Norse god of thunder, is torn between still thinking of Loki as the little brother with whom he grew up, and the tyrant whose ambition is to rule the world (and probably the universe as a sideline). These are bigger-than-life characters who mirror, in a big way, the travails of the highly touted dysfunctional families of real life.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

I don’t know a single family who isn’t dysfunctional in some way no matter how hard they try, like cats, to cover it up. There are always people who, like Loki, bring trouble and pain, to those who try to help them with love and reason. Somewhere there’s a line. Thor had to find that line, and where his loyalty lay. Otherwise he would leave The Avengers vulnerable, and leave the world to either a tyrannical or an apocalyptic destiny. 

Then you have the out-of-era WWII, physically enhanced American GI wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, with ideals of right and wrong as faded now as white-washed jeans. There’s something a little melancholy about him as he tries to process this futuristic world he wasn’t born into, and the loss of a simpler world as dead as those he once loved.

Steve Rogers as Captain America

But Captain America (Steve Rogers) was once a leader of men in a boots-on-the-ground war, and in spite of the lost decades in between, his mind can still assess a situation, and his voice can still ring with authority as he places his human assets at pivotal points. And if anyone questions his right to that authority, he gives them a visual object lesson.                           

Standing poles apart from this self-less American hero is Iron Man Toni Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), the narcissistic billionaire, self-styled (though not delusional) brilliant scientist, whose playboy days seem to have been brought up short by brains and beauty in the lithe form of Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow). The romance is evident, but does not dominate or stop the story with directorial, in-your-face fantasies. At the outset, Stark makes it clear that he does not “play well with others”.

He has to push everyone’s buttons, including The Hulk, whom he suddenly jabs with a sharp sizzlie something just to see what happens. This was not one of his more brilliant moves since he was not even suited up. But Dr. Banner takes it in stride with his slow, self-mocking smile, and the assurance that he has enough control not to be going all green over being stuck with sharp pointy things. But just as Banner must wrestle with his demon anger, Stark must batter down the walls of his self-imposed isolation from others.

Two of the characters are S.H.I.E.L.D agents who do not have superpowers, but who are highly skilled warriors. One is Hawkeye the archer, Agent Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), who is compromised by Loki with a touch of his Tesseract enhanced sceptre and made to do Loki’s lethal bidding. The other is the Black Widow, Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johanson), whose methods of extracting information is to lie in wait and look like the victim — until the bad guys are firmly in her web. When the enthralled Barton nearly destroys the technologically astounding helicarrier on which the team make their temporary home base, Romanoff makes it her priority to bring him down and, hopefully, back.

Scarlett Johanson as The Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye

The battle between these two fellow agents and friends is so well done I was gripping the armrest. Didn’t matter that Johanson is a beautiful, slender woman. Her scenes of mayhem as Natasha Romanoff leave no doubt whatsoever that the two warriors are evenly matched. Thankfully, however, Johanson manages to look both feminine and physically lethal at the same time.

Every scene in this movie is a standout, but one of the best is Barton’s leap from a skyscraper where he not only manages to turn in mid-fall, but pull and fire his bow at the same time. I have complained repeatedly about computerized special effects being overdone, and, therefore, looking fakey. I’m here to tell you this stunt looks real. Both Barton and Romanoff look every bit as breathtakingly super as the superpowers.

The Hulk, Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), continues to battle his dark and light side. The insightful actor himself describes Dr. Banner as “this generation’s Hamlet . . . a guy struggling with two sides of himself . . . everything he does in life is filtered through issues of control.” I think this movie is the best portrayal ever of the Banner/Hulk personas. Banner’s pain from his unrelenting struggle to keep his emotions at bay on a moment by moment basis, is revealed when the others have to discuss the option of killing the creature when he becomes a threat within the group. “It won’t work”, he tells them. “I’ve put a bullet in my mouth and the other guy just spit it back out.” The previous Hulk movies, from just viewing the trailers, to me were cartoonish. In The Avengers, he is a raging behemoth unleashed and, at first, uncontrollable. When he finally gains enough control to become a part of the unit, and the Chitauri army is overwhelming them with sheer numbers, he is told it would be a good time to become angry. Softly he replies, “I’m always angry,” and unleashes the beast within.

I asked myself why The Avengers blasted the competition for a record-breaking first weekend? Why Marvel Comic heroes in the past few years have sprung full-blown from yesterday’s pulp page to today’s three-dimensional, super-size movie screens, and why they have grabbed hold of some really big, paying public consciousness. I think it’s because the time is right. Superhero comics originated during a time (1930s) of social and economic unrest and upheaval. It is during such times when people feel most fearful and vulnerable. The time of the superheroes has come again.

The Avengers is the whole hero package in 3-D and “living color”. I’ve been “Holding Out for A Hero” for years, and  these guys and one awesome woman overpower the screen, the theater, and their audience, and salve our inner need to right some mighty big wrongs — because they are up there doing it. They are our avatars.

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