The Avengers (2012)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 5/19/12
Director: Joss Whedon
Writer: Joss Whedon
Music: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow

Two words: Cobie Smulders. Hot damn, what an amazing experience to see her in action. While the rest of the movie is quite good, she totally seals the deal as Agent Maria Hill and delivers the most riveting and believable performance of the bunch. She will haunt me for years to come. But, moving on...

Marvel has been foreshadowing this film in every movie they've made since "Iron Man" (2008), and it's a surprisingly enjoyable ride. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is up to his old tricks, finding his way to Earth in order to steal a powerful artifact and open up a portal for an invading army to subjugate the human race. Facing hopeless odds, Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Samuel L. Jackson) pulls together a team of superheroes to face the alien threat, including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Naturally, the various team members don't get along with each other, and Loki uses this to his advantage. But of course, teamwork wins in the end and Loki is sent back to Asgard to face punishment.

I've never liked superhero team-ups and comic book cross-overs, as they're the embodiment of compromise and lowest common denominator thinking. Additionally, with the exception of Black Widow, I'm not fond of any of the individual members, so why would I want to see them all together? Much to my surprise, writer/director Joss Whedon has put together a no-nonsense action film that focuses more on the task at hand rather than the individual egos, personalities, and relationships, and it works incredibly well. Taking a tip from Japanese anime, Whedon has created a world model and a particular situation, and the characters are simply reacting to it based on their own agendas and moral compasses. There's no character development in the traditional sense. Instead, we learn about the characters simply by watching how they move and react, not by what they say and do. They don't drive the story - the story drives them. It's a brilliant approach that keeps everyone in the film grounded and believable. The dialog is smart and meaningful for the most part, although every character has some cringe-worthy lines as well. Excellent performances from everyone, and the visual effects blend seamlessly with the characters and their surroundings. The stuntwork is also surprisingly good, and pleasantly convincing. It's graceful and stylized, but hyper-kinetic and hard hitting at the same time. The fight scenes are well grounded and reflect the abilities of the players, without slipping into outrageousness and self parody. The choreography, cinematography, and editing do a good job of capturing and presenting the action in a consistent and visually pleasing manner. Nice work all around, and a superb example of how films should be made. The pacing is steady and brisk, keeping the audience engaged and involved from beginning to end, and Mark Silvestri provides a strong and driving musical score that's one of the most powerful scores I've heard from him in a long time. (or maybe it was just a lot louder than normal)

With an astounding and record breaking $170 million opening weekend haul, there's no doubt there will be a sequel and more Marvel spin-offs. One can only hope that Joss Whedon stays involved and that the mature and thoughtful tone set by this film carries through the rest of the series.