Marvel has spent the past 5 years gearing us up for The Avengers and thankfully the payoff is worth the wait. After consuming quality superhero flicks in watching Iron Man 1/2, Captain America and Thor, I was ready for the tentpole event in this film franchise. Thanks to the writing and directing of Joss Whedon, The Avengers is in good hands and manages to mash up the entire cast of comic book heroes without coming off as forced or cheesy. This is definitely one of the most entertaining page to screen comic book adaptations.
Assembled in this film are Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Incredible Hulk / Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo in a fantastic debut role), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) who learn to fight together under the leadership of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. The plot focuses on Thor's brother Loki's (the awesomely evil Tom Hiddleston) attempt to destroy the world. We get a nice well paced introduction to all the characters with some witty and amusing dialogue that has become a staple of Whedon's work. Once the characters band together and spend the last 30 minutes of the film battling Loki's intergalactic minions, the real shine of The Avengers comes through thanks to Industrial Light and Magic.
ILM's special effects are once again top notch in this film. The polish they have given The Hulk is remarkable. You can totally see hints of Mark Ruffalo in the finished CGI green giant. The movements and manerisms are also much more realistic that what we've seen in previous Hulk incarnations on the big screen. A particular scene towards the end of the movie when The Hulk confronts Loki alone is so over-the-top awesome and hilarious that it serves as icing on the cake for the quality of visual effects used throughout the film.
The all-star ensemble cast comes together well with both action scenes and humorous exchanges. It seems that Renner and Johansson are almost relegated to supporting players due to the intense presence that the main four Avenger heroes command. The acting star of the movie though is without a doubt one Robert Downey Jr. This movie could not have been made without the clever dialogue given to his Tony Stark character. While Iron Man 2 was somewhat of a letdown, this film brings back the snarky and overconfident Iron Man/Tony Stark that made the first Iron Man movie such an awesome experience. Downey Jr. is the glue that holds all of the film together and his initial casting as Tony Stark was the best move Marvel could have made in kick-starting their mega superhero master plan.
The only major gripe I had about the movie was that it felt a little too long at times. Some slow exchanges early on could have been cut to bring down the 140-minute-plus run-time. Also while Cobie Smulders looked amazing in a supporting role as Sam Jackson's assistant, she seemed out of place throughout the movie. All in all though, this is a job well done by Marvel as they have demolished the previous record for highest grossing opening weekend ($207 Million, a mark that may be eclipsed later this Summer by The Dark Knight Rises). Expect follow ups to both the individual superhero franchises as well as a no-brainer Avengers sequel. Make sure you go contribute to the over one billion dollar gross by seeing this thing in the theater. I didn't see it in 3D but I heard that the conversion is well done anyways. A strong 4.5 out of 5 JRs for Marvel's The Avengers, one of the best movies of 2012 thus far.
PS: Make sure you stick around for the bonus extra scene at the end of the credits which is a great way to cap a witty and well orchestrated cinematic experience.