***The following review contains minimal spoilers; those looking to stay pure before seeing it for themselves should proceed with caution.***
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10Much of the early talk regarding the Avengers film — full title, Marvel's The Avengers — centered on how difficult it would be to pull off. After all, no past comic book movie has ever juggled so many iconic characters, most of which have carried films on their own.
The challenges actually run deeper than that. Movies based on superhero comics are usually about distilling the most recognizable and most appealing elements from decades of stories into a two-hour format, and that's not easy to do with The Avengers. It's always been a fairly fluid concept, with lineup changes frequent since the very beginning — if you're looking for comics starring this exact cast, good luck finding much beyond the current Avengers Assemble series. Three of the most prominent Avengers in recent years — Spider-Man, Wolverine and Luke Cage — are nowhere to be seen, with the first two tied up at separate studios and the latter yet to debut in live-action. Also absent are common fixtures like Avengers Mansion, the Vision, Hank Pym or the Wasp; and Marvel Studios has long established Jarvis as a computer program rather than an actual human butler.Ultimately, though, what's made Avengers work for nearly 50 years in multiple incarnations is something very simple — the biggest Marvel superheroes taking on the biggest threats. And that's exactly what the movie is, executed in as entertaining and as elegant of a way as one could reasonably hope.
The stakes in The Avengers feel legitimately high; high enough to justify Nick Fury gathering Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye. As Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston, just as great as he was in Thor) and his alien army attempt to enslave the Earth, some of the biggest setpieces seen in the genre unfold, proving that this really is a threat no single hero can withstand.Avengers moves briskly, setting the plot in motion immediately and then darting from plot point to plot point with no time to meander, making none of its 143-minute runtime feel superfluous. Which, impressively, isn't at the expense of character development — director/screenwriter Joss Whedon manages to fit in plenty of juicy moments while driving things along, including Tony Stark and Bruce Banner's super-genius bonding, Agent Coulson's hero worship of Captain America, Thor's conflicted brotherly love for Loki and a pivotal moment in Hawkeye and Black Widow's shared past.
If there are complaints to be had with The Avengers — and seeing as how this is a comic book movie and all, it will inevitably be debated by fans until the end of time — it's about what's not there, rather than what is. Though his brother serves as the story's antagonist, Thor's role is limited despite some memorable moments. Due largely to his positioning in the plot, Hawkeye remains the least fleshed-out member of the ensemble by a considerable amount. The Chitauri, from the first volume of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's Ultimates, aren't given much reason to exist other than to provide the Avengers with something to hit in the third act (succeeding wildly in that capacity). And if you're holding out hope for a bunch of cameos, you can abandon those dreams now — though it's not like the movie would have been any better if an extra wearing glasses was called "Henry Peter Gyrich" in the credits.Those issues are minimal, and certainly not enough to alter the undeniable truth: Avengers is not only a formidable spectacle of blockbuster moviemaking, it's genuinely fun. The 3D actually adds to several scenes, rather than feeling like a prerequisite. Whedon's words and Robert Downey Jr.'s delivery are as perfectly partnered as you'd think; a big part of the film's lively and effective use of humor. The movie not only stands up to the high degree of difficulty, it follows through with such ease that it'll make you wonder why every movie doesn't have six superheroes in them. (Who wouldn't go see Snow White and the Huntsman… and Captain America and Iron Man and the Hulk?)
The true test of The Avengers might be whether or not it meets expectations — not financial ones, as it seems to be a lock to make a whole lot of money, but the fan expectation built over five previous productions. This is a movie that not only puts a bunch of legendary comic book characters in a single film, it made the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly its writer and director. Had it sucked, the outcry would be so vocal and so pointed it would make the world forget that Greedo ever shot first. But, luckily, not only does it not suck, it's actually pretty great, with enough of everything you want to leave you anticipating the next installment — which is teased in another nifty post-credits scene, one you'll definitely have to explain to all of your non-comic reading friends.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!