Spanning three years of building long-anticipated convergence -- from 2008's IRON MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, 2010's IRON MAN 2 to last year's THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER -- Marvel's most lavish (at an estimated $220 million budget) and highly-ambitious comic-book movie project to date is finally here. The good news is, after years of Marvel teasing the fanboys with post-credits teasers from each aforementioned movies, it's a relief that THE AVENGERS is well worth the wait. Credit should goes firsthand to writer-director Joss Whedon (TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse) for fulfilling the promise of creating a hugely entertaining comic-book movie that is both appealing to fanboys and mainstream viewers looking for an all-out, dazzling summer movie extravaganza.
When Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives on Earth and steals the powerful energy cube called the Tesseract from the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility while even manages to put on spell against Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), the scientist who's working on the cube as well as one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s top fighters, the skilled archer named Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to work for him, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) have to resort to desperate measures to assemble an elite squad of superheroes known as the Avengers. The Avengers are including Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Hawkeye. However, the team doesn't get along well together at first and this works up to Loki's advantage in hope to break them apart while planning to open the portal using the Tesseract, which will unleashed a violent race of aliens known as Chitauri from the other universe, to help him invade the Earth.
At the first glance, the name of Joss Whedon isn't exactly the immediate best choice to tackle such a high-profile project like THE AVENGERS. Aside from his extensive TV background in which he is well-beloved by a legion of fans, his feature-movie directing resume (the one and only 2005's SERENITY) is hardly a box-office success at all. But he proves to the naysayers that his extensive comic-book knowledge works well to his advantage here. Working on a script co-written by he himself and Zak Penn, he manages to juggle a huge load of characters (eight, to be exact) here where each of them have their own interesting personal psychodrama. Whedon is also pretty adept when comes to comic timing. There's a load of punchy one-liners here, which are simply flat-out hilarious and among most memorable of all (to me, at least) is the one involving Hulk and Loki during the climactic finale (you just have to see it for yourself to understand what I said here).
Apart from that, he certainly knows how to make good use of his actors' charisma and acting capabilities pushes to the right button. The actors here are top-notch, right down to small roles (Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson, Cobie Smulders' Agent Hill and Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts), where all of them are given ample times to shine with overall satisfying performances. Robert Downey Jr. is obviously the highlight here, who often steals the show with his hilariously sarcastic remarks but it is the unexpected Mark Ruffalo, who gives a particularly superb performance as Bruce Banner. As the third actor to play the role (after Eric Bana in 2003's HULK and Edward Norton in 2008's THE INCREDIBLE HULK), he's by the far the best there is. Here he brings subtlety and warmth that counter-balances well with his full-on ballistic mode once his character turns into Hulk. And kudos should also goes to ILM from achieving a terrific motion-captured Hulk, in which Whedon has finally fulfilled the fanboys' dream by engaging him in a series of astonishingly crazy stunts that characterized the raging insanity of this big, green monster.
Clocking at 142 minutes, the movie does feels, at times, overlong. Despite all the satisfying vibes Whedon and Zak Penn has generated in their mostly entertaining script here, it's hard to deny that the plot remains patchy in place. The middle part of the movie is especially draggy with heavy expositions.
But as just the pace does threatens to stall once or twice, Whedon manages to redeem that glaring weakness with a 30-minute of an all-out, CG-heavy action extravaganza. This is where the movie truly shines the most (and also worth the price of admission alone), as Whedon proves to be such an accomplished visual stylist and knows well how to orchestrate a series of sustaining action sequences with amazing and often innovative use of camera works. Nevertheless the huge battle between the Avengers against Loki and an army of vicious Chitauri are excitingly staged with breathless varieties of tracking shots, wide angle and sweeping shots that makes the entire scene as epic as they gets. Not only that, there's even a notable unbroken take where the camera swoops through the battle of each Avenger takes on the Chitauri riding on space chariots.
THE AVENGERS is a first-rate crowd pleaser that is best enjoyed at the big screen (the one where I've seen this in digital 2D format had me particularly blown away). And as usual for this Marvel production, don't walk out too soon since there is a post-credit teaser reveals the all-important guest star (at least for comic-book fans) which will be likely to be featured in sequel(s) to come.