By now, throngs of the geek faithful (yours truly most emphatically included) are rolling in the unbridled joy of multiple nerd orgasms at the premiere midnight screenings of the eagerly-anticipated Avengers movie. And in the interest of finally justifying all of the hits our sole previous Avengers entry’s received over the last several months, here’s an attempt at a spoiler-free, nerd’s-eye-view rundown.
Like another obscure action-fantasy film made by nerds for nerds (The Empire Strikes Back), The Avengers ain’t a stand-alone feature. It helps to have most of the current crop of Marvel superhero features under your belt if you’re just getting caught up on this particular mythic universe. Should you need help with a checklist, include the two Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man movies, Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, and 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger–then add the amiable B-movie shenanigans of the Edward Norton Incredible Hulk redux for extra credit (steer well afield of the Ang Lee-directed Hulk feature, in which the familiar battle cry, “HULK SMASH!” is replaced by “HULK HAVE DADDY ISSUES!”).
Most of the backstory and extraneous exposition have already been taken care of, so The Avengers can revel in the freedom of pretty much hitting the ground running (and driving, and flying, and exploding). Loki (Tom Hiddleston), evil foster-brother of thunder god Thor (Chris Hemsworth), has popped free from the outer cosmos to engineer a plot to use a shiny dimensional-energy-cube-thingy to unleash an armada of mechanical demonic-alien monsters on an unsuspecting Earth. The only thing that could possibly stand in his way? The Avengers, a team of superheroes led by badass secret agent Nick Fury (badass Samuel L. Jackson) and consisting of Thor, Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo)–who turns Hulking green and super-strong when he gets ticked off.
That’s as much synopsis as you’ll get from this end, partly to deflect dreaded spoilers and partly because, well, that pretty much is the synopsis. Within that framework, however, The Avengers could hardly be better. It translates onto the big screen in grand fashion, and elegantly gives its iconic superhero characters a chance to shine in ways that’ll thoroughly satisfy fans of each one. The action setpieces raise the bar for special effects wizardry anew (especially in eye-popping 3D), delivering requisite Wow Moments that would’ve been impossible to reproduce outside of a comic-book panel just a few years previous.
Like the best of its predecessors, though, The Avengers stands a good chance of holding up long after the initial nerd euphoria dissipates, largely because it never loses sight of the character groundwork that’s been laid down. Jackson’s Shaft-ian cool, Hemsworth’s hunky pop-Shakespearian lead with a heart, Downey’s raffish and camouflaging wit, Evans’ Norman Rockwell-wholesome earnestness, Renner’s outsider toughness, and Ruffalo’s wonderfully gawky comic presence embody their respective heroes to a T. And while Johansson’s a little out of her league alongside these big guns, she’s still a winningly-appealing onscreen presence (independent of the fact that she looks like, um, several million bucks in that black catsuit).
The actors are inestimably served by director Joss Whedon, who balances conflict and well-earned, knowing humor like the Geek Jedi Master he is. His and Zak Penn’s story (Whedon gets sole credit for the final script) strikes a perfect balance of acknowledging the goofiness of what’s onscreen, yet still remembering the core of sincerity that sparks the superhero myth in the first place. Without the semi-high-brow literary cache (and let’s be blunt, the substance) built into the Lord of the Rings films, The Avengers likely won’t get the kind of gold-plated Academy recognition Peter Jackson did, but Whedon’s done a similarly bang-up job of keeping several larger-than-life characters vital, alive, clearly-delineated, and seriously fun.
Expect a requisite cameo by Marvel Comics Godfather Stan Lee; and also rest assured that the grand tradition of a post-credits scene will require sitting out the credits to the very end. Don’t get up to take a bathroom break in the middle of ’em, though, as that scamp Whedon’s thrown in another secret toy surprise halfway through.
That’s that, True Believers. Stake out yer spot in line at the local multiplex this weekend: Don’t make me say I told you so…or “Excelsior!”