creator Joss Whedon took on the ambitious task of roping in five larger-than-life superheroes from five Marvel films and the annals of comic-book history. Each has a different back story, universe and mood.
fits these pieces of the puzzle together to create something remarkable: a superhero movie that entertains, excites, explodes, and even takes time to examine itself, and the world in which we
In case you're not up to speed, Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) of secret agency S.H.I.E.L.D. enlists Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and new hero Hawkeye (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
's Jeremy Renner) to form an elite superhuman force to stop Thor's megalomaniac brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his army from taking over earth. Loki intends to use the Tesseract, a force of unlimited energy, to conquer mankind.
One reason The Avengers
works so well is that it doesn't treat the audience with contempt. The first half of the film is purely devoted to character development, and while the action set-pieces bulk up the second half, the quirks of each hero are never lost amid the CGI and explosions. That said, the 3D enhances what are already some of the best action scenes on film.
Another factor is the humour. Ever the gleeful fan-boy, Whedon jumps from Star Wars
references to superhero self-parodies (Thor and Loki's "Shakespearean" idiom is one target) to screwball put-downs. Superhero film by name and costume, playful comedy by temperament.
The ensemble cast is in top form. Hiddleston channels Heath Ledger's Joker in a standout performance as Loki, while Johansson gets a chance to go deeper into her Iron Man 2
Even the smaller parts are pitch-perfect: Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Stellan Skarsgard as scientist Erik Selvig.
Like DC's The Dark Knight
overlays the superhero narrative with meditations on human freedom and the abuse of power. There are allegories aplenty: Loki's mission to oppress humanity echoes Hitler and modern-day despots. The war over the Tesseract parallels our own fight for an endless energy source on earth. But who deserves to harness its power and for what motives?
The most prominent metaphor lies in the Avengers themselves. They are a revival of faith in 'the old-fashioned stars and stripes' that the US once represented.
Whedon is smart enough not to chest-beat this message. He adds the caveat that even good intentions can't be taken at face value.
On that note, do yourself a favour and see The Avengers
. Hot tip: stay after the end credits.
*View new Avengers clips, trailers and stories here