The Avengers

“There’s no ‘I’ in team” is an overworked sports analogy that crossed over into the everyday world thanks to TV and movies.  It’s supposed to mean that one member of an organization is no more important than the whole group.  Human nature tends to contradict that axiom as each of us has an ego that leads us to think we are somehow above the others in our group.  Most of us keep that in check but there are those who let their self-importance run amuck.  In a recent interview on 60 Minutes, Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler expressed the opinion that without him, the band wouldn’t be nearly as successful since, “I get the hits.  Yeah, I’m that good.”  Tyler later backpedaled, blaming the comments on seeing selectively edited footage of his band mates saying disparaging thing about him and also that the female interviewer was wearing a low-cut top.  It’s no surprise a group of rock musicians would have over-sized egos that would lead them to say stupid things in the press.  The stakes are really not that high since, as the old saying goes, any publicity is good publicity; however, if you were a group of super-powered heroes with a threat to the entire human race bearing down on you, wouldn’t you be able to set aside your differences and fight for the common good?  We get an answer in this week’s movie, the highly anticipated “The Avengers.”

The SHIELD installation in the middle of the desert southwest is being evacuated due to the sudden ignition of the Asgard energy device called the Tesseract.  Overseeing the evacuation is SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Fury’s assistant, agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).  Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) has been conducting research on the device to see if it can be used as a perpetual clean energy source but he is unsure why it has suddenly activated.  A blue beam of energy shoots from the cube and opens a portal through which appears Loki (Tom Hiddleston), brother of Norse God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth).  Loki, using a staff that shoots energy pulses and doubles as a spear, steals the Tesseract and is able to control the minds of Dr. Selvig, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), also known as Hawkeye, and several other SHIELD agents and escapes before a self-destruct device set off by Fury destroys the base.  Fury falls back to another base of operations and sets in motion the Avengers Initiative:  A plan to assemble Earth’s mightiest heroes into a fighting team to defend the planet against unknown enemies.  His roster includes industrialist-inventor-playboy-billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) also known as Iron Man, World War II super-soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) also known as Captain America, Dr. David Banner (Mark Ruffalo) who when angered becomes the Hulk and super spy Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) who’s code name is Black Widow.  Thor arrives on the scene to take Loki back to Asgard to face punishment for his treachery in that realm as well as returning the Tesseract to where it belongs.  None of these heroes really likes each other and all are suspicious of SHIELD’s true motives for the Tesseract.  Loki’s plans soon become clear as he will use the energy cube to open a portal to another dimension where an army of aliens called the Chitauri will take over the Earth and make Loki king of the planet.
The most surprising thing about “The Avengers” is the ability of director Joss Whedon to keep this many characters fully occupied with interesting bits of story and provide them roughly equal screen time.  In genre films with large casts, usually there are a few members who get the lion’s share of face time and the others are just dropped in here and there.  Whedon is able to craft a story that makes each member of the team, including those who might be considered secondary players like Black Widow and Hawkeye, roughly equal in not only screen time but narrative importance.  It’s a masterful bit of work that should be studied by any other directors who are approaching the daunting task of juggling as many stars in one movie as Whedon has.
Without the weight of telling a creation story for any of these characters, Whedon can dive right into a plot that is fairly simple and clean while still having a few twists and turns to surprise those of us who have seen all the introductory films.  It also can be considered a gateway movie for those who have seen none of the earlier films since knowing all the history of these characters is not really necessary to enjoy this episode.  
I consider this film an episode of a continuing story because of the massive domestic opening weekend box office total of $200-million and a worldwide gross so far of $640-million.  Even for a film with a $220-million budget, that’s a great way to start which virtually guarantees a sequel.  There’s also a bonus scene in the middle of the credits that implies who the next villain might be.  I’ll let you discover that gem for yourself.
While there is plenty of interesting stuff packed into the two hour and 23 minute running time of “The Avengers,” I could have done with a little less of the sniping that precedes the eventual teamwork.  It goes on for a rather long time culminating in a noisy argument in a laboratory before an action scene.  The tragic death of a member of the SHIELD team that Fury uses to rally the Avengers into a cooperative unit also felt a bit thin.  I also didn’t understand how Banner could involuntarily lose control and become the raging Hulk in one part of the story and then be completely in control of the big green guy in another part.  These are minor quibbles with a film that is otherwise perfect.
Whedon, who is known for his work on “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly” along with the web series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” has never shied away from inserting humor in his projects.  That is on display in “The Avengers” to great effect.  There are several small laughs in the earlier section of the movie and some giant laughs later on thanks to a surprising choice of character:  The Hulk.  Each time, the Hulk’s actions come as something of a surprise which adds to the strength of the laugh.  One scene had me giggling long after the movie was over.
“The Avengers” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-if violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference.  There are numerous deaths of aliens that are done using various methods, some more graphic than others.  Captain America is shot in the stomach with an energy weapon that leaves a bloody wound we see only briefly.  A few other characters also receive visible wounds that show blood.  There are numerous fights involving super powers that no one could possibly replicate.  Stark makes a brief reference to a “bag of weed” as the way Dr. Banner keeps from changing into the Hulk.  Foul language is widely scattered and mild.
The other big comic book movie coming out this summer is “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  What set Nolan’s films apart from the earlier takes on the Caped Crusader from the 1980’s is his movie’s realism.  Even a garish character like the Joker was handled with a foot firmly planted in reality.  “The Avengers” doesn’t worry about such trivialities and is all the better for it.  Where Nolan’s take on Batman is dark and thoroughly believable, Whedon’s Avengers are brightly colored and a little over the top.  There’s room in this world for both views of these heroes and Whedon should be congratulated for taking a giant cast of characters, actors and egos and delivering such a completely enjoyable product.  Can Joss Whedon be put in charge of every superhero movie?
“The Avengers” assembles a perfect five guitars out of five.
There is again only one movie in wide release this week, so I’ll add a couple of art house films for your consideration.  Vote for the next film I see and review.
Blue Like Jazz—A pious 19-year-old sophomore at a Texas junior college, impulsively decides to escape his religious upbringing for life in the Pacific Northwest at one of the most progressive campuses in America and is faced with lifestyles he never imagined.
Damsels in Distress—The young women attending a male-dominated college attempt to change students attitudes and behavior and save them from depression, grunge and low standards of every kind.
Dark Shadows—An 18th century vampire awakens in the 20th century and does romantic battle with the witch who cursed him and attempts to re-establish his once prominent family as pillars of the community.
Footnote—A forgotten Israeli scholar and his popular, well-known son do battle over a prize awarded in their field of study.  When the wrong man is informed he’s the winner, it creates a huge conundrum for the other:  Does he tell the truth or let it go?
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
Send questions or comments to  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.