Gathering together a diverse crew of Marvel Comics all-stars—some already well into their respective movie adaptation franchises—to collectively combat the threat of intergalactic totalitarianism, The Avengers, helmed by Joss Whedon, is something of a super-hero clearing house: Want some more of that witty Iron Man? How about we throw in a little Hawkeye with that? Remember him? But the result of more bang for your buck can feel an awful lot like a monster truck rally that just never seems to end, a parade of virtually indestructible big dudes in funny suits beating the shit out of each other for 143 minutes, a marathon of dazzling fights that will leave you punch-drunk and exhausted. At least there are indeed some funny lines. And yes, Scarlett Johansson does wear latex well.
Should I describe the plot? Do you have an hour to spare? Got your super-encyclopedia handy? No? Okay, here’s the haiku version:
Makes portal for aliens.
Super folk unite!
It begins with the flamboyant arrival of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) at a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base where they house the Tesseract, a glowing cube that may or may not be aiding the development of weapons of mass destruction. In case you don’t know who Loki is, there’s some expository dialogue to help you out: “Loki,” gasps Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), “brother of Thor!” (If you don’t know who Thor is, you should probably just give up now.) “Freedom is life’s great lie,” says Loki, who wants humanity to kneel before him, forcibly, if necessary. So S.H.I.E.L.D.’s one-eyed director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tracks down Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to trap Loki and recover the Tesseract. Complications ensue, various feisty alpha-males learn to play nice, half of Manhattan is destroyed, et cetera.
That clever dialogue I mentioned is accompanied by much dumbness: a token gay character (Clark Gregg) who never stops reminding you that he’s the gay one; a presumably staggering civilian death count without a single image of anyone getting hurt; Iron Man’s boasting of his skyscraper powered by self-sustainable energy, while Iron Man’s jetpacks suck up more juice than a fleet of Hummers, his girlfriend regularly takes her private jet along the eastern seaboard, and the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. team whips all over the world in an invisible flying fucking aircraft carrier. Of course there are nice details, like the S.H.I.E.L.D. engineer who plays Atari when no one’s looking, a cameo by a certain beloved character actor, and Ruffalo’s pleasingly incongruent nuance, but the bulk of the pleasures to be found here are brute ones, mostly featuring Hulk ripping apart alien aircraft with a mighty roar. I’m not being facetious; Hulk ripping shit apart can be hugely entertaining. All I want to say is that there’s a point when this sassy, busy, carefully designed, emotionally shallow, mega-budget Wrestlemania pummels the viewer’s senses in such a way that it makes he or she want to transform into their own raging green Id-monster, screaming, “Okay, okay, I got my $13 worth! I don’t care if the Chitauri leader comes back after the end-credits. Let me out of here already!”