Heroic feat pulled off

M, 2hr 30min
Reviewed by Jonathon Howe

Rarely does a film with as much star-power as The Avengers live up to expectations. Despite the massive buzz surrounding the latest superhero film, there were concerns about too many cooks spoiling the broth, especially considering the multiple leads have to share the screen with forces of nature like Robert Downey Jnr and Samuel L Jackson.

But director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) handles this unenviable task like a pro, weaving together relentless action and humour with consummate ease.

The film is the culmination of Iron Man 1&2, Captain America, The Hulk and Thor, and it outstrips them all in spectacle, special effects and performances.

After disgraced Norse god Loki (a deliciously evil Tom Hiddleston) seizes an artefact of great power known as the Tesseract, he threatens to use it to subjugate the people of Earth. This forces S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Jackson) to instigate the Avengers Initiative involving the aforementioned heroes. The danger of overcrowding the screen is quickly assuaged when you discover Whedon has allowed room for all the major characters to display their unique personalities.

Captain America's (Chris Evans) true-blue-hero routine grates on the more cynical characters, and perhaps the viewers, but even he has moments of doubt at being placed in a time he struggles to comprehend.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is filled with the usual bravado and swagger, though he does have some emotive moments with his brother Loki.

Downey Jnr as Iron Man/Tony Stark is as brilliantly charming and witty as ever, stealing scenes at his whim with his deadpan one-liners.

A highlight of the film is The Hulk whose true nature is cleverly unveiled throughout the film. The always excellent Mark Ruffalo, playing his human counterpart Dr Bruce Banner, brings a softness to the role that offsets the unparalleled rage and power of The Hulk. He is also involved in the funniest scene of the film, involving a rather impertinent Loki feeling the brunt of the green machine's force.

Bit players such as Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's love interest Pepper Potts and Scarlett Johansson as agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow also give worthwhile performances, while the straightfaced humour of Agent Philip Coulson (Clark Gregg) is a joy.

In a film filled with great action scenes, two stand out – an attack by Loki on a flying aircraft carrier and the alien invasion of New York. Watching the respective heroes go to work in these scenes is great escapist fun, made even better by some slick 3-D work.

One small gripe is that the evil machinations of Loki seems a little underdone. He enlists the services of an apparently mighty alien army but they seem to act more as cannon fodder for the heroes as opposed to offering a real threat.

But who cares about plot when there is this much fun to be had. Whedon has set a new benchmark for comic-book films, let's hope other film-makers take heed.

Manawatu Standard