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[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPoHPNeU9fc%5D
Ten Word or Less Review: To condense this 1200 word review for you: it’s okay.

Marvel has spent 4 years and 5 movies worth of effort to prep a worldwide audience for the experience that is The Avengers.  Iron ManThe Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America were all ground work leading to this.  It has taken the combined efforts of these five movies, which when you lump them together equal one big average blur, to lead us into a movie which amounts to a  slightly above average blur.  I fondly remember summers past when audiences could expect average, non blurry entertainments week in and week out, and not have to have taken in 10 hours of preemptive cinematic homework to enjoy themselves.

For comic book nerds this is a holy movie moment.  A cinematic dream come true that no geek could have imagined materializing just a few short years ago.  To see this costumed dream team strut across the screen in such high fashion will for some rank up there with losing virginity or getting high the first time.  Or for the less fortunate it will come as close to either as they’ll ever get.  To more passive fans through out the world this movie should amount to a lot of flashy noise and questions if they didn’t bother with all the previous films.  If you haven’t diligently done your Marvel homework then The Avengers isn’t much more than the patented summer blockbuster at its most adequate.  It is 140 minutes of stuff consistently happening, some of it fun, some less so.  For all the effort and prepping that the audience has been through since the first Iron Man, The Avengers manages to be occasionally enjoyablebut still feel fundamentally half-hearted in frustrating ways, the most important being that there is barely a story running this giant machine.  I’m not sure why they left that part out.

In a dubious decision of plotting, the only one of Marvel’s five previous movies that leads directly to the situation at hand is last summer’s mediocre Thor.  That barely adequate experience contains most of the groundwork which gets us to where this feature begins.  Last left floating in the cosmos on his way to nowhere, Thor’s villainous and whiny brother Loki has been rescued by some kind of cosmic Skeletor who gives him an alien army with which to invade Earth.  It’s a painfully simplistic plot to say the least.  He materializes in S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters with a magic staff and commences to enslave and kill those around him.  He steals a magic blue Lego which looks like a really awesome gazing cube that which would sell like gangbusters at Hobby Lobby.  With the magic blue Lego Loki plans to open a doorway for his marauding CGI army to come pouring through.  What they plan to do with Earth or why they want it is barely hinted at.  Maybe they like our mini malls, awesome snack food and stadium seat theaters.  No matter.  Our multi-billion dollar national defense system is never once consulted because the ace up our sleeve is four strong dudes with personality disorders and two assassins in black leather.  And Sam Jackson.  Begrudgingly agreeing to work together, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk, and the other two, combine strength and wits to combat the generic alien terror.  Why that took 5 other movies to build into I have no idea.

The Marvel efforts to date have been dogged by a lack of visual and story imagination.  They mostly follow the same arcs, end on the same notes (I.E. a big fist fight) and feel as if a larger, more complicated world is being kept far, far away.  The Avengers finally opens up the world a bit and we don’t feel as if we’re trapped on a tiny narrative bubble.  We now merely feel trapped in the ropes of an under plotted summer blockbuster which cost a ton.  The one thing which has kept these efforts working has been spot on casting of the leads and that strength carries The Avengers to the finish line without a lot of fuss and muss.  Downey Jr’s patented Stark snark plays nice against the rigidly virtuous Chis Evans and his Captain America.  Chris Hemsworth is still a charming Thor but his character shows up late and mostly just bickers with Loki and swings his hammer.  I can’t think of what one is supposed to do with Thor besides this so I can’t really complain.  Neatly folding up scenes and putting them in his purple pockets is Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk.  Somewhere Ed Norton is probably hulking out on this missed opportunity.  Ruffalo brings a real level of credibility to a part that’s been often misguided and could have easily been little more than a forced character presence.  Ruffalo gets the best character beats and his CGI rendered alter ego provides the most fun of anything in the film.  When Banner and Stark ride off together at movie’s end one hopes they find their own adventure to have as the two seem an unlikely match made in heaven.  Scarlett Johansen and Jeremy Renner play Black Widow and Hawkeye.  They mostly take up space.

Tasked with bringing all this narritive minutia together into a cohesive whole is fanboy favorite Joss Whedon.  Despite many accolades with a long career as a writer and TV producer (Buffy & Angel), Whedon has exactly one feature film directorial credit to his name, the Firefly feature Serenity.  He shows to have some decent abilities when left to play in the big sandbox that Marvel is letting him tinker around.  Though facing an over abundance of characters dancing around a painfully thin narrative, Whedon juggles everything just enough.  He can’t do much with his boring villain and the army of generic monster people but he knows his strength lies in his principles, so he wisely puts them front and center and lets their personalities carry the movie along.  He gives everyone the character beats they need and then lets the movie unfold the way he’s been tasked to do.  He follows the age old principle of wow them in the end so Avengers ends on an epic battle that previous Marvel efforts haven’t dared to mount.  While it does bear too many similarities to last year’s Transformers movie finale, aliens invading major metropolitan area, Whedon maintains momentum and has fun with all the chaos he’s unleashing.  If he had been given the leeway to craft a less bloated effort, and given a real foil for his heroes, I think he may have wound up with something really worthwhile.

It’s pretty clear that an eager audience is eating this Marvelverse stuff up.  It’s all been perfectly built and marketed, which is where I think the real genius in this series of movies lie.  It wasn’t that long ago that none of these characters had the least bit of mass cultural awareness, now people are filling theaters to capacity to watch the lot of them punch each other in the face.   Later in the afternoon while at an ice cream joint I saw a 6 year old kid sporting a Thor helmet.  His parents demonstrated no sense of shame or disappointment.  Something tells me that while I’m not wrapped up in the comings and goings of these bickering superheroes and their antics, an entire generation is growing up absolutely enthralled.  For them, these are the narratives they will love and grow up with.  For me, this is just another passable comic flick that I’ll mostly forget within a week or two.  See it, like it, then wait for Batman.

BTW, stay through the first credit sequence, watch the extra scene then ask a comic book geek what it means.  Stay for the scene at the end of all the credits and get yourself an extra giggle.

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