After four years of anticipation, the most eagerly awaited comic book-based movie has finally arrived.
Beginning with 2008's Iron Man, Marvel Entertainment had gained its own movie studio while Paramount Pictures handled their distribution. Meaning? Marvel no longer had to license its characters out to various movie studios, allowing for cross-franchise interaction previously unavailable to them. And they took advantage of that in spades.
As almost everyone knows by now, the seeds for the shared Marvel Movie Universe were planted in the post-credits scene of Iron Man, when Samuel L. Jackson made his first appearance as Nick Fury; having served as the inspiration for the version of the character in the Ultimate Universe of comics. Robert Downey Jr., as Tony Stark, paid it forward by appearing in a post-credits scene in Incredible Hulk the same year. Clark Gregg, appearing in Iron Man as SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson, reprises his role in Iron Man 2 with Jackson, leading to a post-credits scene setting up Thor, in which they both appeared again. Finally came Captain America: The First Avenger, and Jackson served to not only welcome Cap (Chris Evans) to the modern world, but to lead the movie directly into the events of Marvel's The Avengers.
In a long-overdue grand experiment, characters from independent movies were merged together to form the first assembled movie super team, and the experiment paid off in spades. Directed and co-written by Joss Whedon (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer) with help from veteran comic movie writer Zak Penn, audiences were treated to an action-adventure movie with moments of comedy interspersed throughout. The audiences laughed in all the right places, and found themselves cheering at all the right moments.
The Avengers sees Loki (Tom Hiddleston) return and unite with an alien race known as the Chitauri in an attempt to use the Cosmic Cube (called the Tesseract in the movie-verse) to take over the mortal world. These events force Fury to go against his bosses' wishes and reactivate the "Avengers Initiative," assembling Earth's Mightiest Heroes in order to combat the threat. As expected from any new partnership, the team doesn't exactly gel well from the start and first must overcome their own conflicting personalities in order to find a way to work together for the greater good.
Downey reprises his role of Iron Man, along with his AI computer J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany) and his assistant/girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). As in the Iron Man movies, Stark's hyper genius and glib approach to life give him the strongest presence and some of the best lines amidst moments of pure techno-babble. Scarlett Johansson also returns as Black Widow, and decidedly steps up her game as SHIELD's super-spy with some of the best action and character interactions in the film. However, despite their briefly glowing in one shot, her Widow's Bite still remain nothing by fancy bracelets she wears.
Evans returns as Captain America, displaying much more of Cap's fighting prowess than before. However, one element glosses over in the movie was Cap's adjustment to the new time period, reduced to only passing quips about references that post-date him. But, his leadership ability finally gets a chance to shine as Evans believably takes charge of the situation.
Chris Hemsworth is once again Thor, managing to return to Earth with the help of Odin to stop Loki and reclaim the Tesseract. Thor is a little less brash this time, but still manages to butt-heads with his fellow heroes, leading to some of the most entertaining battles during the movie. Also returning from Thor is Stellan Skarsgard as Dr. Erik Selvig and Jeremy Renner from his blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as Hawkeye, aka Agent Barton. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) appears only as an image on a screen.
Mark Ruffalo joins the cast in his freshman appearance as Bruce Banner, taking over the role from Incredible Hulk's Edward Norton after contract disputes resulted in his leaving the role. Although no Norton, Ruffalo does a commendable job in the role, looking to make Banner more timid, yet assertive. Lou Ferrigno lends his voice to Banner's alter-ego the Hulk once again, using a blend of both his and Ruffalo's voices to achieve the affect. Ruffalo also acted out the Hulk's scenes with motion-capture technology.
Also joining the cast is Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, Fury's second-in-command, and Coulson plays a vital role in getting the team to assemble.
Overall, the experiment was a grand success, with both positive reviews and showings selling out quickly. Avengers raises the bar for Marvel's "Phase Two." Both the individual and team sequels have to find a way to keep the magic fresh and alive for the next big payoff, especially considering the villain reveal during the first (of two) post-credits scene.
Warner Brothers, it's your move. Isn't it long-past time for a Justice League movie?