S.H.I.E.L.D., under the direction of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), is investigating the Tesseract, an alien artifact discovered when the search was on for Captain America (Chris Evans). Progress is being made -- it's potentially a source of unlimited clean energy -- when there appears a disruption, in the form of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who, after wreaking suitable havoc on the research facility, absconds with the Tesseract, as well as Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), lead researcher -- he's managed to subvert them by using a scepter that draws on the Tesseract's power to control their minds. Fury, however, has a back-up, a resource he's held in reserve, even though it -- the "Avengers Initiative" -- has been officially shelved. He starts putting together a team: Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans); Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who in turn is enlisted to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), recruited by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) in a very funny scene. Things are going well -- the Avengers manage to capture Loki and are transporting him back to the carrier when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) decides to insert himself into the situation -- he thinks Loki should be returned to Asgard. He's persuaded otherwise.
Meanwhile, Dr. Selvig has set up the Tesseract to act as a bridge for the invasion force. It works. And then the fun starts.
Where to start?
The actors, even though working with comic-book characters, manage to deliver some real people -- they have histories, strengths, vulnerabilities, and hang-ups, and we see them, as opposed to being told about them. Johansson turned out to be my favorite, I think -- she's a superb actress, and did a lot of the physical action herself. (Reportedly, she trained for months for this role -- it shows.) The dialogue is sharp and energetic -- it crackles -- and often very, very funny -- the film is littered with throw-aways that always have me snickering, not to mention some of the physical business that hits you out of the blue. (Hulk is really good for that.) And the best part is watching these spiky personalities make themselves into a team. Very well done.
The effects are spectacular (the S.H.I.E.L.D. carrier is worth watching the film itself) and beautifully done. And the amount of destruction is awesome. (I admit it -- hiding not very far under my surface is this kid who likes to watch things blow up.)
The script itself is good and tight, with a clear story line and enough room for the actors to move around. (Whedon wrote the script, too.) The pace is fast, but the story remains coherent -- cuts make sense and add to the momentum.
The DVD includes English, French and Spanish soundtracks, plus an "English Descriptive Service" that provides narration setting the scene and describing the action in those scenes without dialogue; subtitles in French and Spanish, plus English for the Hearing Impaired; the requisite "sneak previews"; a very interesting featurette of the actors discussing each other -- no dissing, but a good take on the strengths each brought to his or her role (these are obviously people who admire each other's work), with additional commentary by Whedon; and a Director's Commentary by Whedon on just where he was coming from on this one. (It starts off with the question "Why did they pick Whedon to direct this one?" Short answer -- he's one of the best for anything comics. He turns out to be a terrific film director, too.)
Just offhand, I'd say The Avengers deserves every accolade it's received: it's action-packed, it's funny, the characters are well-developed, the effects are terrific -- top marks on every score. (Even the music, although a little bombastic, fits perfectly.)
(Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 2012) Running time: 143 min.