Evil god to planet Earth: “You crave subjugation!”
Maybe so, but apparently we also crave endless crazy battles in which vast swaths of urban streetscape — skyscrapers, train stations, buses, sidewalk cafés — get trampled on and zapped to dust by monsters from another dimension.
And we crave guys in tights and capes, green skin, and clanking metal, bringing it on in a big way — and bickering among themselves while they’re bringing it on — to save the scampering hordes of humanity.
In The Avengers — the Disney Studios/Marvel Comics marriage-made-in-box-office-heaven — the superhero stars of Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, and Thor come together to set things right when things go apocalyptically wrong.
Plot: Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the demonic adoptive brother of the Norse god of thunder, hijacks the Tesseract, a cosmic cube that serves as both a portal to other universes and a plot device of unlimited power — the mega-McGuffin.
Everybody wants it, and whoever gets it will have the ability to run clean energy across the globe, or run the globe ragged with tyranny.
Directed by genre geek Joss Whedon, whose pulp sensibilities worked magic on TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Serenity, The Avengers is a slickly packaged, effects-driven smashup. Watch it in 3-D if you feel the need to see the Mighty Thor’s hammer flyin’ at ya (and if you want to suffer the dimming effects of those cumbersome tinted glasses), but everyday 2-D on a decent-size screen with surround sound is really good enough. Good enough to watch Robert Downey Jr. deliver his knee-jerk wiseguy one-liners, good enough to watch Scarlett Johansson clench her brow as she strides purposefully toward the camera in Ninja garb, good enough to catch Mark Ruffalo, the third actor in nine years to play the brainy Dr. Banner, talking with trepidation about “the other guy” he shares psych-space with.
So Loki (“I am burdened with glorious purpose!”) gets hold of the Tesseract and hypnotizes SHIELD agent Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), while Loki’s Asgardian sibling, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), joins up with the rest of the Marvel crew — including the ridiculously jut-jawed Captain America (Chris Evans) — to hash out a plan. It is the “Avengers Initiative,” and it is being run by espionage agency SHIELD’s top gun, Nick Fury. Samuel L. Jackson — sporting an eye patch, a Vandyke beard, and an uncanny ability to deliver his lines as if they were straight from a comic book’s word balloons — is Fury, charged with assembling the misfit gang of turbocharged neurotics to figure out how to thwart the Norse nemesis.
The figuring-out part dissolves into name-calling — Downey’s Ironic Man and Evans’ Captain America don’t hit it off, for one thing — and then into a gigantic Transformers-esque free-for-all in and around New York’s Grand Central Station, where commuters are inconvenienced by Loki’s legions.
If these last 40 minutes or so of The Avengers evoke the real-life devastation of 9/11, this is probably inevitable, whether or not it’s intentional: Shots of the NYPD and National Guard rushing here and there as blazing office towers collapse and citizens flee . It’s kind of hard not to trigger that connection.
But I don’t think Whedon is really going there. The chaos and carnage here is just a pumped-up take on a tradition that harks back to Godzilla, and harks back, of course, to the Marvel comics from which all these heros originally sprang.
Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, “On Movies Online,” at www.philly.com/onmovies.