‘The Avengers’ takes the superhero film to greater heights

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    Avengers PicTake note, true believers: “The Avengers” will assault your senses in the best possible way. It does what few big Hollywood movies ever manage to do – take you on a pure journey of unadulterated, unfiltered escapism. For two and a half hours, you’re transported, whisked away, catapulted, and flung headlong into a Marvel Universe writ terribly large, the cinematic equivalent of an extrasensory marathon, miles long, and yes, from start to finish, “The Avengers” hardly slows down.

     

    While there are plenty of lighter moments (lots, in fact), make no mistake, for every explosion, every car overturned, no one is ever safe; not even our heroes. Once you realize anything can happen (within reason of course, given this is the first of what they hope will be many sequels) you’ve thoroughly entered new territory, a landscape well past the post-postmodern superhero tale. Meaning, a good superhero movie in 2012 isn’t merely about how cool the effects are. Thanks to Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” superhero movies can (and typically do) aspire to high art.

     

    “The Avengers” is a high wire act with a whole lot of moving parts, some sleight of hand, and the best ensemble cast to grace the silver screen since George Clooney and his co-stars gave us the dazzling remake of “Ocean’s 11.”

     

    Not surprisingly, Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) is the heart of this movie, so fans of the “Iron Man” franchise needn’t feel they should sit this one out, given all the other superheroes crowding the movie. Tony Stark forms the center, and has all the snarkiest lines, but soon as it starts to feel like an “Iron Man” sequel, the team dynamics kick in and everyone gets their turn to shine.

     

    Let’s keep it simple, shall we? Thor’s brother, Loki, manages to steal a unique power source (called the Tesseract) that can yield an unlimited amount of energy. Willing to share this power with a war mongering intergalactic species, he starts a turn of events that will bring war to the planet Earth, and thus, force our heroes, the Avengers, to get cohesive (or a form of cohesion); least the world go boom, or something along those explosive lines. And, you know, the enslavement of humanity is way up on the red-danger scale, too.

     

    If you loved any of the previous Marvel Studios films (“Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Captain America,” and “Thor”), you’re going to love “The Avengers,” albeit seeing those other films isn’t exactly a requirement. Think of it as an extra credit assignment – if you’ve seen those movies, you will be vastly rewarded. Like Batman, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark doesn’t play well with others, and neither do any of the other characters in the movie. That’s what’s brilliant about it.

     

    Samuel L. Jackson finally ditches those end credit cameo appearances, to flesh out the character of Nick Fury, who is responsible for bringing the team together. This is a more subdued Jackson. A perfect fit for this outing.

     

    Writer/director Joss Whedon (“Serenity,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) does what he does best: witty dialogue, females who kick butt, great action sequences, the death of a key character (whoops, was that a spoiler?), a rousing speech, which precedes the major all or nothing battle. It’s not that Whedon’s a one-trick pony, but like Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, and others, he’s a stylist.

     

    Believe the hype, and don’t you dare call it hyperbole, because it doesn’t get any better than this. “The Avengers” is a balanced symphony, bursting forth with surprising dynamics, from very loud, to the deathly quiet. It’s hard to find a single false note reverberating through the film. In fact, it’s organized chaos at its purest.

     

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