We already know how the Comic-Con set feels about The Avengers: They’re having a total fangasm. (Sample comment on imdb.com: “An Unstoppable Force of Awesomeness! All Hail The New King!”)
But what about the rest of us? You know, those of us who don’t think that “who would win in a fight between Spider Man and Batman?” is one of the great barroom debates of our time? (It’s obviously Spider Man, though. I mean, duh.) Those of us who don’t get a giddy jolt of adrenaline every time we lay eyes on Thor’s hammer, Iron Man’s power source, or Captain America’s shield.
Will we like The Avengers, too?
Short answer: Hell yeah.
The key, the rub, the secret sauce if you will, is Joss Whedon, a man so good he got me hooked on a TV show about vampires and demons called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (For more on my Whedon love, check out my review of The Cabin in the Woods).
Whedon’s genius is this: He, himself, is a fanboy, in the truest sense of the word. But he’s also an ironist—so he brings a wink and a sharply honed wit to the material, making much more palatable to those of us who aren’t fully invested in the fantasy. And, most importantly, he cares about character, which of course, is the root of all great films, superhero or otherwise. I’d never even heard of arrow-slinging Hawkeye before this film (so sue me), but with a few deft character strokes, I was engaged in his story, as well as the rest of The Avengers team.
From vintage Westerns to the most recent (and adorable) Muppets film, “how they got the gang together” stories are fun, and Whedon has a blast watching as Colonel Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) assembles his team of diverse superheroes to save the earth from otherworldly forces.
And a squabbling group of superheroes they are.
We have the as-cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) still leading the pack with his genius, moxie, and insouciant charm.
He locks horns (metaphorically speaking, that is—Iron Man doesn’t have horns as far as I know) with the earnest, eager Captain America (Chris Evans), who, ingeniously, has been cryogenically frozen for 50 years (Iron Man calls him “Old Man”) and is a bit clueless about our modern world. (“I get that!” Captain America chirps, relieved and happy, when somebody makes a The Wizard of Oz reference.)
Then there’s studly god Thor, who’s a bit conflicted because it's his brother Loki (smoldering Tom Hiddleston, my new mythological supervillain boyfriend) who is causing all the damage. (“He’s adopted!” Thor notes quickly, when Loki does something particularly despicable.)
There’s superspy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a sultry babe (she’s played by ScarJo, you were expecting frumpy?) whose favorite trick is interrogating baddies when they think she’s the one in peril, and who might have the hots for Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, a deadeye archer who is under Loki’s spell.
It’s Black Widow who goes to Asia to collect the final member of the team, Dr. Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk (a convincingly tortured Mark Ruffalo, replacing Edward Norton), who’s both the strongest and riskiest of The Avengers (he’s not totally in control of his giant green alter ego.)
It’s great fun watching these guys reluctantly form a coalition, go from adversaries to friends (or at least frenemies) and use their awesome powers in concert. I’ve got to admit it: I got a little geeked out when all The Avengers stood in the center of a wiped out NYC, back to back, ready to take on all comers. Damn. Joss Whedon just might make a fangirl out of me yet.