Fans of Marvel Comics and the movies that have come from them are going to rejoice. First-timers who don’t know who Pepper Potts is or how Bruce Banner became Hulk or anything about the Shakespearian relationship between Thor and Loki will be equally entertained.
The long-awaited, much-marketed coming together of all sorts of folks in the Marvel universe fires on all cylinders. It’s an exciting, action-packed film that rarely slows down — except for a few well-placed moments of quiet talk and storytelling to let us breathe.
Among the superheroes who answer the call of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who heads up the secret agency S.H.I.E.L.D., are Iron Man, previously frozen WWII hero Captain America, the raging scientist Bruce Banner (Hulk), demi-god Thor, acrobatic assassin Black Widow, and ace archer Hawkeye.
Why is Fury assembling this crew? Oh, come on! It’s a superhero movie! They have to save the world!
You see, the nasty Loki wants to render the world “free from freedom” and, much like General Zod did over in the D.C. Comics universe, make all humans kneel before him because, in Loki’s words to a Manhattan street crowd, “you were made to be ruled.”
There’s also the Tesseract, a glowing blue cube that might prove to be the key to unlimited stable energy on Earth. But it’s also a portal to Asgard, a planet on the other end of space, and home of Loki and his brother Thor, as well as an army of some really mean and ugly soldiers.
We know from the opening frames that someone with a deep, villainous voice is set to send those soldiers across the void.
And out pops Loki (Tom Hiddleston), elegantly evil, decimating everything in his path, and loving it.
Our heroes aren’t thrilled about their orders to report to Fury’s new team. They aren’t thrilled about each other, either. Banner is busy staying calm, to keep his inner Hulk from making an appearance. Stark is tinkering with this and that groundbreaking invention, and letting everyone know how smart and handsome he is. Captain America is in the gym, keeping up the physique. But, hell! He’ll go and fight for his country!
What we get out of this (courtesy of the always-inventive Joss Whedon) is a mix of serious situations and a sometimes whacky sense of humor. Robert Downey Jr. brings more snarkiness to Tony Stark than he has in past Iron Man films; Chris Hemsworth shows off some juicy comic timing with his Thor; Mark Ruffalo adds understated nuance in taking over Edward Norton’s Hulk role; Scarlett Johansson smartly dials back the intensity of her previous Natasha portrayal. And we get the bonus of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, dressed, for no good reason but fine effect, in a pair of Daisy Dukes.
There are lots of in-jokes for devotees of these characters, and just enough back stories about them to make everything understandable for the uninitiated. There are scads of people soaring through the air, sometimes of their own accord, sometimes because of how hard they’ve been punched. I thought it was hilarious that S.H.I.E.L.D.’S straight-laced Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) is revealed to be a Captain America fanboy.
For those of you who just must know where to look for comics legend Stan Lee’s cameo, which has become a standard in these movies, he’s one of the fellows playing chess near the end. For anyone wondering if they should stay for some post-credits revelations, the answer is yes, indeed.
Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson