The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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May 11, 2012

Benji Tunnell: 'Avengers' shows what a summer movie should be

JOPLIN, Mo. — Crossovers can be risky. For every chocolate and peanut butter mash-up that works, you get just as many “Lulu”s or “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island”s that don’t.

It’s a risky venture to take fully functional stand-alone entities and combine them into a new whole. The results can sometimes be disastrous. The last thing you want to do is create a Frankenstein’s monster out of something that was formerly successful.

What makes “The Avengers” an even riskier proposition is that writer/director Joss Whedon was tasked with taking multiple popular characters and creating a cohesive story that does justice to each character while paying tribute to the Marvel universe as a whole (not to mention protect the Marvel/Disney cash cow that these superheroes have been up to this point).

The fact that he almost achieves this is a testament to his skills.

This time around, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s evil brother, is threatening to unleash a horde of alien invaders upon the earth. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), must assemble his elite team of super heroes and a couple of non-supers to help defend the world.

Present are Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). The group must come together to battle Loki and his army to protect the earth’s inhabitants.

Each hero, with the exception of Black Widow and Hawkeye, have had their own film to set up back story and allow the audience to familiarize themselves with their world. This works in helping establish each person in a shorter period of time, but this shortcut also leaves those without as much exposure a little sketchy. While Johansson and Renner are exceptional actors and do fine work, they are used more for background here, given vague motivations that don’t really convince me that they are strong enough to stand next to those with super powers.

Aside from that, and the inconsistent behavior of The Hulk, there isn’t much to complain about in the film. While the jokes aren’t as strong as what we saw in the first “Iron Man,” there is still plenty of humor throughout, including a scene with The Hulk that may be the funniest five seconds put on screen this year.

Whedon, who has built a strong reputation for himself on television and his screenwriting, handles the characters and subject with reverence and love. He seems to have a connection to the material that translates to the screen.

For those of us who didn’t really do the comic-book thing as kids, perhaps this doesn’t matter so much. But for those who have grown up living through these stories, it seems to have made all the difference. The plot was a little weak at points (to be expected when having to accomplish so much in so little time), but it isn’t enough to hurt the overall product.

The standout, as would be expected, is Downey’s Iron Man. Not only is he given the bulk of the one-liners, he also carries a hefty amount of the film. While each character has his singular moment, Tony Stark and his alter ego are depended upon more than any of the others.

The set piece action scene in a film full of action and special effects is the climactic battle in the city of New York.

While I might quibble with the overall ineffectiveness of what is supposed to be a powerful alien force, and I will never understand why metal vehicles are given moving mouths with teeth (ahem, “Transformers”), I can’t deny that it was a blast to watch. The action is non-stop, the effects (aside from two quick scenes where green screen was a little too obvious) look amazing, and the tension is ratcheted up until the end. It is everything you would expect from the build up, and it is just fun.

“The Avengers” is what a summer movie should be. It is fast-paced, entertaining and smart enough to keep the viewer engaged. It most likely won’t be the best film of the summer (at least judging by the latest “Dark Knight Rises” trailer), but there’s a good chance it will be the most fun.

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