By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- It's a gathering (the gathering!) of Marvel marvels. So, judging by The Avengers, is more superheroes more? Or less? Is it too much? Or not enough?
Turns out, with director Joss Whedon handling crowd control, it's both. Or neither.
Either way, it's breezily entertaining.
The Avengers is an ensemble epic in which half a dozen Marvel comics superheroes -- comprising a dysfunctional family of overachievers -- convene to save humanity from enslavement.
When an alien invasion led by megalomaniacal Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston), using a replenishable energy force called Tesseract to conquer mankind, seems both imminent and inevitable, one-eyed agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of the peacekeeping alliance known as S.H.I.E.L.D., activates his Avengers Initiative and rounds up the usual suspects, recruiting six -- count 'em, six! -- superheroes to come to the planet's rescue.
Thus do Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) -- the latter of whom temporarily comes under the control of Loki, who is actually Thor's adoptive brother -- end up having to cooperate and work together.
Got all that? Doesn't matter.
The question is, can this many proud, egotistical, neurotic, self-obsessed, larger-than-life superheroes, who are used to working alone and don't necessarily play well with others, get along and band together to defend their planet? Or will they just fight each other?
Perhaps a bit of both.
Writer-director Joss Whedon (Serenity), working from the script he wrote based on a story he co-wrote with Zak Penn that's based on the Marvel comic-book series of the same name first published in 1963, brings this sixth installment in the Marvel movie universe -- following two Iron Man flicks, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger -- as a celebration of the community that these superheroes come to comprise.
And he expertly orchestrates this gathering of rock-star heroes and heroine by giving each of them a number of shining moments and keeping the screen-cluttering sequences involving all of them simultaneously to a minimum. That is, we're usually watching two or three of the principals, not all six.
Whedon's sound strategy is to keep the plot simple and to focus instead on the characters, returning from five previous Marvel movies; to make the dialogue as compelling as the admittedly spectacular special effects; and to be playful and employ a sense of humor (delegated for the most part to Downey and Ruffalo, both of whom thrive), so as not to take the subject matter overly seriously.
And that's why the film, converted to 3-D in post-production, should entertain comic-book aficionados and non-fans alike, its running time seeming like less than the nearly 2½ hours that it is, and its literally smashing New York City climax a worthy payoff to the buildup.
So we'll assemble 3 stars out of 4 for this diverting, PG-13 action-adventure escapist extravaganza, The Avengers.
As superhero six-packs go, it's Marvelous.
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