Dialogue is smart, playful, poignant in 'Avengers'

May 6, 2012

Like the crowning block in a successful game of Jenga, "The Avengers" stands atop a four-year build-up that, had any of the pieces been misplaced, could have toppled over in a messy pile of overconfidence.

Fortunately, this particular piece was in the hands of one Joss Whedon, a man who not only carries suitcases of geek cred, but is also adept in juggling ensemble pieces, which is key to ensuring "The Avengers" success. The task is not one that can be understated: since 2008, Marvel Studios has been carefully crafting its universe. That year, it released the first two Marvel missives in its arsenal, starting in May with "Iron Man," and following a month later with "The Incredible Hulk." Subsequent films both established the "Avengers" ensemble ("Thor," "Captain America") and wove the fabric together of its tightly knit universe.

The film had all the potential to be an overpopulated mess of "greatest superhero hits," with each character having his or her moment to shine. Equally, the film could have been the "Iron Man and Friends Power Hours," considering the Robert Downey Jr. character has been the most popular on screen. But co-writer/director Whedon was intent on making it, first and foremost," a buddy picture. There just happens to be a lot of powerful buddies.

He builds the film by focusing on those on the team  we've only spent a limited amount of time with this far: S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (played by Jeremy Renner). They all discover that Asgardian demi-god Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston) has de decided to pay Earth another visit (after last year's "Thor") and plans to rule it with the help of a cube that wields infinite power. Fury realizes it's time to get the gang together to put an end to that.

While Downey Jr. does indeed get some of the zippiest lines as self-described "genius, billionaire, philanthropist playboy" Tony Stark, he is be no means the center of the action. If it's anyone, it’s Mark Ruffalo (who replaced Edward Norton), as Dr. Bruce Banner and his mean, green alter ego The Hulk, who makes the largest impression, both literally and figuratively. If there is a weak link in this armor, it's perhaps Johansson as Black Widow, who can scowl, but does not posses the believable physicality to be truly threatening. (One wonders just how intimidating "Haywire's" Gina Carano might have been in the role.)

But Whedon makes sure we spend much time with the gang between individual and collaborative battles, and that is what makes "The Avengers" so notable for fare of such epic proportions. Through their bonding and bickering, their fights and their fears, we see them as much more than action figures and begin to understand their bonds. The dialogue is equally smart, playful and poignant.

And I have yet to even mention the action. The phrase "all hell breaking loose" is quite apt, and poor New York City is once again home to the devastation. Armies of intergalactic robots use it as their jungle gym, and the Avengers unite to stop them at every turn. At times, it threatens to become unwieldy, but just as it does, Whedon and co-writer Zak Penn interject just the right amount of humor (much of it involving The Hulk) allowing us to catch our breath amidst the chaos.

And if you're still of the mind that this is all just silly kids' stuff, you may want to peel open your mind a bit, as not only does the film  boast a number of Oscar nominees and winners on screen and behind it, it's been shattering records around the globe, where it was released last week. You may want to do some homework in preparation (watching the first "Iron Man," "Thor" and "Captain America" would help) to soak in everything, but it's not required to lean back and enjoy.

Next up, Samuel L. Jackson is slated to stand alone in a Nick Fury feature, with rumors of "Black Widow" and "Hawkeye" to follow. And while the film has not entirely sold me to rush to any of them, you can be sure that I will be suiting up for another "Avengers" adventure upon its release.