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Review: The Dysfunctional Four (The Avengers)

The concept of teaming up Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and Thor was a dream years in the making for most film fans. Then, finally, in 2010 proto-geek Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly, Cabin in the Woods) was named director of The Avengers.

For comic book enthusiasts The Avengers proves to be everything wanted from a team-up. For those who are less familiar with these heroes and their storylines, the film is a proverbial menu to choose from. Enjoy history and the limits that one man will go for his country? Captain America, at your service. How about Norse mythology? Thor, at the waiting. Eccentric billionaires with an addiction to thrill-seeking? Iron Man is around here somewhere. Rage problems? Hulk, please don't make him angry.

Really the only major roadblock for The Avengers is one Whedon similarly handled for Serenity: these are characters who already know everyone in their own universe, but now find themselves introduced into new ones. A fine line has to be drawn between making the introduction scenes informational enough for those unaware of the Avengers and witty enough for devoted fans.

These four heroes are members of a team, but instilled is a tension that can only come up with grave consequences. They are all successful in their own right and see no reason to coalesce with others. Tony Stark is a star in his own right and takes being given orders in a poor light. Captain America, however, recognizes this behavior from several decades ago. And they do not get along.

To make matters worse, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is a master manipulator of the mind. These heroes are already fractured, but Loki wants to break them; prove that mere mortals are not fit to face him down. Loki has made a transition from Thor and it is indeed a nasty one. What was once a man conflicted by his loyalty to family and his true nature gives way to a Machiavellian villain. Loki is feral now. The Avengers needed a villain large enough to deserve the team up of these heroes and Tom Hiddleston performs admirably.

It is an oddly precarious situation for these heroes to be in. They found themselves pushed into making frighteningly real decisions and the choices they make won't necessarily be likable. However, decisions that gave Bruce Wayne pause about making in The Dark Knight are made without hesitation by Nick Fury when dealing with Loki. The Avengers are well-meaning, but they are still tools for S.H.I.E.L.D. The Avengers is not a deconstruction of the comic book genre that The Dark Knight was, however it was never meant to be. And scenes in which Thor and Iron Man bicker, "do not touch me" and "then don't take my stuff" remind the audience that this is nothing more than fun. Despite the fact that these men are nearly God-like in their power, they are still boys with (extremely dangerous) toys.

Speaking of dangerous, the Hulk finally gets his chance to shine in his third effort on the big screen. While Eric Bana and Edward Norton were limited in what they could do with the character Mark Ruffalo inhabits the character as something more than a villain lurking in a hero's body. A potential stumbling block, Ruffalo's Hulk manages to supersede everything before it. Several scenes are made by a line delivered by, or a look that encapsulates the scene. Ruffalo is the embodiment of the Hulk that was made for the silver-screen.

Verbal barbs exchanged just as often and as intently as uppercuts, the dialogue that Whedon is known and loved for is on full display. More importantly, the action in the film is truly spectacular. The dramatic conclusion to the film can only be described as awesome. Every conceivable scenario discussed in school yards during playtime is on display: Hulk tangles with Thor, Iron Man takes on an army, and finally, Thor's hammer (mjölnir) meets Cap's shield (vibranium).

The Avengers proves that superhero team-ups are possible, but only if they are as well developed as the characters and universes crafted by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and the always cool, Samuel L. Jackson. This is for every comic book-loving-ten-year-old that grew up and still kept those geek tendencies. This is for us.

***1/2 out of ****

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