‘The Avengers’ is an ensemble masterpiece

Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’

The storyline of The Avengers basically boils down to a gigantic fight over a sparkly blue cube — and it’s one of the best superhero movies in recent memory.

The movie is in good hands with writer/director (and comic-book fan) Joss Whedon. All of the characters get sufficient screen time. There are lots of special effects (which look pretty good in 3-D) and plenty of loud, destructive battles. Let’s just say that by the end of the movie, New York City is leveled and is a dark, dusty mess.

Samuel L. Jackson finally has more than just a cameo in a Marvel comic movie; he actually has a legit role this time around as Nick Fury, director of the international peacekeeping agency S.H.I.E.L.D.

When that aforementioned sparkly blue cube, a.k.a. the mysterious, power-yielding Tesseract, is stolen by the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Fury calls in assistance from a team he has dubbed the Avengers: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). You may recall from the Thor movie last summer that Loki is Thor’s adoptive brother, so they have quite a bit of history.

It’s great fun watching the Avengers assemble. They aren’t all exactly best buddies from the get-go (it’s particularly amusing to watch Iron Man and Thor duke it out), but they eventually come together for the greater good — to protect humanity.

The supremely likable Downey Jr. probably gets the most screen time and funny lines. His gal Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) makes a (thankfully) brief appearance at the beginning.

Ruffalo (new to the Marvel universe; the Hulk was played by Edward Norton in 2008 and Eric Bana in 2003) got the most cheers in my screening audience when he transformed from the mild-manned Dr. Bruce Banner to the angry Hulk, heaping gobs of destruction on everything he touched. The Hulk was definitely a scene-stealer every time he was on screen.

Thor and Captain America (the lesser-known superheroes) aren’t nearly as popular as Iron Man and the Hulk, but they had plenty of action scenes to make their marks. Hawkeye (a.k.a. agent Clint Barton) spends a bit of time playing for the other team. Get your mind out of the gutter! Loki kidnaps him along with Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard, who had a supporting role in Thor) to obtain intel on the Tesseract. The Black Widow (a.k.a. agent Natasha Romanoff) doesn’t have any real superpowers, but she does have the ability to kick butt while wearing a tight black jumpsuit.

I was definitely feeling some superhero-movie burnout as of last summer, but it has been lifted thanks to The Avengers. It kicks off the summer movie season, and I doubt there will be a more action-packed, crowd-pleasing movie this summer — OK, hopefully The Dark Knight Rises will be right up there with it.

The combination of its simple story, witty one-liners, abundance of action and likable superheroes makes The Avengers the movie to see this summer. ••

Movie Grade: A