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'The Avengers' is smart summer fun


Yes, I know that's the last thing you'd suspect to indicate why "The Avengers" is one of the best kickoffs ever to Summer Blockbuster Movie Season, but I ask you to consider this sentence, spoken very early in the film by Samuel L. "Eyepatch" Jackson:

"Until such time as the world ends, we shall act as if it will spin on."

Carefully note the grammatical perfection of the uses of "shall" and "will" in that portentous comic book sentence -- the kind that Jackson can deliver with oratorical pizazz so casual, he could simultaneously be eating breakfast.

Smart people made "The Avengers" -- really smart people. Not just brilliant people, mind you. There are a lot of those in movies, too, but that doesn't mean that any one of them is smart enough to know how a really smart inventor of a Super Hero All-Star Team might talk, but this movie does. A lot of brilliant people on lower levels can create mind-blowing special effects and digital animation hoo-ha -- all with suitably thunderous sound that seems to radiate during the big moments from the rumbling floor beneath your posterior.

So yeah yeah yeah, there's a ton of that in "The Avengers," especially in its final half hour, when the movie really kicks out the jams.

But we're talking about a movie that is smart enough to make its absurd fantasy characters as credible as such fantasy can be -- a movie, too, that remembers that the smartest thing a "comic book" movie can do is to remember to make it "comic."


Which "The Avengers" is, sometimes with rich belly laughs that seem to meet, on the way down, those rumbling sounds coming up from the floor.

That's why "The Avengers" is such great fun, while Marvel Comics' "Thor," say, was such a pathetically gobbling turkey, for all the brilliant visual hoo-ha that went into it.

It doesn't hurt, of course, that the basic plot of "The Avengers" enables them to assemble a team of fancy name actors around Jackson (as Nick Fury): Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, folks that people are willing to pay a lot of money to be in movies without ridiculous costumes.

But that, of course, carries its own problems. With such a cast -- and their putative equality in the Marvel Comics scheme of things -- you've got to make sure that everybody gets to do the proper number of solos, duets, trios, etc.

Mozart would have understood it perfectly writing one of his operas, but the whole point of "The Avengers" is that none of us greedy audience members feel gypped by not enough Captain America or Hawkeye or Iron Man or Black Widow or Thor or Loki or The Hulk.

So we're back to smarts again.

And there you've got the reason that "The Avengers" is such a major winner in the early summer's Hoover-the-money sweepstakes. The writer/director is Joss Whedon, whom television watchers have been elbowing each other and chattering about for years now when he was at the helm of the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly" and "Angel." (I won't bring up "Dollhouse" if you won't. All smart guys need to do some really dumb things occasionally. Keeps the mechanism lubricated.)

So the comic book-reading kid inside us all is sure to get all the fights he or she needs. It starts with the Black Widow (Johansson) demolishing four bad guys while still tied to a chair and handcuffed. Then, in succession, Iron Man squares off against Thor, until Captain America talks sweet reason. Thor goes up against the Hulk, and, of course, Loki, and so forth.

Just to make sure Mozart would approve, you've got some people explaining themselves with suitable self-pity in duets -- Hawkeye having a heart-to-heart with mechanical-hearted Iron Man, the Black Widow and Hawkeye getting mushy about old times, etc.

What all the good guys are getting together to do is stop megalomaniac Norse trickster Loki from his evil plan of world domination. His purpose? To liberate humankind from the idea of freedom. (Attention! Smart writer alert! It's safe to let thinking adults in with the kids and fanboys and fangirls.)

The first time Loki is put face-to-face with the people of New York, he demands that they all kneel before him. When they do, he smirks and says, "It's the unspoken truth of humanity -- that you crave subjugation."

Not really.

But when it comes summertime all over the Western world and parts of Asia, we do crave huge, grotesquely expensive action fantasies that entertain the bejabbers out of all of us and leave us with the illusion that the Entertainment Industrial Complex will always look after us with Maximum Benevolence.

It ain't true.

Except for the 142 minutes that "The Avengers" is on screen (in 3-D sometimes), you'll swear that it is.



"The Avengers"    

3 1/2 stars (out of 4)    

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo and Chris Hemsworth.

Written and directed by Joss Whedon. 142 minutes.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and a mild drug reference.