3 1/2 stars = Very good
"Marvel's The Avengers" is the movie comic book fans have been curled up in their parents' basements fantasizing about for half a century.
Last year, we met the World War II-era super soldier Captain America (Chris Evans) and the arrogant Norse thunder god Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Previous to that, there were two movies featuring billionaire narcissist-turned-superhero Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).
In "Marvel's The Avengers," Mark Ruffalo has made the role of the Hulk's alter ego Bruce Banner his own after Edward Norton and Eric Bana played the tortured scientist in two critically panned and commercially disappointing films. The Avengers' roster is rounded out by the ultimate archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), both of whom had cameos in "Thor."
In the previous films, most of these prickly but powerful characters were recruited by Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and his loyal subordinate Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) for a mysterious project called The Avengers Initiative. The gathering of these disparate heroes and rogues is the culmination of Nick Fury's scheming.
The mayhem is orchestrated by Thor's evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), a god with a persecution complex and a lust for a new world order based on the reintroduction of blind worship by humans. Also hanging in the balance is the fate of the Cosmic Cube, a weapon of boundless power that Cap fought over in last summer's "Captain America: The First Avenger."
Although all of the characters have moments of introspection and self-doubt, "Marvel's The Avengers" is mostly a master class in smashing things and striving for cleverness while doing so. Those who may have worried about the CGI for the Hulk, have no fear. Hulk is able to smash things while exuding an actual personality.
Director Joss Whedon, who has a well-earned reputation as an auteur, has the good sense to layer "Marvel's The Avengers" with humorous interludes that reveal character and advance the story. The film ultimately works because Mr. Whedon remained true to the pulpy source material.
Along with a gag reel, deleted scenes that emphasize Cobie Smulders, and a featurette that focuses on the actors/heroes one by one, the Blu-Ray extras include a humorous 12-minute film added to the Marvel One-Shot series called "Item 47" that stars Jesse Bradford and Lizzy Caplan as a couple that discovers a discarded Chitauri gun and turns into Bonnie & Clyde.
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-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers