“The Avengers” opens with audacious Asgardian exile Loki (Tom Hiddleston of “Archipelago”) cutting a deal with malevolent aliens elsewhere in the galaxy. Afterward, he materializes on Earth and snatches a formidable source of energy, the Tesseract, from Nick Fury's (Samuel L Jackson) SHIELD outfit. If you’re interested, the Tesseract appeared initially in “Captain America, the First Avenger.” Once Loki gets his power-hungry hands on the Tesseract, he plans to use it to unlock a portal in space. Since science isn't Loki's strong suite, he recruits Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård of “Thor”) with the use of his glowing scepter to handle the mysterious cube. Loki wants to open the portal so an extraterrestrial barbarian horde, the Chitauri, can storm Earth. The Chitauri are merciless reptilian warriors who resemble humans but wear silver armor and careen across the skies in trios on chariots. Before he leaves with the Tesseract, Loki also recruits Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner of “The Hurt Locker”) to do his evil bidding. Meanwhile, Fury sets out to recruit his own team. First, he recruits Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans of “The Fantastic Four”) who hasn’t quite grown accustomed to the 21st century. Chiefly, Captain America doesn’t know what most of the popular phrases mean. Former Russian spy Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) lands in Calcutta to round up Dr. Bruce Banner whose alter-ego is the Hulk. Fury needs Banner because he is an expert in gamma rays. Agent Coulson calls on Iron Man with specific requests. Eventually, Thor barges him when he learns about Loki's treachery. Everybody boards a futuristic aircraft carrier that does more than ply the high seas. Throughout "The Avengers," Whedon does a masterly job of interspersing comedy with suspense. "The Avengers" contains some brilliant comic moments, but Whedon doesn't allow things to turn campy. Moreover, Whedon manages to muster enough time for each hero to make a contribution as they contend with Loki.
Whedon's “The Avengers” emerges as the climax to several recent Marvel Comics super hero escapades. Thor and Captain America toplined their own respective origins stories and generated well over a $100-million in box office receipts. If you’ve been keeping track of Marvel movies, you know the least successful super hero of the quartet is the Hulk. Unlike “Iron Man,” “Thor,” and “Captain America,” the pugnacious green gargantuan never formulated the right mix of leading actor, atmosphere, and narrative tone. Marvel’s two “Hulk” movies failed to forge a charismatic hero after Marvel’s major success with him on prime time television. Director Ang Lee’s “Hulk” (2003), with Eric Bana as the title character, took itself far too seriously and tackled unpleasant issues such as child abuse. Marvel rebooted the character with director Louis Leterrier’s “The Incredible Hulk” with Edward Norton as the eponymous character. This adventure surpassed “Hulk,” but remained half-baked. Unfortunately, actor Edward Norton feuded with the studio over the film’s interpretation of the material. Happily, for Hulk, lightening strikes the third time. Mark Ruffalo looks ideal as Dr. Bruce Banner and Whedon literally has remade the Hulk in Ruffalo’s own image. Hawkeye and The Black Widow aren’t exactly in the same league with luminaries like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, or Hulk. These two are conventional agents of SHIELD with special skill sets. Neither, however, possesses Herculean prowess. Lastly, ubiquitous Agent Phil Coulson hasn’t changed an iota. Like Nick Fury, Coulson has appeared in most of the films. More than any other character, Coulson makes the greatest impression in “The Avengers” when Loki throws down the gauntlet.