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There's a delicious freedom in reviewing a movie like The Avengers. Apparently, the oracle has spoken and y'all are going to go see it no matter what. So nothing I write here really matters all that much. Picture a critic standing next to a huge line of people waiting to buy tickets for Transformers 3, wearing a sandwich board that says HEY, PEOPLE, THIS MOVIE SUCKS ASS, and being roundly ignored.

Of course, The Avengers does not suck ass, in part because, while Transformers director Michael Bay loves explosions and money, Avengers director Joss Whedon actually loves The Avengers comic books, superheroes, nerd culture, etc. etc. The biggest sign of this comes at the end of the film, when the bloated final battle levels a fair chunk of Manhattan and not a single civilian dies onscreen. That's some straight-up classic comic-book goodness there. But the best sign of it comes in the middle of the film, when fanboy culture, in the form of Captain America trading cards, actually works as a convincing plot point.

Actually, that formula works as a general summation of The Avengers: biggest (and bloated) at the end, but best in the middle. The short version of the story runs like this: Thor's brother Loki signs on with some bad guys to invade Earth. He steals the power source necessary to bring them hither. Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. gathers his team: superspy Black Widow, super-archer Hawkeye, super-snarker Iron Man, super-soldier Captain America, and super-ragemonkey Bruce Banner, who sometimes turns into the Hulk. Thor shows up on his own because Loki is his bro, bro.

All that superness naturally makes for some tension. Thor and Iron Man scrap in a forest, and I'm reminded that I grew up with a paperback collection entitled Marvel's Greatest Superhero Battles, and I'm happy. Later, everybody argues about good and evil and ulterior motives — Iron Man's cynicism and Captain America's old-school virtue clash nicely — and while it's not exactly convincing, it does set things up for the film's real triumph: a set piece built around a terrorist attack on S.H.I.E.L.D's floating warship. It works because everybody has different jobs to do. Guys who can fly and shoot lasers from their hands do that. Guys who can jump and punch and block bullets with a shield did that. And gals who can run in terror from a giant green man consumed with insane fury do that.

Contrast all that with the laughable circle-the-cameras shot from the final battle — you know, the one from the trailer (above). Lessee, you got a god who can summon lightning, the strongest thing on Earth, a walking battleship, a guy with a fancy shield, a guy who shoots arrows, and a pretty girl with a gun. Three of these things are not like the others...

My biggest complaint is with the biggest dude. Mark Ruffalo brings a sardonic sorrow to his performance as Bruce Banner, the man whose inner demons threaten to destroy everything even as they keep him alive. But the film has to figure out a way to transform the Hulk from terrifying threat to useful ally, and it just plain flubs it. 'Tis a pity.

But as I said, none of this really matters. It's tracking 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, and everybody likes watching Robert Downey, Jr. crack wise and put on the tin suit.

Final thoughts: Whedon does good things with 3-D when it comes to grand-scale settings, and Loki calls Black Widow a mewling quim. I mention that last bit by way of saying that parents should know the tone gets pretty adult in places.

Reader rating: two stars.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa May 3, 2012 @ 2:46 p.m.

Remember when only kids partook of the things of childhood?

I've had it up to my butt with all of this comic book crap. Could somebody make a movie for adults about adults?


We're desperate.


denfrank May 8, 2012 @ 11:53 a.m.

This movie does suck ass. Last 40 bucks on a tentpole, going back in time with only old movies projected in decaying theaters.


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