Plot: Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has grand plans for the tesseract, a mysterious blue cube that is currently in the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D., where it is the focus of a barrage of tests and experiments. But Loki is able to tap into the energies of those experiments and open a portal, through which he snatches the tesseract and plots to turn it over to an alien race with hopes of a full scale invasion of earth. With Loki’s plan for world domination now in motion, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) calls upon The Avengers to assemble and roll into action. While the group possesses immense strength and is the best chance to fend off Loki’s invasion, there are also conflicts with the squad and of course, the need to learn how to trust and work with each other. Can these individual heroes somehow be turned into a cohesive unit?

Entertainment Value: The finale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase One, The Avengers should have an absolute epic, the culmination of several films worth of world building and character development. But while it is cool to see all the heroes in the same battle, the movie just fails to capture the kind of awe this movie could have delivered, falling back instead on the usual Marvel formula. Even though these characters have had their movies in which to be established and develop, a lot of time is spent catching up those who might have missed those movies. I appreciate the attempt to not force people to watch all the other movies, but the point of a shared universe should be epic stories and moments, not rehashed backstories. In true Marvel fashion, the stakes are beyond low and Loki’s alien invasion never feels like a serious threat, with even the Avengers having fun most of the time. The need for comic relief is there of course, but not to the extent it is handled here. I think it would have been fine to put some real danger on the table and risk some lives, but instead we have a plain as tap water narrative that wastes the potential of the concept.

The finale is fun at times, but without a credible threat, it all seems like fluff and the last second risk to Iron Man is laughable. The Avengers simply lacks the backbone to put these characters in any kind of real danger and to me, that tanks the movie and removes all the tension. That leaves us with mediocre green screen work and some abysmal, low end CGI to fuel the action scenes, which makes no sense to me, given the massive budget involved here. The movie also drags on, with minimal narrative to stretch over the run time and even in the epic finale, things feel drawn out and dull at times, as there’s just no stakes involved. Marvel seems to think a movie has to be well over two hours to work, but I’d rather have a tight, effective 90 minutes than a bloated, filler packed mess like The Avengers. The cast performs well, with Robert Downey, Jr. in prime form and Tom Hiddleston camping it up, though the attempt to make Chris Hemsworth a source of humor fall flat as a pancake. I wanted to like The Avengers, as I love the old comic books and the concept seems like a can’t miss, but even superheroes need to seem vulnerable and this one offers zero stakes.

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