Iron Man (costumed for action) at Century 12 with family, presumably to see himself starring in blockbuster film ‘The Avengers.’  Photo by RoundTable staff.

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“The Avengers” is Joss Whedon’s latest greatest hit. As a director and/or writer, he is known for such “cult” successes as “Firefly” and “Serenity,” “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Toy Story.” The man has a huge talent for what makes people happy. “The Avengers” is so much fun it is downright awesome.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s comic-book team of superheroes is made up of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and of course, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg).

This film brings together under the mentorship of S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Each character is an alpha, used to dominating those around him or her; only Captain America – a WWII soldier frozen in ice after the war and awakened in the present – is really much good at following orders, and as a result, he turns out to be the best at giving them, too.

In the meantime, the audience gets to enjoy seeing them learn how to work together against a greater threat – Thor’s adopted brother Loki, whose devastation (in the previous “Thor”) at learning of his own origins has unraveled him.

 Unfortunately for Earth, Loki knows how much Thor likes the place and has bargained with an alien warrior people to subjugate the planet in exchange for “the Tesseract,” a large, glowing crystal that can harness all kinds of power from elsewhere in the universe. The story is simple, but here it works, perhaps because the characters are so many, various, and, in their way, complicated, and because no attempt is made to mask its simplicity with superficial complexities.

The casting for this batch of superhero films has been wonderful. Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo are especially perfect. Mr. Downey is entirely convincing as the obnoxious and entitled – if at least now also committed to Good – Iron Man.

Perhaps even more difficult to achieve, the Hulk is finally made believable by Mark Ruffalo (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Shutter Island”). He presents at once the real pathos of such a man, were he real: a good man terrified by his own vast rage and his complete inability to control it.

The juxtaposition of Dr. Banner’s sadness and self-loathing with the Hulk’s cartoonishly simple ferocity and violence is at once moving and unaccountably hilarious. There is no mistaking the Hulk’s “smashing” for reality, and that frees a spectator to enjoy it. And this is despite the very realistic emotion one sees in Dr. Banner’s eyes as he transforms. Finally, the CGI (computer-generated imagery) used to distort Banner’s (Mr. Ruffalo’s) face and yet keep him recognizable is terrifically effective.

The movie works as an ensemble film, too, because each character is allotted time onscreen as an individual as well as shown working with (or against) his or her colleagues. The audience is introduced to each superhero as he or she is brought in to deal with the emergency and is permitted to “bond”
with them separately. When they finally work together, the audience watches with both relief and elation.

What a relief it is, too, when they save the Earth from certain destruction. Thank goodness for the Avengers.