May 3, 2012

The Avengers: Action!

Four film franchises come together in one superhero extravaganza.

By GEOFF BOUCHER McClatchy Newspapers

(Continued from page 1)

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Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) avoids traffic in “The Avengers,” which opens Friday.

Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures

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Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) join forces in “The Avengers.”

Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures

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"THE AVENGERS," starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cobie Smulders and Clark Gregg. Directed by Joss Whedon. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference. Running time: 2:22

Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner and Cobie Smulders are among the film's other players, and each brings a unique bundle of conflict or complication to the all-star equation.

"We're not a team, we're a time bomb," Ruffalo's frazzled scientist says at one point in the film, a line that presents a segue to the question of box-office bankability. Early audience survey data hint that the movie's opening weekend will be explosively successful -- as opposed to that other kind of Hollywood bomb.

The reviews the film gets, however, will be determined in large part by Whedon, the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator who hopes "The Avengers" might finally push his resume (which includes the misfire of "Dollhouse" and the tragically unappreciated "Firefly") to match his reputation and cult following.

Whedon, now 47, was brought in to solve the numbers problem posed by the Avengers -- how can one movie hold this many heroes, armed agents and villains (there's a surprise bad-guy who will make Marvel readers of a certain age yelp in joy) and still be more compelling than a roll call or a barrage of one-liners (a la Joel Schumacher's "Batman & Robin")?

Whedon is viewed as a savant when it comes to ensemble dialogue -- watch group scenes in old "Firefly" episodes and hear the sly symphonies of angst, bravado, love, lust, doubt and deceit. But he was skeptical when approached in early 2010 with a screenplay by Zak Penn ("X-Men: The Last Stand").

"They showed me a script and I said, 'I don't see a movie here,"' Whedon said last summer on the set. "I wasn't really thinking about it as a gig. It was a gradual thing. Like quicksand. I did tell them up front that I wasn't coming in thinking, 'Can I get this (job)?' The question in my head was, 'Can this get me?"'

"It" did get him, and Whedon says working with Feige in the unusual collaborative tandem approach that is Marvel Studios has been "one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had." Whedon said he's especially pleased to find the new on-screen shadings for the Banner character and to work with professionally outsized personalities such as Downey and Jackson. He says the comedy moments of the film are strong too, thanks in part to the amplified roles for Johansson and Smulders, which remedied the dialogue dead corners that turn up when there are just too many male voices.

Count Downey among Whedon's fans: "There are new depths of discovery for our characters, there are new things in the air and they each feel more real. The guy's my hero. He should be yours."

Perhaps, but according to Hiddleston, Whedon might actually be more the evil-genius type -- not that there's anything wrong with that in the Marvel universe.

"He has this intermittently generous and supportive side as a director," the British actor said of Whedon. "But I also think as an artist he has a really dark sense of humor. He kept telling me how much fun he had writing Loki. He steps inside the villains in a way that he doesn't with the heroes."


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Scarlett Johansson stars as Black Widow in “The Avengers.”

Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures


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