Unwieldy and overflowing with characters, Marvel's "The Avengers" fails to create tension - much less sustain it over the course of its two-hour, 20-minute runtime.
Joss Whedon, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly" scribe, directs this enterprise, pens its script, and struggles to shoehorn a half-dozen humorous lines into reams of exposition and gobs of CGI'd action.
The plot, a hot mess of super-conflicts and not so super confrontations, favors nostalgic comic book readers. Movies supposedly setting the stage for this one include: two "Iron Mans," the last "Incredible Hulk," "Captain America" and especially "Thor." Having seen them all, I felt equipped to follow the "Avengers," but found plenty to confuse me.
Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow, introduced in the second "Iron Man" film, is played by Scarlett Johansson. Here, as there, she serves as dangerous eye-candy, disabling her attackers with well-placed kicks and conquering viewers with a pucker of her bountiful lips. Close-ups lavished on both Johansson's lovely face and shapely derriere, dispel any doubt these films are calibrated for adolescent males of all ages.
As the film opens, Asgard's disgraced princeling Loki (Tom Hiddleston), slips the bonds of Asgard to pursue the tesseract, a glowing cube of energy. Loki needs the cube to open a portal through space, allowing him to introduce alien warriors to conquer Earth. After stealing the cube from SHIELD (a shadowy organization run by the eye-patched Nick Fury played by Samuel L. Jackson), Loki is confronted by his hammer-wielding brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who desires peace with mankind, and also by smart-ass billionaire, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.).
In addition to Black Widow, Iron Man and Thor, over the next 60 minutes, Fury will gather Captain America (Chris Evans) -- a fuddy-duddy functioning as SHIELD's conscience, Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) a tortured being and the film's most intriguing character, and eventually Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) - a bow and arrow sharpshooter who we were first introduced to in "Thor."
In the Marvel Comic book universe, a gathering of superheroes must be tested and retested in battles that remind me of the "rock, paper, scissors," game, since each one is ultimately vulnerable to the other's powers and abilities. All this grandstanding ought to be more fun, but it's largely sound and fury that fails to drive the plot forward or to expand our knowledge of the players.
This means the film bets all its chips on a finale that includes aliens atop flying jet skis and humongous snake-dragon hybrids. While Loki is determined to subjugate all humans to his will, the film doesn't share the invader's reasons for joining him.
After 30 minutes of watching the demolition of Manhattan for the umpteenth time in the umpteenth film, we're left with the realization that this derivative effort is but the first of a franchise bereft of new ideas. Who will avenge us?