Summer’s off to a kick-ass start with The Avengers

by Mark Burger

Simply put, The Avengers delivers.

This adaptation of the all-star Marvel Comics series, which unites the various superheroes from the Marvel universe, will undoubtedly please its worldwide legion of fans, which in turn will please Marvel, as the film is positioned to become one of the top-grossing films of the year. (This is one case where financial success is deserved.)

The catalyst for Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to come together is the theft of “the Tesseract,” a glowing blue box that may well be a source of unlimited sustainable energy.

In the wrong hands, however, the Tesseract can be a weapon of mass destruction. Those wrong hands belong to super-villain Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who plans to use the device’s powers to open a portal to another (far less friendly) dimension, thereby allowing alien beings to wreak havoc on Earth.

It falls to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the eponymous Agent of SHIELD, to round up the superheroes, train them, and turn them loose. Of course, some of the heroes have superherosized egos, leading to some amusing friction between them.

Director Jess Whedon evinces both affection and respect for the superhero genre. The film takes itself seriously only to a point, allowing a sense of wonder and fun to permeate the proceedings. The film is loaded with CGI special effects (mostly excellent), yet never overwhelming its larger-than-life characters.

In a very real sense, The Avengers is the culmination of previous Marvel movies that introduced the individual characters.

Had any of the previous films (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, etc.) underperformed, there might not have been an Avengers. But they did and there is — and it’s a worthy blockbuster.

Although Downey is top billed, The Avengers is very much (and appropriately) an ensemble effort. Screenwriters Zak Penn and Whedon wisely give all the characters something of significance to do, thereby cementing the notion that the world can be saved only if they all work together toward that common goal. Even Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, who has appeared in most of the previous Marvel movie adaptations, gets his moments in the spotlight.

The actors, most of whom have previously played these characters in earlier Marvel movies (excepting Ruffalo, who steps in for previous Hulks Eric Bana and Edward Norton), have an easy chemistry and are appealingly comfortable in their individual roles.

Amid the action, others of note who appear in smaller roles include Stellan Skarsgard (encoring from Thor), Harry Dean Stanton (in a hilarious scene), Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Jerzy Skolimowski, Stan Lee (in his obligatory cameo) and Gwyneth Paltrow, dropping in from the Iron Man films as Pepper Potts and looking great (cut-off jeans suit her very nicely).

Judging by the early box-office returns, it’s very likely that The Avengers will be back before too long. Judging by the quality of the film, it’ll be a franchise worth looking forward to.

Not to be confused with Renny Harlin’s 1999 shark shocker, The Deep Blue Sea , which opens Friday, is screenwriter/director Terence Davies’ adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s 1952 play.

Rachel Weisz, herself at home in costume dramas and period pieces, portrays Hester, a mournful woman ruminating on lost love and dashed dreams. She left her older, wealthy husband William (Simon Russell Beale) to be with Freddie (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers’ Loki, is a distinct change of pace), younger but more irresponsible than her husband, still reliving past glories from World War II and completely unable to deal with her on much beyond a physical level.“How can you throw so much away for so little?” William asks Hester, the question ultimately haunting her when she is left not with little, but with nothing at all. An attempt at suicide serves only to further her isolation — as it’s both a legal and moral transgression. Passion, even a fleeting passion, comes with a price that Hester could not have foreseen and cannot surmount.

Weisz dominates the film with a sad but sympathetic performance, ably supported by Hiddleston and Beale, and there’s a juicy turn by Barbara Jefford as William’s domineering mother, a woman apparently unable to approve of anything that anyone does, particularly her daughterin-law.

The film is steeped in the atmosphere and mores of its era. Hester’s dilemma may not seem so ruinous in these more enlightened (read: permissive) times, but Davies takes great pains to emphasize that the prevailing attitude of the day contributes as much to her undoing as her own behavior. Surely it’s no coincidence that Hester shares the same name as the heroine of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the classic tale of a fallen woman, and that Weisz is often clad in a red overcoat.

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