Christmas in May?
Not quite — but it sure felt like that for Marvel fans May 4 when the long-awaited “Avengers” swept into theaters in a glorious blaze of comic book goodness.
Four years after Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) first approached Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) about a little something called the Avengers Initiative in the first “Iron Man” flick, the ultimate superhero movie is finally here — and it doesn’t disappoint.
The film starts with a literal bang as the horn-helmed mischief god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) bursts through a portal at Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, snatching an ancient artifact known as the Tesseract.
With the artifact, Loki plans to harness its power to bring an alien race known as the Chitauri to Earth.
They will conquer, and Loki will rule our planet as recompense for the throne he feels was wrongly taken from him back in his home world of Asgard — at least, that’s his plan.
Unfortunately for Loki, but luckily for the rest of us, Fury refuses to sit back and let that happen.
He goes full speed ahead with the Avengers Initiative: a top-secret plan to unite the world’s mightiest heroes.
Director Joss Whedon not only did Stan Lee’s masterwork justice, he went above and beyond to create an all-out smorgasbord of delicious, nerdy goodness that is so perfect, it probably left DC Comics executives holed up in their offices in tears.
A lot of the film’s success lies with the cast.
Whedon enlisted terrific actors, some of them reprising previous roles, while others earned their wings with scene-stealing performances.
Downey plays his finest Iron Man yet, combining just the right amount of smarts, smoothness and sarcasm to portray the smart-but-silly playboy we all know and love.
Love isn’t, however, what Stark feels for Steve Rogers — better known as Captain America — introduced by Chris Evans in the self-titled flick last year.
Although that movie was admittedly lacking in, well, just about everything, the Cap roars back in “The Avengers” as a refreshingly wholesome, clean-cut patriot who butts heads with Stark on more than one occasion.
Chris Hemsworth reprises his role of Thor, Loki’s brother, brilliantly balancing the thunder god’s aloof nobility and hotheadedness to create a character that has really grown since his debut film.
His compassion for his misguided brother, despite his many evils, is both heartfelt and touching.
The actors who really steal the show, though, are the ones decked out in green.
Hiddleston brings a depth to Loki that no comic book ever has.
He is not just a villain, brought into the movie just to give the heroes someone to fight while he causes mayhem and plots to take over the world — his purpose is deeper than that.
He is a brother scorned, a son betrayed.
His Loki is mischievous and murderous, but through it all, there is a shred of humanity left within him, beautifully illustrated as he sheds a single tear while fighting Thor.
But no matter how hilarious Iron Man and Captain America’s back-and-forth quips are, no matter how dynamic the brotherly bond that ties Thor and Loki together is, there’s no question that the movie’s not-so-secret weapon is the not-so-jolly green giant.
Mark Ruffalo is the third actor to play the Hulk in the past decade, and it would seem that, for Marvel, the third time’s the charm.
From tending to children in a third-world country to throwing literal punch lines, Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner has a heart as big as his alter-ego’s fists.
The film would be worth seeing for the performances alone, but it is much more than that.
For the diehard fans out there, Whedon remained true to the characters, and true to their stories.
Watching “The Avengers” is like watching all of your favorite comic book heroes and villains spring forth from the panels and come to life.
But casual viewers needn’t fret, either — even if you’ve never picked up a comic book in your life. You will quickly pick up on who the characters are, and where they come from.
The special effects are absolutely breathtaking.
They range from the awe-inspiring, such as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s floating fortress in the sky, to the otherworldly, like the creepy space scenes where Loki consults with his Chitauri cohorts.
The script is masterfully written, and despite clocking in at close to two and a half hours, there isn’t a moment where the flick loses its momentum.
In fact, there’s only one thing disappointing about “The Avengers”: seeing the credits roll.
To contact Whitney Knight, email firstname.lastname@example.org.