DVD Release Date: September 25, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: May 4, 2012 (3D/2D theaters and IMAX 3D)
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference)
Genre: Action, Adventure
Run Time: 142 min.
Director: Joss Whedon
Actors: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgard, Gwyneth Paltrow

Good versus evil. Heroes versus villains. Moral clarity versus muddy postmodernism. Such storytelling might seem old fashioned, but every now and then a movie reminds us that “old-fashioned” ideas have a potency that’s lacking in much modern storytelling.

Marvel’s The Avengers—a group of superheroes brought together by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D., to fight forces threatening humanity’s continued existence— remind us that some story themes never go out of style. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are assembled by Fury to take on Thor’s brother Loki and his armies from Asgard unleashed on Earth.

Sound silly? Sure, but The Avengers often has a playful spirit, unlike some of the films dedicated to the individual characters who comprise the group. The Avengers’ script, cowritten by director Joss Whedon (The Cabin in the Woods), steers clear of the ponderous seriousness that has weighed down some of the earlier Marvel films, giving arrogant playboy Stark a few moments of self-deprecation and even using the moody Hulk for comic relief. The end result is entertaining and mostly enjoyable, if overlong.

The Avengers’ story centers on the Tesseract, a glowing energy cube that opens a vortex between Earth and Asgard. That’s where Loki (Tom Hiddleston), still licking his wounds from Thor, comes from with an army of fighters eager to enslave humankind to Loki’s evil rule. People need to bow down to someone, and he’s ready to receive their obeisance. “Freedom is life’s great lie,” he intones. “You were made to be ruled.”

The focus on Loki is the first thing The Avengers gets right. A vaguely remembered adversary from the passable but forgettable Thor, Loki dominates the early part of The Avengers thanks to Hiddleston’s fiendishly fun portrayal of the power-mad figure. Like a malevolent spiritual subjugator, he seems unstoppable and undefeatable—until he meets his match in the Avengers.

Each Avenger is used to saving humanity on their own, but it will take the whole group working together to confront the diabolical Loki—especially after he turns Hawkeye and scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) into his willing servants. Much of the movie’s pleasures come in watching the Avengers learn to work together to confront a foe who’s more than they can handle individually. Wise-cracking Stark grates on the completely unironic Rogers, while Banner worries about anger-management issues and Thor struggles to explain why his brother has gone bad.