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Marvel's The Avengers

THIS big-budget blockbuster is a superhero movie elegantly punctuated with knee-slapping moments, whether a deft one-liner from Robert Downey's cynical Tony Stark/Iron Man or a hilarious bit of comic-book slapstick courtesy of The Hulk.

Writer-director Joss Whedon actually pulls off an impressive orchestration here, assembling the heroes of no fewer than four existing Marvel franchises and putting together a comic-book symphony, allowing each character his or her theme, but layering them all together in a satisfying opus.

They come together via the "Avengers Initiative," a secret strategy of pooling the resources of extraordinary superheroes in the event of emergency.

That emergency arrives in the person of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), a trickster demi-god from Thor's mythical realm of Asgard. He threatens to transport an alien army from across the universe to take over/destroy Earth. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) enlists Tony Stark and Hulk alter-ego Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to use their scientific acumen to track Loki, while unleashing the recently thawed Second World War hero Captain America (Chris Evans) and his super-soldier abilities to harness the demi-god himself.

Whedon stages individual battles (Thor vs. Iron Man) with an admirable understanding of comic-book dynamics, but he gives each character the benefit of a distinctive human personality, be it Tony Stark's arrogance or Bruce Banner's rage issues.

Whedon does spectacle really well too, staging a sustained battle finale with great flair. Like Michael Bay movies, the action is fast and furious, but unlike Bay movies, you can actually understand what's going on.

And what's going on here? Only the best comic-book movie since The Dark Knight.

Blu-ray extras include Marvel's first gag reel, deleted scenes and Marvel One Shot: Item 47, an original short film starring Lizzy Caplan and Jesse Bradford as a couple who use a piece of alien technology discovered in the aftermath of The Avengers for mundane criminal purposes. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

Damsels in Distress

VIOLET (Greta Gerwig) is the alpha female of a trio of altruistic busybodies at a rundown college where, among their other pursuits, they volunteer at the college's Suicide Prevention Centre (the word "Prevention" sometimes goes missing from the sign).

Incoming freshman Lily (Analeigh Tipton) gets taken under their collective wing, until she realizes these women may not have any more psychological stability than the students to whom they proffer help.

The film's writer-director Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco) is a singular American talent in film, dispensing a combo of wit and earnest youthfulness.

Gerwig's Violet is the film's queen of gentle crazy, the suicide prevention volunteer who is herself subject to crippling bouts of depression, but has made her life's goal to "start an international dance craze" to really contribute to society.

Sounds crazy. But it works for me. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2012 E4

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