updated 05/02/2012 AT 8:00 AM ET
•originally published 05/05/2012 AT 9:45 AM ET
Superheroes have it easy: We only expect them to save the planet every now and again. Superhero movies, though, have the daunting task of illuminating our souls.
Dazzling effects, strong stories and bold heroes mean bubkes unless they inspire us. Thank the gods, The Avengers is just what it ought to be – inspired.
After five recent films about the solo exploits of Marvel heroes Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, outclassing Edward Norton), The Avengers weaves its narrative threads into a vibrant display of effects wizardry with characters to love and wit to spare.
As the film opens, aliens plot with Thor’s devilish brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to steal a limitless energy source and topple Earth. Shadowy agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles a team of heroes (including Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye) whose budding relationships reveal nuances of their personalities. (Who knew Iron Man and the Hulk would bro down over thermonuclear astrophysics?)
The script, written by director Joss Whedon, gives each of the terrific actors a turn in the spotlight. And the climax, a battle in the streets of New York City, is so soaring it left me feeling patriotic – and moved.
The Avengers may not be the heroes we deserve on this “little world” (as the aliens call it), but you can bet they’re the ones we need.