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May 27, 2017

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'Avengers' have feelings too!

Despite any irony behind the film's title, Marvel was right to play it safe with the moral twists and turns of "The Avengers." But Joss Whedon, who both directed and wrote the film's screenplay, must have gotten a kick out of smashing up his hometown in the process.

The secret council of S.H.I.E.L.D, which pulls the strings behind world power, has launched a covert expedition to recover a mysterious artifact located at the bottom of the sea, which holds the key to a potentially unlimited source of sustainable energy. Under the command of Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, the team unwittingly opens a portal to another dimension, unleashing Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the infamous trickster from Norse legend, half-brother of Thor, god of thunder.

This weedy arch-villain carries with him an effeminate magic wand and a sensitive gothic twist of thespian charisma, which imbues him with the power to corrupt the hearts and minds of our conflicted heroes. After showing off the stick's curious abilities by turning key members of Fury's team to the dark side, Loki begins to implement his meticulously researched — yet predictably fated — plans to enlist the help of a space-age demon army in order to take over the world. Despite the ridiculously outdated megalomania driving Loki's aspirations, his threat to world safety merely draws the curtain to the real struggle: that of our problematic heroes and their own self-destructive impulses.

Fury has no other choice but to thrust together a hodgepodge of outcasts, loners and social deviants, who have up until this point followed the lonely path of gradual self-destruction on a super-human scale. The star-studded cast is pulled together, either on the back of threats or bargains, to include Iron Man, The Hulk, the Black Widow, and Captain America, with a tardy Thor later popping in from another dimension in the attempt to reconcile with Loki. Yet despite their hardships, it is precisely because they are willing to recognize themselves as their own worst enemy that they need others to lift them above and beyond themselves, either through competition or camaraderie.

Soon after Loki exposes himself to capture, he begins to sow the seeds of a moral debacle between Fury's uncomfortable conscripts, threatening to consume not only the Avengers, but our own moral compass over what difference lies in the motivation toward either good or evil. Fury, who wears a black eye-patch and an overcoat, looks for all intents and purposes like a sky pirate. Yet, however unorthodox, Fury is well played by Jackson as the ultimate realist, and the only possible mediating force between the overripe weakness that comes with peace and the unbridled influence of the shrouded puppet masters that he serves.

Despite whatever misgivings one has about the broader and more implicit black & white consensus drawn by the film, its greatest appeal emerges from the conflicting personal dynamic between the heroes, which, with Whedon's deftly interwoven script, manages to cut a few layers deeper than normal, while remaining a highly enjoyable action flick.

Fraternization between heroes and the native New Yorkers is kept to a tight minimum, with the latter left to flee in panic — Godzilla-style — in the face of the cataclysmic onslaught wrought by demonic humanoids and toppling skyscrapers. Some personal favorites include when Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a late addition to the Avenger team, takes out a flying aircraft carrier with a bow and arrow, and a gigantic flying alien worm, which may as well have been cut-and-pasted straight out of Hayao Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle" (2004), plows straight through Grand Central Station.

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