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Marvel's The Avengers

Joss Whedon's The Avengers is a smart, thrilling toy box writ large

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Scarlett Johansson solidifies her bona fides, as well. Her Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) reveals new depths and genuine ass-kicking talent, and Johansson's performance is one of the film's best. Likewise, Hiddleston relishes his smartly written part, Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson is another shining standout and newest members of the family, Renner and Ruffalo, seem as if they'd always been there. If one performance doesn't quite live up to the spirit of the outing, it's Jackson's Fury, who wears a bizarrely hangdog look throughout that never adds up to much. The actor seems winded and sluggish. If it's a matter of Fury's age - and true fans must be nodding their heads emphatically right now - why not say so? Otherwise, it just seems like Jackson would rather be anywhere else than loitering in the stratosphere with his assembled freaks.

Whedon has spent years developing his theories of group dynamics, from Toy Story's play room to Speed's ill-fated bus to Buffy's Scooby Gang and, of course, Firefly's Browncoats. With the Avengers, he's been handed the world's biggest toy box. Thankfully, he's delivered the world's most entertaining action-figure battle royale.

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