"Unhappy the land that has no heroes!" someone remarks to Bertolt Brecht's Galileo. "No. Unhappy the land that needs heroes," Galileo replies. And if superheroes are multiples of the ordinary variety, the world as perceived by Hollywood is currently in as dire straits as it was during the great depression when the comic-strip masked avengers were first created. Joss Whedon, a major hero to Tinseltown's accountants, and Marvel Comics' movie division have come up with the wheeze of bringing together six of Marvel's superheroes (Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Captain America and the lesser-known Hawkeye and Black Widow) to confront Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the evil trickster of Norse folklore. He's slipped through a crack in the universe and stolen the all-powerful Cosmic Cube. In the course of defeating his megalomaniac schemes, much of midtown Manhattan is destroyed along with several thousand people, though happily the Chrysler building survives.
The special effects are impressive but not especially imaginative, and the film is unduly protracted. The superheroes and supervillain Loki get all the jokes, which pop out of their heads like bubbles in a comic strip. This leaves Stellan Skarsgård, the inventor of the Cosmic Cube and Samuel L Jackson, head of the international peacekeeping agency Shield, to do solemn and serious, which they deliver in a suitably straight-faced manner. Karl Marx could have been anticipating 9/11 and this movie when he said that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce.