When fans and critics alike praised Marvel’s recent string of films introducing The Avengers, I wondered if I hadn’t broken my superhero
nerve.

The Iron Man films never overly impressed me, Thor and Captain America were just alright and The Incredible Hulk was completely mindless.

I feel somewhat justified in being able to now say that this is the reason I didn’t score those movies higher.

The Avengers is everything those films could have been and more.

Joss Whedon, as both writer and director, has delivered one of the very best superhero films to date.  And make no mistake; Whedon is the
real difference maker here.  His screenplay masterfully balances a large cast of larger-than-life characters with massive set pieces and
intense action.

Never do we feel like any hero is short-changed.  Every single one is well-developed and represented.  And, as it should be, the
interactions between these classic characters are truly a joy.  Whedon injects equal parts humor and humanity into his excellent dialog-
driven sequences and the result is a film that moves with the pace of a great popcorn adventure film, while always finding time to be a little
bit more dramatically.

Whedon was the perfect choice for this project.  He’s a fan who understands that these characters have endured not only because of their
super-powers, but because of their flaws as well.

The characters are so well-crafted that many of the film’s structural flaws are masked.  The plot is about as clichéd as comic fare comes with
an evil madman threatening to unleash his evil army upon the world. Loki (You may remember him from Thor- If you can remember Thor…) is
once again a fairly standard, forgettable villain.

Thanks to these issues, the first act of The Avengers is not nearly as good as what follows.

But as the Helicarrier begins to soar, so does this film.  When the team has finally been assembled, Whedon’s script goes into overdrive
and never looks back.

The jokes begin to fly and Whedon is fully-aware that Robert Downey Jr. is his greatest asset.  The Iron Man star does much of the heavy
lifting both comically and dramatically.  His magnetic presence is the perfect tool to mesh these characters and it works wonders.

The entire cast is very good, though.  Characters such as Thor and The Hulk work much better in supporting roles.  Mark Ruffalo as Bruce
Banner is the only newly-cast hero and his performance is thankfully far superior to his predecessors.

Even though the great surprise is how well these characters are presented, that’s not to say the action isn’t equally impressive.  As his first
project that could really be categorized as an action film, Whedon’s staging and direction is nearly flawless.

The chaotic action favors spectacle over manic edits.  We can actually tell what is going on and where each character is at any given time,
taking full advantage of the superbly choreographed stunts and fights.

These sequences also benefit greatly from outstanding visual effects work by ILM and Weta, punchy sound design and Alan Silvestri’s
heroic fanfares.

The final battle is absolutely thrilling.  It is pure, unadulterated comic book glory brought to life.  The exceptional action and established
drama combine to form something truly special.

We actually care about these characters and watching them in action is an absolute joy.

Even for a skeptic such as myself, I felt like pumping my fist in the air when the music swells and the camera circles our heroes, fully-suited
and fully-determined.

The Avengers is a triumph.  It juggles a huge cast with monumental action sequences and pulls it off with style, humor and heart.  Only a few
minor flaws hold it back from a perfect score.  This isn’t just a great adaptation, it’s a great entertainment.

It took several mediocre films for The Avengers to finally assemble, but it was well worth the wait.

* * * 1/2
(out of four)

Oh, and stay all the way through the end credits for the requisite final scene.  This one is…well it’s something.  I loved it.
THE AVENGERS

Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo,
Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner

Music by: Alan Silvestri

Cinematography by: Seamus McGarvey

Released: May 4, 2012; 142 Minutes