That”s a lot of spandex for one silver screen.

Purely on concept The Avengers is a massive achievement.  To amass this level of talent in a room at any time is incredible and deserves recognition.   The fact that the 2.5 hour behemoth of a movie is a blast is just icing on the cake.  All the praise to Director/Writer/King-of-Nerds Joss Whedon for somehow, someway living up to the hype.

It seems a bit off-putting that the summer’s first tent pole release has 5 films that precede it.  That’s a lot to require of Joe-viewer.

avengers-movie-poster-1-405x600The film however does a great job of acclimating us to this universe without alienating newbie’s of the franchise.  It’s no small feat considering the film must re-introduce six superheroes, set up an evil villain and a shady government agency while still leaving enough runtime to destroy all of New York City.

The story suffers a bit from being a mish-mash of films past but the structure is simple enough.  Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – the Norse God of Asgard – is back on earth hell bent on claiming the world as his own.  He’s assembled an army of ugly space monsters and would love nothing more than to enslave the human race and have them worship at his feet.  So it’s up to the aptly-named S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his eye patch, to assemble the Avengers and stop Loki at any cost.  There’s also a powerful cube that does something.

Although the sequences are barely related, meeting each of the superheroes is a lot of fun.  The vignettes capture what makes each of them unique and gives plenty of screen time for them to reacquaint themselves.  Robert Downey Jr. returns as Iron Man and steals every scene he’s in (as usual).  His Tony Stark is so well-painted that it’s hard to believe Downey is any different in real life.  Chris Evans is online slots fun as the retro-confident Captain America who will do anything to protect his country.  The real surprises here are Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo.)

They were each saddled with the lamest origin movies but here they find new life.  Hemsworth has great comic timing as Thor, something missing too often from his first go-around.  Ruffalo (replacing Ed Norton) brings his laid-back surfer quality to Bruce Banner while always hinting there is something lurking just below the surface.  When the Hulk finally is unleashed…He, Smash.

Unfortunately, not all the characters are as interesting.  Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow is a lead here and kicks plenty of ass.  The problem is there’s just not a lot else going on with Black Widow.  She works for S.H.I.E.L.D., has a shady past and does a mean cartwheel but that’s about it.  There’s a vague implication of a relationship with the last (and lamest) Avenger Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner.)  Renner (a wonderful actor) does his damndest to make Hawkeye interesting but there’s literally nothing lamer than a superhero whose power is great archery skills.  Oh cool suit Ironman, want to see me shoot a target with this arrow?

Superheroes are great and all but it wouldn’t be anything without the special effects.  The team Whedon assembled did an incredible job of realizing the world of The Avengers.  From a giant aircraft carrier/airplane to the 45-minute climactic battle royale they didn’t miss a beat.  Rarely does a texture look rubbery or unconvincing.  Watching Hulk and Thor battle is an awesome experience, even if you’re older than 8.

And props to Mr. Joss Whedon for pulling the whole boondoggle off.  Although his script suffers from a mild case of bloat it delivers the goods.  It’s his sarcastic sensibility that laces the film with humor.  The one-liners are delivered nearly as often as the explosions.  Whedon knows that’s what separates these characters from the ones in Gotham City and strikes a much lighter tone in the process.

The Avengers is a superhero movie and as one it doesn’t stray far from convention.  Although it’s paint-by-numbers these characters are fun to see together in one big blowout.  This could have gone the way of The Fantastic Four and been an awful exercise in bland.  Instead it’s a safe, fun way to kick off summer movie season.

Oh…save your money and see it in 2D.  Hulk SMASH 3D.

The Avengers opens today in theaters everywhere.