Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Alexis Denisof

Directed by Joss Whedon

Expectations: High. All of my childhood superhero fantasies are riding on this film.

As I noted above, I had huge expectations for The Avengers. Not because of a trailer; I didn’t watch any of them. Not because of the director, Joss Whedon; I’ve never seen a single thing he’s worked on. No, it’s all based on childhood comic reading, the combined strengths of the preceding films (even if some of them were less than stellar), and good ole gut instinct. The crazy amount of good buzz led me to believe that I wouldn’t be let down, but I’ve been burned so many times by buying into popular opinions and hype that I did my best to wall myself off from these types of influences. I know I’m late to the party with this review, but if you care about comic books in film then you simply must get out and see this sumbitch. Through the entire film I felt like a kid unleashed in a comic book store with a hundred-dollar bill; this was literally everything I could have ever wanted in an Avengers movie. The Avengers is the superhero film turned to eleven and freed of the cursed “origin story” shackles, and so for fans, this is exactly what you’re looking for.

The Avengers has a story, but it’s nothing more than a simple framework to allow the heroes to come together and kick ass. Because this is essentially the sixth film in a long-running series, the characters are all set up and ready to go; we only need to know the simple whys and hows of their current situations. I feel sorry for anyone that didn’t watch the previous films or read any Marvel comics in their youth, because The Avengers just drops you in mid-story and hopes you’re up to speed. This “assemble the team” section goes on a bit too long, but it perfectly sets up the characters as they will relate to one another in this film, as well as setting the stage for the action to come. But realistically, the story is just this: Loki has stolen the Cosmic Cube (here called the Tesseract, but I refuse to call it that!) and seeks to open a portal with it to unleash his space army. There’s not much else in the way of plot, besides the action and some good, if obvious, character development.

And that’s OK, because the action is incredible superhero action, the likes of which have never—ever—been seen on-screen before. It’s going to be damn hard to sit down with another single superhero film now, as I have been completely spoiled by The Avengers. I expected a couple of big set-piece scenes, but The Avengers is almost wall-to-wall action once it gets off the ground. I’m usually the guy that avoids giant blockbusters because I loathe bombastic CG effects that look more fake to me than low-budget gore, but the CG FX in The Avengers are second to none. Surprisingly, for the most part they’re actually somewhat reserved and always in service of the story too. Sure, there’s the current darling of modern directors, the “impossible single take” that floats by each character during the final battle, but even that was kinda cool in this. Kinda. The FX are also seamless, creating illusions on such a grand scale that it’s impossible not to be in awe of them. This one is definitely an early favorite for a Visual FX Oscar.

I’ll admit that some of the down moments in between the fights and the explosions bored me though. The second time this happened in the film I had a realization: I wasn’t bored because the scene was bad, I was bored because the scene wasn’t all PEW PEW BOOM POW BAM. The Avengers literally reduced me to an eleven-year-old kid; it is the cinematic equivalent to Tom Hanks’s Zoltar machine in Big. Despite some minor roadblocks of boredom, I can’t discount the fact that I was in a state of nearly total bliss and sporting a big grin while watching the film (though, again, I must admit not as big a grin as when I saw JCVD jump kick Stallone in the Expendables 2 trailer beforehand… What can I say? I love JCVD).

As for the filmmaking, Whedon is no amazing visual artist. The film looks as you’d expect with no great artistic flourishes (not that it needed them), and it’s relatively well-shot except for some truly odd angles early on. I don’t know if you needed the completely sideways shot from the perspective of the top of Fury’s shoes, but I certainly didn’t. Whedon may have done the impossible when wrangling these characters into a grand, cohesive film, but his visual sense needs a little fine tuning (for me anyway). His extensive TV background definitely influences the look of the film. For one, it’s shot in the HDTV friendly 1.85:1 ratio, when every other film in the series is 2.35:1. Secondly, the film looks too damn good, and by that I mean it’s too clean. Numerous times during the conversation scenes I felt like I was watching an Avengers TV Show. Slap some film grain on it or something. I know, that’s just me and I’m an old man bitching about pixels, but hey these are the things that came into my mind while watching.

I’m a big fan of Alan Silvestri’s music of the 80s and 90s, but his recent output has been somewhat lackluster to me. His work on The Avengers is perhaps his best score in years, but even still, it lacks the stark, iconic power of his work on such films as Back to the Future or Predator. It’s clichéd action music with a military edge which does the job well, especially the main theme, but I doubt that any of it will ever make its way into the public psyche like his better work has.

One of the best aspects of The Avengers is the character interactions. Every superhero is given ample time to strut and make their contribution to the team. There are definite leaders in Iron Man and Captain America, as you’d expect, but no one really outshines the others. You could easily come out of the film with a group of friends with everyone taking away a different favorite character. For me, it’s a toss-up between Thor and The Hulk. This is very surprising to me because they are both characters I never really cared for in my youth. Chris Hemsworth is just so perfect as Thor, and that hammer is too badass to ignore. But really, the story here is how perfectly they nailed Hulk. This is by far his best on-screen showing, in part because he’s not holding up the entire film. Mark Ruffalo infuses Bruce Banner with a quiet, reserved energy that explodes forth when the Hulk is unleashed. And when that happens, move aside! He’s got some of the best moments of the film all to himself, and I can’t imagine anyone coming away from this movie unimpressed by him.

Some movies have the power to make you feel like you’re more than yourself for a short time after watching them. The Avengers is one of the best in this category, as I walked around doing errands afterwards with fear far behind me and a confident stride forward. I felt like I could take on the world. The Avengers is pure propaganda—superhero propaganda—and boy does it work like a charm. Watch it, it’s dope. And yes, this is probably the best superhero movie so far in terms of capturing the fun tone of comics. Nolan’s Batman films are better movies, made with much more directorial skill, but the fun contained in The Avengers is simply unmatched. When is Avengers 2 coming out? Not soon enough, that’s for sure.