Marvel have had a plan for the best part of five years now, that began with the cinematic inception of Iron Man and Tony Stark, a character played to pitch perfection by Robert Downey Jr. The success of that film gave the fledging studio the clout to set about their masterplan - a film encapsulating their biggest heroes: Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and more. The pressure to deliver here is immense, but writer/director Joss Whedon and the cast manage to (Hulk)-smash those expectations. Avengers is everything a blockbuster should be and one of the most effortlessly entertaining popcorn flicks in some time.
Thor's perpetually pissed-off sibling Loki (a menacing and great Hiddleston) has intentions to invade Earth and crush us like insects. Nick Fury (a returning Jackson), has an inkling something like this may go down, so assembles a team of egotistical but noble superheroes who are the only things standing in the way of Loki and the destruction of the planet. Before they save the world, though, they have to figure out a way of simply being in the same room, without knocking seven shades of shit out of each other.
Whedon's problems with Avengers were plentiful. This is a production with a lot of movie stars and a lot of characters the audience want to see given their dues. Yet after the so-so Thor and Captain America outings, it must have been tempting for Marvel and Whedon to put Downey Jr. front-and-centre and rely on his sure-fire charisma to carry it through rough patches. Instead of doing that, however, they've managed to craft a true ensemble picture that doesn't just give all the main players their time to shine, but actually sees the majority of them excel beyond their own headlined outings. When you see just what Whedon and Ruffalo have done with The Hulk, you'll wonder why it took them so long to get it right.
The action is slick, the effects impressive and even the peripheral characters are relevant - but what makes Avengers stand out from the pack (and its predecessors) are its deft attempts at humour. Whedon simply knows how to time a gag, and he has a blast building some of these moments around the iconic superheroes, which are both knowing enough to delight fanboys, but broad enough to work as a wily play on slapstick. There are more than a few laugh out loud scenes, and they are continually complemented by some genuine fist-pumping, crowd-pleasing plot turns and character exchanges. At points, it is pure, unsaturated glee.
Providing everything that was expected of it and more, Avengers Assemble has set the bar for blockbuster season. An endlessly entertaining, big-budgeted blast.