The Avengers ***1/2

Is it worth $15 (3D)? Yes

It’s all been leading up to this, and it’s paid off. Big time.

“The Avengers” is everything it should be – big, loud, long, full of funny lines and awesome fights and visual effects and crisp and clean 3D. Marvel Studios has been building to this since “Iron Man” in 2008, and if this is indeed the manifestation of a grand vision of Marvel exec Kevin Feige, bravo to him for having the foresight and wherewithal to make it happen with such success.

The story: Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) returns to Earth and steals an all-powerful cosmic cube in the riveting opening sequence. With it Loki plans to destroy Earth and claim it as his own. Enter S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who calls upon Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to unite the only people capable of fighting such a battle. Their names are familiar: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and newcomer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Together they are known as “The Avengers.”

To my surprise there’s plenty of infighting. It’s not just Loki vs. The Avengers; we also see Black Widow vs. Hawkeye, Iron Man vs. Thor, Hulk vs. Black Widow and Hulk vs. Thor, which is epic. In some movies this would be annoying because we know the end game is for them to band together vs. Loki, but writer/director Joss Whedon gives each superhero ample screen time and moments of glory. This balancing act could’ve been tricky, but it allows Whedon to bring out the best in his characters without letting any overwhelm the story. And when the last half hour (which is the best part) arrives, you know you’re seeing something special.

In an age when superhero movies quickly come and go, Whedon brings a distinct visual flair. Sure the 3D and visual effects look good, but not many directors can pull off a beautiful unbroken shot that goes from one Avenger to the next – be they flying through the air or on the ground – in the finale. In a comic book these moments would be in separate boxes, but combining them brings dynamic energy to an already exhilarating sequence.

If any Avenger steals the movie it’s Hulk, who “smashes” his way through everything with great delight, though Thor has the best arrival (much to Loki’s chagrin) and Iron Man, expectedly, has the best one-liners. Whedon’s script does get a bit talky at times, but a flying aircraft carrier, appearances from Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and more will keep those who’ve read the “Avengers” comics happy.

“The Avengers” is the kind of movie that makes you love movies. It has great escapist energy, a sense of wonder, intrigue and suspense, and is an absolute blast to watch. Many movies strive for this, few accomplish it.

Did you know?
Marvel founder Stan Lee has a cameo. And stay for the credits!