Marvel/Disney Enterprises

Review in a Hurry: The Avengers surpasses huge expectations built up by the recent series of pretty great Marvel superhero movies. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and (best of all) The Hulk are recruited to save our tiny blue planet, and the ensuing action is, in a word, incredible.

With snappy writing and a full roster of fleshed-out characters, the whole thing is a smash, from start to finish.

RELATED: Watch Every Super Moment From the Avengers Premiere!

The Bigger Picture: Hard to believe that way back in 2008, Marvel Studios' first flick, the original Iron Man, was a gamble. Four films later, who could bring these characters—who really have no reason to be hanging out—onscreen together in one mega mashup?

Writer/director Joss Whedon (best known for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series), that's who.

As a comic book writer (his own Buffy, a terrific The X-Men run), Whedon knows what makes supers click. Even though he didn't get to cast the film (save for Cobie Smulders who was rumored to be his pick for his never-made Wonder Woman) the chemistry between his team ignites. He knows how elevate a brawl between Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to ridiculous levels of mayhem.

And that's just two of them.

READ: The Avengers Assembled! A Guide to Who's Who in the Cast

At two-and-a-half hours, Avengers is huge. After an exposition heavy first hour, the remaining 90 minutes is set piece after set piece, from the top of Stark Tower to S.H.E.I.L.D.'s floating sky base. All at the service of fantastic interactions between Stark and Co. Whedon has a gift for balancing clever quips—as you might have guessed Downey's Tony Stark gets a great amount of them—with the earnestness of de facto leader Captain America (Chris Evans).

Even a somewhat throwaway hero like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) feels vital. Her fight scenes are Buffy cool. Hemsworth and Evans are more relaxed, more comfortable in their spandexed skin. If there's an underused super it's Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) but in the last act he impresses, too.

The true standout is The Hulk. Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner pulls off the trick of allowing his inner rage to simmer just below the surface the whole time. And when the green dude shows up, stand back and just enjoy. He's the first version of Hulk to make his burst of power feel so gratifying. His destructive nature is infectious.

The Avengers looks great. The reportedly $250 million budget is on the screen. Many scenes have a great deal of variety. Not just well-choreographed action, there's a cleverness to the very idea to many of the scenes. Whedon pushes his heroes to their limits. When your script can put demigod Thor in peril that's incredible.

The story? Thor's evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has taken a cube called the Tesseract that harnesses limitless energy and aliens from another dimension intend to invade Earth to get it. Silly? Sure, but easy to understand and gets out of the way to let the film deliver what audiences really want to see: these ultimate superheroes becoming a team and kicking much butt.

The 180—a Second Opinion: Like watching the last Harry Potter without seeing any of the previous ones, the enjoyment of Avengers is probably a bit lessened if you haven't caught up with the other Marvel flicks. But then who exactly are those people, anyway?

(Originally published May 1, 2012, at 5:30 p.m. PT)

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