Rated PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout and a mild drug reference)
The hype has been building for years and it couldn't possibly be more deafening at this point.
After a series of summer blockbusters that individually introduced Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, all these characters come together alongside several other friends and foes in "Marvel's The Avengers."
And with director and co-writer Joss Whedon, they couldn't be in better hands. He's pulled off the tricky feat of juggling a large ensemble cast and giving everyone a chance to shine, of balancing splashy set pieces with substantive ideology. Stuff gets blowed up real good in beautifully detailed 3-D in "The Avengers" - the area in and around Grand Central Terminal, for example, gets obliterated beyond recognition in an exhausting, climactic battle - but the film as a whole is never a mess from a narrative perspective.
Whedon keeps a tight rein on some potentially unwieldy material, and the result is a film that simultaneously should please purists (one of which he is) as well as those who aren't necessarily comic-book aficionados. He also stays true to the characters while establishing a tone that's very much his own. As he did with the recent horror hit "The Cabin in the Woods," which he co-wrote and produced, Whedon has come up with a script that's cheeky and breezy, full of witty banter and sly pop-culture shout-outs as well as self-referential humor, one that moves with an infectious energy that (almost) makes you lose track of its two-and-a-half-hour running time.
The back-and-forth between Robert Downey Jr.'s glib Iron Man and Chris Evans' old-school Captain America is electric, while Downey's more low-key, philosophical exchanges with Mark Ruffalo's Hulk help give the film some intellectual heft. Actually, Downey damn near runs away with this whole thing, a tough feat to pull off in a cast full of personalities who are literally larger than life; it just goes to show once again how irresistibly charismatic he can be with the right kind of writing.