“I like to be in America. OK by me in America. Everything free in America.”
“I like to be in America. OK by me in America. Everything free in America.”

Geek boys and girls, you can start rejoicing. The Avengers delivers the goods in a big, unforgettable way. It’s exhilarating action moviemaking at its best. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow come together in director Joss Whedon’s damn near miraculous The Avengers to kick off the summer movie season on a high note that’s going to be tough to beat.

There’s a major balancing act going on here, and Whedon somehow manages to pull it off. None of the superheroes get shortchanged. Heck, even Nick Fury gets a significant story arc. Everybody gets screen time worthy of their cinematic greatness and, ultimately, their teaming together against the powerfully bad forces of the universe has true substance and soul. The last thing I was expecting in this Marvel hero summit meeting was soul, but there is plenty of it.

The baddie that winds up bringing these forces together would be Loki (Tom Hiddleston), last seen making his brother’s life a living hell in last year’s Thor. Loki has gotten his hands on a crazy energy orb that can also provide a gateway from another universe. All kinds of bad guys plan to use the gateway to come down and conquer Earth, with Loki, still furious over what Thor and his daddy did to him, as the ringmaster.

This pisses off Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to no end, so he decides to bring the planet’s super entities together for a cage match to end all cage matches.

Captain America (Chris Evans), having just woken up from a mega-sleep, is hanging out at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters doing severe damage to punching bags. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is working on his Stark headquarters building in Manhattan, concentrating on stuff that makes his life better rather than saving the world.

Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, replacing Edward Norton, who replaced Eric Bana) is roaming the Earth trying to keep his inner bad boy in check, while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns from Asgard because he has unfinished business with that troublemaking sibling, Loki.

The individual Marvel films released in the last few years provide a nice backdrop for what happens in this one, although viewing all of them is probably not necessary to enjoy The Avengers. The movie stands on its own.

I will say, having enjoyed both previous Hulk efforts—Ang Lee’s misunderstood and underappreciated first try, Hulk, and the more streamlined second effort, The Incredible Hulk—the Hulk in this film will certainly emerge as the favorite. Ruffalo takes a great approach to the role, and the CGI creation does a nice job incorporating his image.

Downey Jr. has great fun expanding upon Stark’s wiseass image, taunting and lampooning all of his cohorts. I especially liked his attempts to get all up in Banner’s business. Evans provides a nice, old-school moralistic anchor, while Hemsworth’s Thor brings that otherworldly, godlike element. And Hulk … well, you’re just going to love him. (Hey, fans of the Green One, Lou Ferrigno, TV’s original Hulk, does, once again, provide the screen incarnation’s voice.)

In the midst of all this, the story affords quality time to Scarlett Johansson’s leather-clad badass Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s arrow-slinging Hawkeye. Admittedly, I came into the screening with little interest in their characters, but left liking them a lot.

As for the retrofitted 3-D, it’s surprisingly good, especially during the film’s astonishing Manhattan finale. As usual with these Marvel films, stay for the credits because a big hint is dropped regarding further adventures. All of the major heroes, with the exception of Hulk, are currently slated for individual films before the next Avengers as of press time.

Actually, that could wind up being a problem, because The Avengers is better than any of the individual Marvel hero films. It’s even better than the Spider-Man films. They need to turn out the solo movies fast, because I’m ready for the next Avengers chapter right now. I’m spoiled!

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