If you are a Marvel fan, then The Avengers will feel like Christmas. Thanks to the merry doings of the director, Joss Whedon, all your favorite characters are here, as shiny and as tempting as presents under the tree.
Ultimately, it all comes back to Whedon: His clear vision for each character and how they might be profitably intermingled; his unexpected knack for action choreography; his funny, tender, immaculately constructed script.
A slow start, a single star performance surrounded by indifferent acting and an onslaught of computer effects that range from seen-it-all-in-"Transformers" to a whole sky full of spectacular stuff in the midtown Manhattan climax.
It's a first-class production all around, from the acting to the 3-D special effects to the touches of wit throughout. It delivers, in grand style, the thing we demand most from a comic-book movie: fun.
Whedon is the key reason why this $220-million behemoth of a movie is smartly thought out and executed with verve and precision. It may be overly long at two hours, 23 minutes, but so much is going on you might not even notice.
You don't need to be a "comic-book person" to find the set pieces exhilarating. But if you are such a person, or a fan of the movies that comic books turn into, "The Avengers" feels like the moment you've been waiting for.
The best thing about The Avengers, a multi-tentpole blockbuster that gathers half a dozen Marvel superheroes and unfurls them on a baddie from another planet, is that it also unleashes them on each other.
The dialogue sparkles as brightly as the special effects; these people may be wearing ridiculous costumes but they're well fleshed-out underneath. And so in every regard, this movie truly fulfills its hype.