It’s hard to put into words what I’m feeling right now. I came home to my wife and had her touch my chest so that she could feel how fast my heart was still beating over 30 minutes after leaving the theater for an advance screening of The Avengers. This is a movie Marvel has been hinting at for over four years and it more than lives up to the build up. It is, quite simply, the ultimate super hero movie. I almost feel bad for The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man. While I’m sure both will be great, I find it hard to believe that either will top The Avengers. The Avengers wipes the slate clean on how a modern day super hero flick should be made and I’m pretty sure it’s not gonna come back and bite me when I say that this is truly the greatest super hero movie ever made.

The premise is essentially straight out of 1963’s Avengers #1 for the most part when Loki (The evil half-brother played with almost Shakespearian aplomb by Tom Hiddleston) inadvertently gathered Earth’s Mightiest Heroes against a common threat to create the world’s greatest super team. While Loki is still the catalyst (By stealing the Tesseract, the macguffin from The First Avenger, and creating a wormhole through which an alien race can invade and enslave the human population) , it’s mostly Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury (Returning for his fourth outing as the super spy)  who gets the team together here and when they do, like most comic book pairings, the sparks do fly. The first-meeting throwdown between Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) is worth the price of admission alone.

Newcomers to the franchise Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk and Colbie Smulders as Fury’s right-hand Maria Hill bring an added dimension. Ruffalo expertly channels Bill Bixby’s classic take on the character down to the mannerisms and the rage brimming underneath while Smulders, who doesn’t get too much screen time here, plays Hill hard just like her comic book counterpart.

The rest of the cast is superb and have, of course, already played these characters at least once. Robert Downey Jr owns Tony Stark at this point. The comic character is based on him as far as Marvel is concerned. Not the other way around. Chris Evans man-out-of-time Captain America is a natural leader for this team while Chris Hemsworth’s Thor as the tortured half-brother of the film’s villain conflicted between his loyalties to Asgard and Earth is played effectively.

Among the “human” characters, it’s Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson who are the heart and soul of The Avengers. As the soul, Coulson has been a fish out of water since his introduction in 2008’s Iron Man, yet he still has the wherewithal to stand side-by-side with the big boys because of his tenacity proving you don’t need godlike powers or a super-soldier serum to be an Avenger. Meanwhile, Johansson really shines as Widow and has a plethora of noteworthy scenes with Ruffalo’s Banner (Their first exchange will keep you on the edge of your seat), Hiddleston’s Loki and Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/Hawkeye (The only character drastically underused here).

As an aside, if you were ever a fan of the Hulk, The Avengers is for you because Joss Whedon did what Louis Leterrier and Ang Lee failed to do and finally got it right. Here, the misunderstood monster is used to his fullest as a loose cannon in some places and as a blunt object the heroes use to smash where needed in others. It’s not only that the FX make the green behemoth look as he should for once but that the writing finally captures the spirit of the beast as well (The interchange between Stark and Banner about their respective “curses” is exquisite).

The scope of Whedon’s vision (And what he’s hinted at for future films) is beyond grand. At one moment you have this intense human drama with these characters who are all flawed in their own way and the next you have this massive action movie with enough destruction to fill ten Michael Bay summer tentpoles. If you’re not a comic book fan already, the only thing that might pass you by is the ominous figure teased during a post-credits scene but otherwise, this is as good as it gets. The Avengers takes the humor, drama, and action of a super hero flick to new levels and destroys expectations.

Grade: A+

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