Summer blockbusters don't get much bigger than The Avengers, in which the stars of five comic-book movies come together in one giant comic-book movie pitting a team of comic-book heroes against comic-book invaders from another world. Without much exposition, we're introduced to Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., the film's most reliable source of comedy), Captain America (Chris Evans, again surprisingly competent), and all the rest, and things careen toward the inevitable climax, in which worlds collide and the fate of our precious freedoms hangs in the et cetera.
Joss Whedon was the perfect choice to direct and script this behemoth. He balances the cast well; everyone gets an emotional arc. Mark Ruffalo is the best Bruce Banner yet—he's creeped in from another, darker movie, and his motion-capture performance as the Hulk breathes life (and chaotic thrills) into the action sequences. The one big disappointment is Samuel L. Jackson, who phones in his performance as Nick Fury, the omniscient spymaster who organizes the heroes into a team; we expect better from him.
The structure of The Avengers is a real bitch. It begins generically enough (the MacGuffin is in the briefcase! Somebody get that briefcase!), ramps up as heroes are introduced, features an action sequence followed by a talky sequence (and then another action sequence followed by another talky sequence), and concludes with the mother of all set pieces, using all of Manhattan as the set. This isn't a serious Christopher Nolan Batman film. This is a fun, funny, rock-em sock-em bread-and-circuses kind of movie, and it's going to be hard to top when all the heroes wander back into their own franchises (Iron Man 3 is scheduled for next summer). Property values plummet, thousands of cars are gleefully destroyed, and all but the most cynical of summer moviegoers will leave the theater stuffed full from a Thanksgiving feast of a flick.