Marvel's The Avengers (PG-13) ★★★★

Review Date: August 1st, 2014

In the intertwined universe comprised of Marvel Comics' big screen endeavors The Avengers feels most like a direct sequel to 2011's Captain America - and in the best of ways. Iron Man The Incredible Hulk and Thor unleashed popular comic book characters that fought villains in large-scale battles all in the name of popcorn munching. They were fun but Captain America upped its predecessors in all departments. The film introduced us to a genuine hero a real person rising up to do great things for all the right reasons. Writer/director Joss Whedon's ultimate team-up continues the characterization transforming the rest of the Marvel figureheads into those kind of heroes. The team butts heads with extraterrestrial forces but they do it with human qualities: endurance weakness humor and heart. The Avengers are the Bad News Bears of superhero squads and their epic adventure in responsibility is an absolute joy to watch.

The Avengers picks up where every other Marvel movie left off (which means you may want to load up your Netflix queue now): the recently unfrozen Captain America (Chris Evans) is hanging around with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) trying to adjust to modern day; Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is clocking much needed R&R up in Asgard; Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) a.k.a. Iron Man continues to innovate new armor while teasing Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D. organization; and Bruce Banner plays doctor in a third world country keeping off the map so as not to unleash his inner-Hulk. Dropping by Earth is Thor's power-hungry brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who steals the ultimate weapon The Tesseract in hopes of taking over the planet. With the world in danger Fury puts into motion his long-gestating superteam plan: The Avengers Initiative.

Each Marvel hero comes packed with a strong personality and distinct style but Avengers never feels mismanaged. Whedon elegantly orchestrates the mayhem - of both giant action scenes and inter-team scuffling - finding the perfect dose of each character at any given moment. When the group finally comes together (and it takes a great deal of nagging on Fury's part) there's an immediate resistance. They're so hotheaded Iron Man and Thor even duke it out while Captain America plays the I'll-Tell-Mommy boyscout. Whedon relishes in the friction capitalizing on the comic bookiness of the situation with poignant dissections of teamwork and heroism while infusing it with truly hysterical banter. The Avengers may be one of the funniest movies of the year. Whereas Iron Man 2 was overdose having other leads to dilute Downey Jr.'s manic mouth helps Tony Stark finally land his punchlines. Evans is another standout his fish-out-of-water predicament lending itself to comedy that clicks (I got that reference Captain Steve Rogers timidly points out). But Hulk takes the cake Whedon mining the towering green monster for all-out destruction and physical comedy. When Hulk smashes he smashes big and Whedon's clever timing is reminiscent of old Warner Bros. cartoons.

The conflict in The Avengers is arbitrary often slipping into the background in favor of the main heroes. But while the world never feels in jeopardy the personal triumphs of the group always take precedence - even for smaller less flashy characters like Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye and the cult favorite Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). The trio of powerless humans could easily fall wayward to the main quartet but a little Asgardian magic turns everyone on their head keeping them in a game. When the war for Earth finally does enter the scene - rounding out the final hour of the film - Whedon pulls out all the stops. The much-teased battle in New York is wisely compact compared to modern blockbusters - grand enough to comprehend the scope but always focused on The Avengers. In one single exhilarating shot Whedon swoops from character to character clicking them into the puzzle he's so perfectly constructed. There's plenty of cheer-worthy action in The Avengers but the assembling of a team is a warm and fuzzy moment. The team is finally together kicking butt in the name of humanity. Mission accomplished.