Take a minute to consider how incredible it is that The Avengers exists. This movie, after all, is more than seven years in the making. Along the way, five others had to be filmed, released, and succeed at the box office. A small army of superheroes had to be cast, and those actors had to sign on for additional work. All told, Marvel Studios spent more than a billion dollars -- a billion freaking dollars -- to carry its substantial endeavor to this moment, the eve of its best-laid plans.
And standing at the helm of it all, entrusted to write and direct this flagship, monumental billion-dollar investment, is a man who's had more commercial failures than almost anyone else in the business. Of course, as Joss Whedon's fans already know, he's also perfect for the job -- and it's not just because he's a certifiable king of the geeks.
Marvel's The Avengers
The Avengers picks up where Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger left off: Loki (Tom Hiddleston), a formerly banished baddie, gets zapped onto Earth to steal an all-powerful energy source called the Tesseract. (Confused? Unfamiliar with these stories and characters? A tidy opening sequence will bring you up to speed.) To find the Tesseract, stop Loki, and prevent an alien invasion of Earth, super-spy director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) gathers together the world's most extraordinary heroes: Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Getting them to work together, though, isn't as easy.
Obviously, The Avengers is not an average superhero movie -- it owes almost as much to ensemble action classics like The Dirty Dozen as it does its own comic-book characters -- and that reason, more than any other, is the secret to its appeal. Where else could we watch Steve Rogers trade blows with Thor? Or see what happens when Tony Stark hangs out in a laboratory with Bruce Banner? Whedon uses these geeky hypotheticals -- the traditional fodder for one-shot comics and fan fiction -- to weave a story that simultaneously plucks out the best aspects of Marvel's past movies and stands wholly recognizable as his own creation.