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So while Whedon's passion for these comic-book icons holds The Avengers together, it's his style that shapes the movie into that rare kind of blockbuster that's both smart and fun. His Avengers snipe at each other, making quips and asides even in the heat of battle. They spend as much time fighting one another as they do Loki's horde of alien soldiers from planet MacGuffin. They're heroes amid debate, struggling to drop their headstrong, individualistic ways for a greater good.
(The downside to all that arguing? It means the movie clocks in at almost two-and-a-half hours.)
The cast, thankfully, shines under that character-driven pressure. Downey, as expected with two Iron Man movies already to his name, feasts on Stark's bravado. Evans isn't as subtle or as sharp as he was in Captain America, but he carries himself with an unassuming confidence that shines through when tempers flare. Hemsworth's bombastic charisma is a great foil to play against -- try not to laugh when Downey fires nicknames like "Shakespeare in the Park" or "Point Break" at him -- and Ruffalo is an absolute, stone-cold scene-stealer. As the only member of this superhero powwow who's tortured in the slightest, his sensitive performance is amplified into something potent and affective.
Of course, the nitty-gritty of The Avengers is the fights. If you know these characters and their stories, the action will make you beam from ear to ear. If you don't, you'll be smiling anyway because it's too damn good not to enjoy. Whedon has a terrific sense of framing and timing with his action sequences -- an early one is overlaid by an honest-to-God violin concerto, which would be bigheaded if it weren't immediately followed by the movie's most outrageous, gruesome moment. A later shot, set in a ravaged Manhattan just as the gang starts to work as a team, is a flowing visual beauty that delivers Whedon's message better than even he could do with words. The moment is idyllic, the precise instance where this whole billion-dollar scheme finally pays off.
That, after all, is the point of The Avengers. It's the star attraction of Marvel's circus, so it could never be anything less than a great comic book brought to life -- and nobody is better suited than Whedon to do exactly that. His movie is a behemoth. It's humongous. It's gargantuan. See it in the largest, loudest theater you can find.