Once the ringing stops in your ears and your eyes return to 4-D normalcy, a couple things about The Avengers can't be ignored. • Most importantly for Marvel Comics geeks, the superheroes mashup teased for seven years through five blockbusters is absolutely worth the wait. The Avengers is as brawny and lamebrainy as any comic book movie deserves to be, capped by a 40-minute assault pummeling senses as few action sequences ever have.
The key to that excitement is that after two previous tries and semi-fails, they finally got the Hulk right. Maybe it's because CGI has progressed to the point where a green gargantuan wreaking havoc looks natural, or that Mark Ruffalo has a better feel for the Jekyll struggling to keep his Hyde side concealed. But the Hulk's rage and faintly Looney Tunes style of violence steal the show.
On the down side, The Avengers could use a better villain than Loki (Tom Hiddleston), brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and possessor of the Tesseract, a glowing cube of gamma ray energy that is its own hindrance to the script. Loki is a bit of a fop, and if not for his glowing scepter piercing and sometimes changing hearts, he wouldn't stand a chance against the "handful of freaks . . . isolated and unbalanced" that is the Avengers.
As usual, fans are encouraged to stay for an end credits epilogue, revealing the menace the Avengers will face in the inevitable sequel. First impression: The guy Loki takes orders from kneels to this dude, so a villain upgrade is definitely in store.
This is also the first Marvel movie epilogue not featuring Samuel L. Jackson as one-eyed, no-nonsense Nick Fury, creator of this dysfunctional family of superheroes. Which is fine because that means Fury gets more screen time, and there's never enough Sam Jackson swagger in movies. He has his hands full with this superhuman crew.
Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) still is the richest, smartest guy in the room and doesn't mince wisecracks proving it. Nobody else could get away with calling Thor "Point Break" for his surfer looks, or Loki "Reindeer Games" for the silly horns he wears when he's plundering. Downey equally embraces and joshes the whole superhero vibe, in what remains the genre's best casting ever.
Chris Evans proves his work in Captain America: The First Avenger wasn't a fluke, offering a buff Boy Scout counterpoint to Stark's narcissism. His character's ignorance of pop culture after being frozen for 60 years is a nice running joke, leading to a smart Wizard of Oz reference. Hemsworth plays Thor looser than before. Apparently time away from Asgard gave him a sense of humor and a less-Norse godly vocabulary.
Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow is a comely killing machine, and Jeremy Renner's intensity suits the archery whiz Hawkeye. But it's obvious why Marvel didn't give them feature-length showcases like the other Avengers; they're not super, just driven, like any other Bourne on the block.
After talky beginnings — hey, we saw the previous movies — director Joss Whedon serves up eye candy at every turn: an aircraft carrier doubling as an aircraft, giant metallic alien eels, and Hulk punching out a fighter jet. You almost don't notice the scattershot plot, or the bloated running time. The Avengers isn't The Dark Knight when it comes to cinematic art, but it's undeniably fun.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.