The Avengers ★★★★★

A One Big Happy Superhero Family

(That was actually the title of my review in the magazine.)

Earth is under siege by a Norse god with a baggage who brings an alien from Norns-know-where. Who are you going to call to save the world?

Well, you might call Nick Fury, the one-eyed S.H.I.E.L.D. director who looks a lot like Samuel L. Jackson, and you hope that he still has the cell phone numbers of Tony Stark, "genius, playboy, billionaire, philanthropist", and Steve Rogers - ah, wait. Steve doesn't have a cell phone. He's just woken up from a 70-year sleep in ice and he doesn't know our world. So, who else? The exiled Bruce Banner in India? Undercover agent Natasha Romanoff in Russia? Or Clint Barton, who likes to sit at the top, spying on you like a stalker? Or maybe you should start making a sacrifice so the thunder god, Thor, would come to Earth. The point is, the people who can fight this alien invasion are all over the place. Also, they don't get along.

That's why it's on Fury's shoulder the responsibility to bring them all together. It's also an even bigger responsibility for Joss Whedon - writer and director who is the Nick Fury of this Marvel Studios' movie production. Imagine: he has to put together 10 famous stars from 5 big blockbusters that were written and directed by other people in order to A. save Earth from cheesy superhero films (yes, we're looking at you, GREEN LANTERN) and B. own the summer season at the box office.

Did it work? Oh yeah. And not only that, Whedon also set a new standard for the genre 'comic superhero film'. (Do excuse us, Nolan.)

That THE AVENGERS is a crossover of many standalone films and worlds is one thing that gives it edge, although it does pose a complication. On the one hand, THE AVENGERS already has a fanbase cultivated from previous solo adventures of its heroes. Whedon, too, has a strong following from his old projects (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and FIREFLY, to name a few). If cinemas everywhere are stormed by the Marvel and Whedon fans, this is not a surprise. But on the other hand, Whedon has to make sense of it all by finding the connective tissue that joins them together without looking like he's playing favorites. And therein lies the challenge.

The good news is he completed the obstacle course and came out as the victor. First of all, he seems to have put down his ego. Whedon reportedly talked to Kenneth Branagh (THOR's director) and Jon Favreau (IRON MAN's director) to make sure that they are on the same page, to ensure that THE AVENGERS can stand on its own without looking like it ignored what happened previously in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Secondly, he used his 'Whedonesque' tactics to inject his own brand of humor to these characters. When Tony describes Thor and Loki's argument as "Shakespeare in the Park", you know Whedon's on the way to greatness. Then Thor himself cinched it when he said "he's adopted" of Loki, as Natasha told him how many victims the god of mischief had caused.

The way Whedon weaves strands of previous storylines through his heroes is equally admirable. Whether it's Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and Chris Evans' Captain America bickered like a boy and his uncle, or when Chris Hemsworth's Thor and Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner/Hulk decided to have it out with their fists, or Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye sharing a form of sexual tension, Whedon plays the strings like a pro puppeteer. No one gets special attention - and yet everyone is special. Everyone had their moment to shine and this is what made the movie so delightful - there's action and reaction between the characters that put them all on the same level.

If Nick Fury had to wait until someone's life got taken before the super group could assemble, then it's also the proof of Whedon's bravery in taking the risk needed to build a solid tale of how these 6 disparate individuals slowly become a team (or a dysfunctional family who loves to play together) . It's also the risk needed to create an emotional bond with the audience, to make them care about the cause and believe in the heroes on screen.

What's more, Whedon presents them on screen the way Marvel presents Earth's mightiest heroes on their comics - colorful, action-packed and using frames that function as comic panels. To enjoy the ass-kicking action of THE AVENGERS on screen is the same as opening a Marvel crossover comic - take a pick, anything would do - and reading it like a fan would.

Even THE AVENGERS' big baddie, Tom Hiddleston's Loki, is the ultimate comic villain: an enemy with big ego and a bigger penchant for melodrama. So he's probably not Joker or Lex Luthor, but he's like a fly that you just can't get rid of, that buzzes around you all the time. It doesn't hurt that Hiddleston's performance gets even better after he built up his character in the first THOR movie, earning his stripes as supervillain in this team-up flick. That's why this green-gold costumed menace deserves the mass adoration the audience is sending his way despite his evilness.

But speaking of green, it's a huge relief to see Bruce Banner and the Hulk also finally getting the movie treatment they deserve. Suffice to say, this is THE Hulk that should've been present before. It is only fitting that the fate of the Battle of New York is decided by green on green. Loki versus Hulk. As a result? SMASH.

If other movie studios want to make a superhero crossover film, then Whedon's THE AVENGERS is the benchmark they need to match. His vision and humor serves the epic story with multiple personalities without getting lost in the subplots. Thanks to bromance - and the Hulk SMASH - Marvel makes its presence felt on the big screens.