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Movie Review: "The Avengers"

Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic(NEW YORK) -- Marvel has given us two Iron Man movies, two Hulk movies with two different Hulks, plus a Thor and a Captain America flick.  Finally, we now have all those characters together in one place in The Avengers.

The action begins as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his cohorts at S.H.I.E.L.D. are protecting and harnessing the energy of the Tesseract.  A holdover from the Captain America movie, it's a small cube of unimaginable and never-ending energy which also serves as a gateway between different universes and dimensions. The Tesseract seems to be destabilizing, but turns out that's only the fallen Asgardian demigod Loki (Tom Hiddleston, about which more later) traversing time and space to take over the planet. Within seconds he flips Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Professor Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) to his side and steals the Tesseract.  It's an impressive scene.

That's followed by another impressive scene, when Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson calls Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow to tell her Hawkeye's been "compromised." She's tied to a chair and being interrogated -- actually, she's interrogating her captors -- and performs a well-choreographed ballet of violence to free herself in seconds.  Call it a cliché, but Johansson does look good doing it.

Now it's time to assemble the rest of The Avengers. Nick Fury personally asks the newly-defrosted Captain America (Chris Evans) for help. Coulson, Fury's right-hand man, recruits Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) at his penthouse apartment where he's about to canoodle with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  Black Widow finds Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk, hiding in Calcutta.  Mark Ruffalo, by the way, the third actor to play The Hulk after Eric Bana and Edward Norton, probably should've been playing the role from the start.  His angsty everyman persona and quiet rage scream for a new Hulk movie starring him.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) literally swoops in after Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow rather easily capture Loki, who's Thor's Asgardian half-brother, which leads to a rather nasty yet fantastic confrontation between Iron Man and Thor. When Captain America joins in, it's on!  Fanboys will need a cold shower after that threesome is through.

The Avengers by design is a big flashy movie, but some of its best moments involve Downey Jr. and Ruffalo, who have the type of chemistry you can't fake. Iconoclast Stark playfully needles Banner in hopes of getting him turn into that "other" guy, but to no avail. Instead, Stark relates to Banner in such a way that you almost can't picture any other actors playing that scene. There's a good reason why those Iron Man movies do so well: because Downey was born to play that role, and in The Avengers he's consistently funny throughout.  Much of that credit also must go to writer-director Joss Whedon, whose gift for characterization and crackling dialogue is well-known to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.  He gives every Avengers character their moment, and none disappoint.

It must also be said that sometimes, a super hero movie is only as good as its bad guy, and Loki, played by the otherworldly scary-good Tom Hiddleston, is anything but low-key (ha!). If you thought he showed flashes of brilliance in Thor, wait until you see him here, wrapped in a rapturous sheen of evil, preening like the cocky yet petulant denizen of Asgard that he is.

So -- was The Avengers worth the hype, and the wait?  Hell yes!  As a super hero movie about familiar characters many have been waiting years to see assembled like this, The Avengers is a cathartic, wildly entertaining and imaginative experience that speaks to all generations of comic book fans and then some.

Rating: Four-and-a-half out of five stars.  

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ABC News Radio