Thirty years ago, it seemed ambitious just to see Superman or Batman in a feature-length, live-action film. Back then, people never could have anticipated that we would one day see six of the most iconic superheroes come together in a single movie. Over the course of five movies and several years, Marvel has been building up to “The Avengers,” their main event. If the film did not live up to expectations, there would be an outcry of hatred from fanboys across the nation. Imagine the tragic aftermath of “Star Wars: Episode One” times a thousand. Fortunately, “The Avengers” not only exceeds the overwhelming hype, but also emerges as one of the absolute best superhero pictures ever produced.

The film commences with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, the superspy who has acted as the link between all of the previous Marvel movies. Fury and his agency of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been studying a powerful energy source known as the Tesseract, which they hope to harness to create military weapons. Matters do not go according to plan however, as the Tesseract opens a portal that releases Loki, Thor’s slimy adopted brother played by Tom Hiddleston. Loki possesses the Tesseract and plans on using it to unleash an army of Chitauri, a race of alien cyborg creatures.

With the end of the world on the horizon, now is as good a time as any to finally initiate the Avengers. As if these characters need an introduction. There’s Scarlett Johansson as the sexy, manipulative Black Widow, Mark Ruffalo admirably taking over as the Hulk, Chris Evans as the old-fashioned Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as the mighty Thor, Jeremy Renner as the skilled archer Hawkeye, and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, by far everyone’s favorite Marvel hero.

The most universal fear regarding “The Avengers” is that the film would suffer from the same dilemma as “Spider-Man 3” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Those two movies were similarly criticized for stuffing too many characters into the narrative, leaving little room for character development. “The Avengers,” on the other hand, is a textbook example of how filmmakers should approach an ensemble piece. It helps that these characters have already been established in previous movies. The key to the film’s success though, is writer/director Joss Whedon, who recently worked on the entertaining “Cabin in the Woods.”

Whedon has exemplified in T.V. shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Firefly” that he is a master of writing dialogue for large groups. He stays true the voices of all the characters, making for some very funny and even honest interactions. What makes “The Avengers” so great is the subtle dynamics between the characters, Captain America and Iron Man, Iron Man and the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, and so on. The filmmakers easily could have allowed these characters to sit in a room for two hours just talking and produced a superb entertainment. But since this is a summer blockbuster, some huge action set pieces are mandatory.

There’s plenty of action on display here, most notably a final act that’s as explosive as the attack on Chicago in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” What distinguishes “The Avengers” from junk like “Transformers” though, is the fact that characters are so fun to follow into battle. In addition, the action sequences themselves are beautifully choreographed, elegantly shot, and basically flat-out rock.

With its grand scale and immense cast, “The Avengers” is in many ways the “Lawrence of Arabia” of superhero pictures. What prevents the film from being the “Citizen Kane” of superhero movies, a title that belongs to “The Dark Knight,” is lack of truly compelling villains. While Loki is fun, he’s hardly the most menacing or interesting foe to pair against the Avengers. Plus, when you have Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye versus Loki and his army, it’s pretty obvious who is going to win. For a film with so many heroes, “The Avengers” could have used stronger adversaries. Perhaps they wanted to leave some room for “The Avengers 2.”

What “The Avengers” lacks in villains, it more than makes up for with its heroes. These are all terrific characters and to see them all on the big screen together is truly a cinematic event. Many clichéd words have already been used to describe “The Avengers,” such as awesome, epic, cool, and fun. In a generation of countless disappointing and lazy summer blockbusters though, this is one movie that earns such praise.

• Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website,

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