Marvel has been very clever with the way they’ve been building up to Avengers Assemble. Instead of rushing into things and doing the big movie right away they, with the exception the two lesser known members, dedicated a movie to each of the heroes (or two movies in the case of a certain billionaire hero), exploring their respective back stories thoroughly and giving them purpose and, most importantly, giving us purpose to invest ourselves in them.

So after five movies and more hype than just about any movie to be released this year short of The Dark Knight Rises, does Avengers Assemble live up to the hype? Absolutely.

Picking things up some time after the events of the last Marvel movie Thor, the God of Thunder’s evil brother Loki is following through on his plans to attack Earth using the Tesseract, a powerful object he has stolen which could be the source of unlimited energy but also has the potential to destroy the planet. Headed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), S.H.I.E.L.D. assembles a team of superheroes including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to fight back and save mankind.

It’s a pretty simple premise on the surface, but as I said Marvel has done such a great job of laying the groundwork for this, the mother of all superhero team-ups. And that allows for the film to not waste any time getting to the point – we don’t need a ton of back-story in this one as we’ve already had five movie’s worth. Having said that, it doesn’t feel like it’s rushed either. Director Joss Whedon – an excellent choice for the material – finds a brilliant pace and mixes the action and humour extremely well.

Speaking of which, in true trademark Whedon style he injects a lot of genuine humour amidst all the chaos (as he also did recently with The Cabin in the Woods). It’s not exactly a comedy as it indeed keeps its eyes on the action almost at all times but the comedy, whether that be Robert Downey Jr’s trademark quips (in the way only Downey can deliver) or Dr. Banner joking about his “condition,” comes as a welcome bonus.

There’s also a great chemistry between the team members, which was absolutely essential for making this movie work. Whedon finds breathing space for the characters to interact on a level beyond assisting each other fighting off the bad guys, and seeing them go from reluctance (snarky remarks and in-team fights are very much on the menu here) to the team we all know they’ll become is a joy.

There are mightily impressive action set-pieces peppers throughout the film that, while they are in essence teasers for what’s to come later, are still completely memorable and substantial on their own. One sequence in particular, which I won’t spoil, hints at the teamwork we’ll eventually behold and actually contains some moments that gives the impression not all of the heroes are going to survive the turmoil. Of course we know they will but it’s rare for a blockbuster to make you forget that, if only for a moment.

The Avengers Assemble review

Although impressive in their own right, the earlier action sequences don’t really compare to the big one at the end. Essentially one giant set-piece, it is truly spectacular stuff, delivering on all fronts imaginable for this type of movie and giving each of the Avengers their time to shine in their own fun and unique ways. Iron Man’s suit, Thor’s hammer, Captain America’s shield and, of course, the Hulk’s sheer brute force (etc.) are all on full display here, turned up to 11 if you will, and to see them work together to fight off an extremely formidable foe is an absolutely blast.

There’s a plus that, despite its resemblance to the Transformer’s franchise, the end set-piece features none of the annoying shaky cam and, you know, you actually care about the characters battling it out. Comic and blockbuster movie geeks in particular will be clapping and open-mouthed with aww and enjoyment at some of the action and money shots found in the last half hour.

What surprised me most about the movie was just how much the Hulk steals the show. His two films so far have been mixed (though I enjoyed them both in their own ways) but it’s ultimately when he’s part of a team that he really gets the chance to shine. Whedon finds inventive ways to utilize his power and in a city sitting he causes maximum carnage while helping to save the day. Mark Ruffalo, taking over where Edward Norton left off, does a fantastic job portraying the non-Hulk Dr. Banner, with just enough of the snarky humour that Downey brings to the table while still maintaining a more grounded, serious footing. And the fact that he also played “the other guy,” as Banner refers to him, via motion capture gives it strange believability (if such a phrase can be used for a film like this). At the end of the day the Hulk is the one that leaves the biggest impression (no pun intended).

Any sort of major issues to be had with the movie lies with the army that Loki has enlisted to destroy Earth. They don’t leave much of a mark, both in how they look or how they attack (a sort of B-grade Green Goblin), and scenes which attempt to explain who they are and why they’re helping Loki are a little weak. But when there’s so much else done right this ends up as a blip on an otherwise potently entertaining radar.

As it turns out all the fuss and anticipation has paid off. Avengers Assemble is an exhilarating blockbuster experience that pulls together some of the most iconic comic book characters ever and utilizes that team-up in a way that’s as satisfying as a whole as it is thoroughly entertaining in the moment.