"The Avengers" is essentially the next two and a half hours of a twelve and a half hour saga. The first four hours were in 2008 with Marvel comics release of "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk". The next two hours came with "Iron Man 2" which entrenched Robert Downey Jr into the super hero role and breifly introduced Scarlet Johanson as Black Widow. Meanwhile Ed Norton was cast aside as Bruce Banner (aka The Hulk).


Hours seven through ten came in 2011 in the form of "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger" with both Chris Hemsworth and Cris Evans shining in their respective roles. That cleared the way for the assembling of the team by Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson).


Now comes director Joss Whedon - an admitted fanboy - with the culmination (and continuation) of a Marvel odyssey and the anchor position in a $1.9 billion dollar super hero team. He knew going in, this thing had to fly...and it does!

The mere fact that Whedon is a fan of the genre helped just like it's better to have a baseball guy as owner of a baseball team rather than an accountant; they understand what fans want.


So with all the firepower at his disposal - Downey Jr as Iron Man, Evans as Captain America, Hemsworth as Thor, Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner - Whedon made sure he cast the right person for the most important role. The villain.

To witt, casting Tom Hiddleston is what made "The Avengers" better than mediocre. He returns as Loci, the meddlesome adoptive brother of Thor who want nothing more than to enslave the humans and embarrass his brother.


We learned from "Batman" (1990), "The Dark Knight" (2006), "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", the "Star Wars" saga, "Goldfinger", "Once Upon a Time in the West", "Unforgiven" and countless other films that the bad guy can make or break a film. They are the ones we either love to scorn or laugh at. And in a superhero movie, it's more fun to scorn them. Whedon gets it.

A threat faces Earth in the form of Loki. He's on his way with an army and a cube of a powerful blue energy called Tesseract. Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) gathers all the super heroes on the Helicarrier - an invisible flying aircraft carrier (yeah, I know... right?). there the find out... they don't like each other.


Thor hates Captain America (who was resurrected by Fury) Iron Man despises them all (but is found to be quite vulnerable to Thor's hammer) and no body messes with the Hulk. [Bit of trivia: the Hulk is the only one to never lose a fight!]


Of course, after a booming first 45 minutes, this is the middle part that sags while everyone gets in touch with their feelings. Then the fun begins with the great battle in the streets of New York City which there can be only outcome.


But this is also when the wait pays off. Loki, the villain turns out to be a real bear of a villain. It seems as though Hiddleston is having as much fun with his role as Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger had fun with the Jokers; Ian McDiarmid had fun as the Emperor; Ricardo Montalban had fun as Kahn; Gert Frobe had fun as Auric Goldfinger; Gene Hackman had fun as Little Bill Daggett; and Henry Fonda as Frank. Loki is is really into taking over the Earth and it shows.

Sam Jackson finally gets more face time as Fury, but it is his likeable sidekick Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) who steals their scenes. Downey Jr continues as the perfect Iron Man and smart mouth Tony Starks. Johansson isn't given much time to do much but wiggle and look really hot before she dispatches her foes. I look forward to the development of Hawkeye who became more interesting with the success of the archery centered "The Hunger Games".


What doesn't fly was the CGI Hulk who sticks out poorly amongst the live action characters. I can appreciate the technology, but it takes away from the movie. Wisely, there are very few scenes with the Hulk.


"The Avengers" is, nevertheless, a good time and a more than adequate continuance of the Marvel comic movies. No, it's not great, but it is very good and every fanboy will want to shell out the buck to see it on the big screen.   -- GEOFF BURTON