Movie review: "The Avengers"

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

No matter how big-budget, no matter how effects-driven, no matter how fantastical it gets, moviemaking is still storytelling. It's about characters and events, and it draws us in … or it doesn't.

The evolution of the superhero movie has not been a coincidence. It's been the masterful storytellers at the helm - Christopher Nolan, Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer, etc. - who have made us expect more than fireworks from our comic-book movies.

Which brings us to "The Avengers" - the end result of a four-year multi-movie buildup and possibly the most anticipated comic-book movie, um, ever?

Feeding the anticipation monster was the announcement that geek royalty Joss Whedon would write and direct. The battle cry? "In Joss We Trust."

Well, I didn't. I thought even someone who knows storytelling as well as Whedon couldn't possibly land this plane. Six superheroes in one movie? That's a lot of moving parts. You can't possibly keep that many plates spinning and keep a cohesive story, right?

I was wrong. Whedon nailed it. "Avengers" is amazing.

We've been getting saturated in this particular corner of the Marvel Comics universe since Jon Favreau's "Iron Man" gave everyone the first of many reasons to stick around after the credits. One brief appearance by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and the big picture crystallized.

An "Iron Man" sequel and new movie incarnations of The Hulk, Captain America and Thor … all roads lead to this movie. No pressure, Joss.

If you need a refresher, here is your "Avengers" roll call: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr. in the role that revived his career), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo taking over for Edward Norton).

Don't worry if you aren't steeped in the lore of these characters. Whedon has crafted a remarkably efficient screenplay that refreshes each character. There's pathos, there's heart and there's that sharp-witted humor Whedon does so well.

But also? There's smash! There's SO MUCH SMASH!

The action is downright rockin', roller-coaster sequences of overlapping fight scenes and some all-star showdowns that will leave Geek Nation giddy.

Does it run a little long? Sure. Some slow spots? Absolutely. But in the end, the storyteller wins. In Joss I trust.

"The Avengers"

Opens Friday

3 1/2 stars out of 4