It's probably impossible for people who grew up loving the superhero comic books to separate that love from The Avengers, the film writer/director Joss Whedon has created. That's a vibe Whedon embraces unapologetically.
True, there's an inevitable amount of table-setting that must be done as Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) brings together "Earth's mightiest heroes" to face the threat of an extra-dimensional invasion led by Loki (Tom Hiddleston). But Whedon assumes that the audience's familiarity with these characters from their respective solo films will do most of the heavy lifting. If you didn't see the origins of Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) or Captain America (Chris Evans), you're welcome to sit back, not understand a bunch of Whedon's smart dialogue and wait for the ass-kickings to commence.
And commence they do, in giddiness-making combinations. For a large chunk of the movie, that means battles between the heroes themselves as they try to move beyond their competing agendas and find the common ground to become a team. Like every comic-book nerd, Whedon grew up on "Who would win a fight between...?" conversations. Given the opportunity and the budget to bring those conversations to life, he immerses himself and his audience in the experience.
It all serves as elaborate prelude to a 40-minute finale in which a hole in the sky over Manhattan begins vomiting forth an endless supply of faceless villains. Whedon finds glorious ways for his heroes to save the world in style. Nearly all of the best moments seem to involve the Hulk, whom Whedon clearly understands in a way the two disappointing Hulk films never did.
Was there a better way to make an Avengers movie than the way Whedon opted to make it? Maybe. Perhaps the shadowy cabal behind the scenes could have been axed, or the opportunities for real character moments beefed up. There's little in the way of emotional connection, something it's clear from his previous work that Whedon does know how to achieve.
The Avengers aspires to little more than gathering its geek-tastic all-star team together, pointing them in the direction of the nearest impending apocalypse and saying, "Go get 'em." Those who've been waiting decades for that moment are going to love that it seems to have been done right.