It’s a marriage made in geeked-out fanboy heaven: Buffy brain trust Joss Whedon arranges the biggest ensemble of iconic superheroes since his target audience played with figurines in their sand pits. The Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Thor franchises collide in a big budget behemoth designed to bring out the gawking child in all of us.

Gawk we shall, but a sizeable running time (130 minutes) buffered by meek interpersonal foreplay — a lot of chit chat, a lot of exposition, a lot of “we’re about to save the world but not quite yet” dilly dally — means the payoff arrives late in the game.

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One-eyed ring leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles the all-star crew of heroes to take on a villain beamed onto earth from a galaxy far, far away. He is the god-like Loki (Tom Hiddleston), brother of Thor, intent on summoning minions to claim the Earth as his new play pen.

Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) and Bruce Banner aka The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are the main players, with support from the svelte Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

The crew is a formidable team but Whedon drops the ball with his construction of Loki, a stereotypical invade-the-world villain who floats on and off frame in a mist of self-importance and has the jerry-built presence of a flimsy cardboard cut-out.

Considerable comedic mileage is extrapolated from The Hulk and his bright green cantankerous craziness, a sort of bull headed Borat, constructed as a series of faux pas played for laughs.

It’s a long ride before jaws drop and the eyeball caressing spectacle of The Avengers clicks into high gear, but when it does the sight is something to behold. During a spectacular finale through the streets of Manhattan, one terrific midair take moves between each of the characters, a single shot that flys up and down, swirls around baddies and explosions, moves around corners and buildings, a splash of vertiginous high-octane brilliance.

However, it feels like Whedon shelled out 90 percent of his budget on the spectacular finale and bluffed his way through the rest of it, bolstered by funny costumes and splashes of CGI.

As forgettable weekend fodder The Avengers has style and smarts, even if Whedon — whose last film Serenity (2005) exhibited deceptively inventive flourishes — appears doggedly persistent on throwing nothing new into the pan. Worse, some of the action scenes in The Avengers seem to take inspiration from the Michael Bay school of blurry bombastic balderdash.

The Avengers’ Australian theatrical release date: April 26, 2012. 

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