The Avengers is why the Academy Awards needs to have a category specifically made for action films. It has enough explosions, fights, rippling muscles and skin-tight uniforms to please even the most demanding action film buff. What puts The Avengers in the upper echelon of the genre, however, is the masterful use of these elements to create something that continually surprises in every scene. In short, see The Avengers early and often, because a film like this is a rarity.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the villain from Thor, is up to no good again as he bargains with a powerful alien race to get them to destroy Earth in exchange for a cube called the Tesseract. This powerful artifact was retrieved by Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) father in Captain America and given to S.H.I.E.L.D. for safekeeping. Now in the present, Loki infiltrates the S.H.I.E.L.D. compound, taking the Tesseract as well as possessing the minds of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) for unknown purposes. In response, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles The Avengers, which consists of Iron Man, The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), to be ready for whatever Loki has planned, but can these super beings overcome their differences and combine into a force powerful enough to save the planet?

There is a lot going on in this film and it’s impressive at how well managed all of the elements are. Instead of feeling busy, The Avengers feels dense. However, it’s important to state that this film is built on a foundation of origin stories that are almost necessary viewing to truly appreciate The Avengers.  Without that prior knowledge, a lot of the characters become one dimensional as jokes won’t make sense and motivation is never developed. Nevertheless, by itself, The Avengers is still a fantastic time in the theater and one of the best action movies to date. On the other hand, audiences who have been along for the Marvel ride this whole time are in for a special treat, as The Avengers is a wonderful culmination of the very best from each of the previous films.

The Avengers is expertly helmed by Joss Whedon and his smart touches are constantly felt throughout the film. He creatively subverts clichés by being practical. Villains who deliver exposition are cut short by a well-timed blow, formulaic conversations turn into verbal fencing matches, and a dozen other little bits throughout the film will keep audiences engaged and laughing at the cleverness. More importantly, Whedon knows exactly how to present these amazing characters to fans, so those leaving the theater, wondering aloud “it would have been cool if…” will be kept to a severe minimum. It’s almost as if Whedon wanted to settle childhood bets on superheroes by depicting those matchups in The Avengers. Can Captain America’s shield withstand Thor’s mightiest swing? Can The Hulk pick up Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir? Find out!

This review can’t contain all the good things to be said about this film, but one of the special aspects of The Avengers is that there are so many characters with actual character. Everyone feels distinct and it almost feels possible to guess what each will say, like Stark’s snark or Captain America’s old fashioned speech and sensibilities. The new additions to the cast also fit in nicely with Mark Ruffalo offering the best Bruce Banner performance from the most recent crop of would-be Hulks. Jeremy Renner spends more time doing stunts than speaking, but it’s enough. Overall, no one really shines, because everyone is pulling their weight. That’s a good problem to have.

If possible, it’s probably best to watch The Avengers in 2-D. The 3-D effects are barely noticeable, and the moments that are supposed to really pop off the screen are only slightly more effective. Save money and the inconvenience of the glasses by skipping the 3-D and enjoying a brighter film to boot. In at least one screening, the active shutter glasses weren’t firing properly for some viewers, impacting their experience substantially.

The Avengers is a success and a tremendous achievement on every front. No fan is going to be disappointed since every character gets their moment in the sun, but in ways that only a fan can appreciate and only a fan could create. Joss Whedon has done an amazing job here, and no self-respecting moviegoer should miss this film.