"The Avengers" is so good you'll want to get a shawarma after you see it.
But don't rush out too soon. There are two post-ending endings. (Yup, you've got to sit through every last name in the credits.)
And the final scene is a real pay-off to one of the early jokes dropped by Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man.
He's probably the biggest draw in this mash-up of superheroes. But he doesn't dominate. Instead, each gets ample screen time. Each gets to show how really cheesy his or her big "skill" could be.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) gathers the forces when Loki (Tom Hiddleston) threatens the existence of Earth. He's Thor's wayward relative who still believes in things like intergalactic domination.
To bring him down, each of the six has to draw upon those so-so powers. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) wields his hammer, Captain America (Chris Evans) brandishes his shield, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) shoots his arrows, Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) plies her gymnastics, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) gets angry (and big) and Iron Man draws on technology.
Together, they're a force to consider and, remarkably, compatible. Iron Man and Captain America have some nice little moments and Hulk partners so well with Black Widow we could see a sequel.
Recognizing the virtue in each, director Joss Whedon moves this simple story at lightning pace, stopping only to let one of the six get a laugh. Each is fair game; each gets a hit.
In 3D, however, more than two hours of action, can be visually tiring. Whedon takes full advantage of the technology but could achieve similar results without the need for heavy glasses. With them, Hawkeye's arrows pop off the screen, Loki's ship hovers over the first three rows and Captain America's shield looks like a 1950s spaceship. The effects are cool, not essential.
How Whedon managed to give each character ample time is part of "The Avengers'" skill. This is a textbook case of adapting characters from one medium to another.
While "The Avengers" doesn't have the heft of Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" series, it's perfect summer entertainment -- light, engaging and wholly believable.
Sure, you'll smile at some of the low-tech things Captain America and Thor do, but abetted by Iron Man's futuristic problem-solving, they work.
Downey doesn't overwhelm (or underplay) even though he's not the only star; Renner and Johannson don't look like afterthoughts. Best of all? Ruffalo's take on The Hulk is finally right. After two aborted attempts to make the character work, this one does.
Strays -- like Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts and Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson -- contribute nicely, too. When the final battle is over, we realize something has happened. This isn't a black hole in the fabric of comic book superheroes.
Hiddleston is key to "The Avengers'" success. Without a good villain, all the sword clashing wouldn't mean anything. He gives the others purpose and justifies the intensity.
To keep this band together, Whedon needs to find an equally deserving bad guy. One good "bad" turn deserves another.