After years of setup in the form of individual hero-centric films, The Avengers had a hell of a lot to live up to. Not because the films that precede it are all awesome (they’re a mix of the good, the bad and the okay), but because this ambitious effort needed to transcend what preceded it and move beyond origin stories to immerse the audience completely in the Marvel Universe. Whilst visual flair may not be Joss Whedon’s strongest suit, the decision to offer him the director’s chair proves inspired as he goes about demonstrating the innate understanding of how to make an ensemble tick that we’ve seen in his TV work (Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse), depicting a believable world populated by larger-than-life superheroes and striking a balance in the screen time they’re given that doesn’t diminish their individual stature.

The Avengers suffers from some of the plausibility problems that plague the genre, but when it’s doing either of the two things it does best (making its farfetched characters as believable as you can without going down the gritty Dark Knight route, and breaking into some great action sequences), it lives up to its immense potential. It’s also the first Marvel film to capture the epic scale, excitement and humour of its source material, best captured in the Rampage-style carnage of the film’s huge final conflagration in which the audience is dazzled rather than bewildered by the way Whedon stages his action and uses CGI and alternately teased into bouts of laughter and applause. Superhero fan or not, The Avengers dares you to not leave delighted.