Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson

Set one year after the events of Thor, The Avengers deals with the return of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his plans for intergalactic domination after falling into bed with a devilishly evil, and appropriately belligerent, alien force. After he steals a source of unlimited energy known as the Tesseract it’s up to the ensemble of superheroes, introduced over the last few Marvel Studios outings, to stop him.

Two hours of unabashed comic-book joy follow, all laden with stunning visual effects. Robert Downey Jr shines as Tony Stark, Mark Ruffalo proves more than adequate as the new Bruce Banner, while Evans, Johansson, Chris Hemsworth and Jeremy Renner play their roles with aplomb. Samuel L Jackson delivers his usual fireworks and Hiddleston steals the show as the deliciously unlikeable antagonist.

The real star of the show, however, is director Joss Whedon. Here, his greatest triumph isn’t the glorious spectacle of New York being destroyed, or the sublime CGI, but in the breaking down of traditional characters so routinely abused in comic book films to date. Hulk, Iron Man and Thor, traditionally some of the more boring characters, become the most interesting. The plot falls under its own weight at several points but the overall experience should satisfy even the most ardent aficionado of Marvel’s imagined universe.

Verdict: Four stars