"The Avengers," directed by Joss Whedon and starring Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson and many, many others, is a well-made comic-book film that's great fun. The film is playing in several Seattle theaters.

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Movie review 3.5 stars

Just like romantic comedies, comic-book movies pretty much all have the same plot; something along the lines of “impressive physical specimen saves the world from some appalling fate.” And, like rom-coms, there’s a world of variation within that basic plot, and a wide range of quality. “The Avengers,” written and directed by Joss Whedon (creator of TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly”), is pretty much exactly what you might expect, which is to say that an entire crew of impressive physical specimens saves the world from an appalling fate. But it’s a first-class production all around, from the acting to the 3-D special effects to the touches of wit throughout. It delivers, in grand style, the thing we demand most from a comic-book movie: fun.

The Avengers, a team of superheros first assembled in a Marvel comic series in 1963, consist of some familiar faces: Robert Downey Jr. as the wearily wisecracking Tony Stark/Iron Man; Chris Evans as the wholesomely granite-jawed Captain America; Chris Hemsworth as the pectorally blessed god of thunder, Thor; Scarlett Johansson as the leather-clad skilled assassin Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow; Jeremy Renner as sharpshooter Hawkeye; Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, the frock-coated leader of the international peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D. And there’s a new face: Mark Ruffalo plays Bruce Banner, the mild-mannered gamma radiation expert who, when he gets upset, is transformed into the uncontrollable monster Hulk.

Ruffalo, a fine actor who usually plays laid-back slacker dudes, is an inspired bit of casting here; he knows how to give just the right mumbly spin to lines like, “The last time I was in New York, I kind of broke Harlem.” He understands the vulnerability of a man who can’t control himself — “Son, you’ve got a condition,” says a sympathetic security guard, played by an actor I won’t name in a brief and perfect cameo — and fits right in with the gang. He and Downey, who share a similar relaxed presence, nicely balance the more formal performances by Hemsworth and Evans, and you don’t have to be a comic-book geek to enjoy Tony Stark dismissing Thor as “Shakespeare in the Park.”

The first half-hour or so of “The Avengers” is a bit of a mess, involving something called a Tesseract (a sort of cube that blows blue smoke and has cosmic importance … oh, I don’t know) and some vaguely Goth-like menace in the garb of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the evil brother of Thor, who appears to have dropped in from a Tim Burton film. But once we settle in to rounding up the usual suspects and saving the world, it’s just one snappy scene after another: Black Widow beating up three guys while seated and cuffed to a chair; Iron Man and Hulk discussing the “terrible privilege” of superpowers; an impressive fall from a skyscraper; a row of taxicabs rolling over like helpless prey; a Manhattan street, in a long, sweeping shot, turned into mayhem.

On a big screen (I saw the film in IMAX 3-D) it’s all-encompassing and a kick. This crew, likely to unite for a sequel someday, can save my city anytime.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com