Iron Man, portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., left, and Captain America, portrayed by Chris Evans, in "The Avengers."

“There was an idea,” says Samuel L. Jackson’s character Nick Fury, “to bring together a group of remarkable people.”

After four years of anticipation and a five-movie setup, that idea has finally come to fruition, and the end product is the best Marvel superhero movie to date.

“The Avengers” picks up right where the other movies left off. After having been defeated by his demigod stepbrother in last year’s “Thor,” Loki (played once again by a menacing Tom Hiddleston) returns, this time bent on ruling Earth with the help of a mysterious alien army and a newfound source of knowledge. In a last-ditch effort to save mankind, a volatile team of super-powered individuals is assembled under the direction of the eyepatch-wearing S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury. Can six individual heroes come together to fight for a common cause?

To be fair, the plot of “The Avengers” is not overly ambitious. In fact, if you’ve seen any of its trailers, you can probably predict how the story is going to unfold before the movie even begins.

For the majority of audiences, though, that will not detract from the quality of the experience. The focus of Marvel’s superhero mash-up is, as it should be, on the team itself — and that aspect is handled with consummate skill.

A huge amount of credit for the successful team dynamic is owed to the film’s writer/director Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly”). Although relatively untested outside of TV, Whedon was brought onboard specifically for his ability to juggle large casts of characters, as well as his familiarity with the Marvel Universe (having previously written an acclaimed run of “The Astonishing X-Men”).

Whedon’s script is remarkable in a number of ways. First of all, he perfectly captures the voice of each character. Robert Downey Jr. spews sarcastic remarks as Tony Stark while Chris Hemsworth’s Thor sounds like he was plucked straight out of an Elizabethan drama. Far from trying to homogenize the odd bunch of heroes, Whedon plays up the fact that each of them comes from a completely different background. He uses that as a source both of dramatic tension and some surprisingly big laughs.

What’s more, every major character — including fan favorite Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) — has a personal arc and is allowed at least one opportunity to shine. People who go in with a favorite character might be surprised when they come out rooting for somebody else, even a newcomer like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

Of course, it helps having a cast as solid as this, too. Among the leads, there is hardly a weak link. Hiddleston is particularly good as Loki, managing to imbue the demigod with charisma and charm even as he plucks out a man’s eyeball.

Possibly the standout of the film, though, is Mark Ruffalo as both Bruce Banner and his monstrous alter ego (thanks to motion capture technology). After two mediocre solo outings in the last nine years, The Hulk has at last been put onscreen in a way that fans will appreciate.

“The Avengers” is not without some problems, however. Along with some small but noticeable plot holes, the movie does take a little while to get going — a problem compounded by Alan Silvestri’s oddly listless scoring during the first 10 or 15 minutes before the team has fully assembled. By the time Thor makes his dramatic entrance, though, audience members will be fully engaged.

If there is a real complaint to be made about any part of Joss Whedon’s film, it is that Loki’s alien army, the Chitauri, comes across as surprisingly generic and practically interchangeable with the alien armies from any number of recent sci-fi blockbusters. The film’s third act at times becomes a little too visually reminiscent of “Transformers,” in particular.

In spite of these few problems, “The Avengers” is on a completely different level than most movies in terms of action. Just the opportunity to see The Hulk and Thor duking it out is practically worth the price of admission. Most importantly, it is the movie fans have been waiting for.

One final thing: As with all five films leading up to “The Avengers,” audiences are advised to stay through its closing credits. Even if it might require a quick Google search for many audience members to fully appreciate, the last scene is an important one as it sets up a likely direction for Marvel’s future films.

"The Avengers" is rated PG-13.

Star Rating: 3 1/2 out of 4

The Avengers is rated PG-13 for mild vulgar language, comic book violence and adult themes; running time: 142 minutes.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.