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Biff! Bam! Boring!

This middling movie is the zero sum of overwhelming expectations divided by underwhelming execution. "The Avengers" isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but neither is it especially good, because, well, it doesn't have any stretch of the imagination. From the opening voice-over about dark forces gathering in the universe to the final smackdown in Manhattan, we've seen it all a dozen times before, including in the movies from which this Marvel Comics all-star team was assembled.

The dark forces are from Asgard, the home planet of crash-landed demigod Thor (Chris Hemsworth). His evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) steals a cube of limitless energy called the Tesseract from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who rounds up a group of superheroes to retrieve it. The team includes playboy industrialist Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.); time-traveling supersoldier Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans); and anger-impaired professor Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, new to the role), who is lured from his Calcutta hideaway by seductress Natalia Romanova, aka the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).

Yet Loki has a super sidekick of his own: hypnotized sharpshooter Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

That's a lot of subplots to juggle, and director Joss Whedon gives almost everyone (sorry, Hawkeye) a spotlight moment. Downey adds a welcome whiff of humanity to his tiresome hotshot routine, Evans gives the movie a moral center and Ruffalo is the best of the three recent Hulks.

A machine this proficient is guaranteed to reap about a gazillion dollars, yet even fanboys will be hard-pressed to cite a memorable scene or even a line of dialogue from the table-setting first hour of this overlong movie. Weak wisecracks hide the lack of real chemistry between the characters, and this is yet another summer movie where pseudo 3-D effects were added after the fact. It's also another superhero movie in which a major city gets leveled, but we don't see a single civilian casualty.

Granted, the fiery finale is good enough to leave the legions smiling. But when a movie is expected to lift an entire industry, "good enough" shouldn't be good enough.

"The Avengers"

Two and a half stars out of four • Rating PG-13 • Run time 2:22 • Content Intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence