Joss Whedon gets group dynamics. He knows how to play characters and personalities off one another for maximum drama and humor because he understands his protagonists. One minute he has audiences laughing at situations or dialog that both draw from and adds to his characters (rather than handing over jokes that demonstrate how clever the writer is) and moments later he pushes crowds close to tears with indelible moments, also based on the people in the story.

The Avengers movie plays to his strengths with its array of gods, monsters and playboys. Among the menagerie, he even manages to make an acceptable character out of Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow, making her much more than the token hot woman in leather. With Whedon’s gift with female characters, perhaps this group could use a Wasp or a Scarlet Witch down the road. Or maybe a She-Hulk.

Even without the director’s guiding hand, Marvel Studios has delivered on the seemingly impossible. In a comic book, unrestrained by budgets, its easy to throw characters together and create an all-star team. But to take blockbuster franchise films and stir them all together where budgets and egos can get it the way, is something of a miracle. But Whedon takes the thrilling premise and delivers charm and dimensional characters with conflict and big battles. The talent seems to have bought in, doubtless helped by knowing the plan from the beginning, and the ultimate superhero teams comes alive.

But for a movie with such ambition and such success on many levels, it is mystifying that some of the details were completely overlooked. The opening sequence is of such B-movie quality that it takes several minutes to let go of it and feel assured that the film isn’t going to be a nightmare of cheese.

The alien-race villains are one-note-evil conspiring with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), god of mischief and brother to one of our heroes, Thor, (Chris Hemsworth) to invade earth. Why? Because he wants to and because he wants more power and because he gets a glowing staff and especially just because. The alien sound like they bought their voices at K-Mart in the villain department and their costumes are such generic Hollywood creatures that it is jarring against the rest of the film. (While I am picking on design, Captain America’s new outfit is also terrible — a disaster.)

There is the tall order of making characters like bow-and-arrow specialist Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow and even super soldier Captain America seem relevant next to characters seemingly out of their league such as Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Mark Ruffallo’s Hulk. This works to some degree but not without a sense that tasks were invented to keep some characters busy.

It also boggles the mind that top scientists can develop clean power and flying battleships but poor Steve Rodgers must constantly re-hang his punching bags because nobody can make him a chain that doesn’t break during workouts. This works nicely as a parallel for the film. Top minds put together a dynamic group of super-powered protagonists and then populate the battlefield with life-size cutouts waiting to be pushed over. How does this happen? And despite every effort, there just really isn’t any sense that anything the lower-tier fighters do is of any use at all in the final showdown, even against the cardboard.

The obligatory climactic conflict has problems as well but the theme is the same: The aliens aren’t a realized enough threat to feel like more than punching bags for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The charm and character are enough to save the day for the film, but it’s a pity the day needed saving at all. (And, the trailer took too many of the best visuals.)

On the plus side, just like comic book Hulk stories, the character works best as a co-star or a guest and this Hulk movie, free from the burden of holding up the story as a mindless brute, is better than the previous titular ones. Edward Norton would have been a nice touch of continuity though.

All the best moments of the film are heroic character interactions and there is enough great stuff here that the weaknesses will be and should be overlooked by a lot of viewers. It still seems a miracle that a movie like this exists at all for a comic company that divided its menagerie among studios.

Some will point out that the alien aspect of the show was a set up for the reveal at the end of the initial cast credits and while the grin displayed there brought one to my face as well, it isn’t nearly enough of an excuse. Accidentally viewed in 3D, this is a conversion that negatively impacts the viewing experience by making it dingy and less vibrant. Be sure to view it without glasses if possible.