Hawkeye, Captain America, Black Widow: Jeremy Renner, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson

We’ve been waiting patiently for months for The Avengers, Joss Whedon’s culmination of the grand Marvel Comics movie story arc that threaded through The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor.  We’re very very pleased to be able to say that the movie lived up to being one of the most highly anticipated films of the year – and that it did an amazing $80.5 million in its domestic debut Friday, the second-best haul ever on opening day, trailing only last year’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 which took in $91.1 million in its first day on the way to a record weekend of $169.2 million. The huge opening day seems to be the overture for what the movie industry expects to be a colossal summer, and revenues were already  14 percent ahead of last year’s going into the weekend.

The Avengers already is more than halfway toward beating the opening weekends of the second and third films on the debut charts.

At No. 2 is The Dark Knight with $158.4 million in its first three days, while this spring’s blockbuster The Hunger Games is No. 3 with $152.5 million.

The Avengers opened a week earlier in overseas markets where it did blockbuster cash in a matter of days. The film added $30.3 million internationally Friday, bringing its overseas haul to $334.3 million. If you add the domestic receipts to that, The Avengers has pulled in an astounding worldwide total of $414.8 million during its first week in release, and the U.S. weekend isn’t even over yet.

And it’s not hard to see why the movie is doing so well.  Whedon is clearly in touch with his inner geek, because everything that makes the six heroes who and what they are is all there in plain sight.  The other problem Whedon could have had was what to do with all these characters in one film.  It could easily have been a disastrous mish-mash of disconnected dissonant sub plots – but it wasn’t.  The team itself becomes the seventh “character” of the film and goes through its own character arc, with all the team members going through similar arcs that echo that of the team’s story as a whole.  It’s a very clever bit of screenwriting leg-ere-de-main,  and Whedon’s directing comes together with the actor’s portrayals to pull it all together into a remarkable whole.

Not everyone agrees with our critical assessment – but to the critics who didn’t like it, we’ll offer this bit of advice: if you don’t understand the genre, don’t review it.  We’re the fans – we know what we like.

Directed by Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), “The Avengers” stars Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Mark Ruffalo as the Incredible Hulk, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. Samuel L. Jackson plays Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the recruiter who teams them up to fight off an invasion of Earth plotted by Thor’s wicked brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston.

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