With five individual superhero films leading up to it, The Avengers, the first major culmination in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, would have been fine if it had turned out to be merely a successful experiment. Instead, it turned out to be one of the greatest popcorn movies ever made, up there with Star Wars [A New Hope]Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jurassic Park.

My first impressions wouldn’t have agreed; I thought that it was too action-packed and that each hero worked better in their own movies. Obviously, my appreciation has grown significantly since.

The biggest problem I have with it is the problem I have with most Marvel movies: it doesn’t stand entirely on its own. Fortunately, while a newcomer can enjoy it on its own terms, at least two leadup films are essential to understanding the plot: the mediocre Thor and the underrated Captain America: The First Avenger. (Of course, if one wants to watch further than The Avengers, they’d have to also watch the first two Iron Man‘s and, less essential, The Incredible Hulk.)

Like I said, I couldn’t have been more wrong in thinking that the heroes—Iron Man/Tony Stark, Captain America/Steve Rogers, the Incredible Hulk/Bruce Banner, Thor, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, and Hawkeye/Clint Barton—work better on their own because their chemistry, especially the humor that flows from it, is what makes this movie work.

Of course, Steve Rogers is the one instinctively noble hero on the team. The rest are always in need of redemption, from the arrogant Thor and Tony Stark to the assassins Romanoff and Barton, but it’s Rogers’s nobility, and his experience with war, that challenges Tony Stark to make a potentially crucial sacrifice when Thor’s brother Loki brings a hostile extraterrestrial force to Earth. But before they get to that climactic epicness, including one hysterical moment whose theater audience reaction I’ll never forget, the Avengers are mostly fighting each other, and not just when Loki magically possesses Hawkeye, already the least developed Avenger, right off the bat.

But when we have six superheroes with varied skills, powers, and backstories, why not?

Loki’s plan is not merely to take over the Earth; he wants to rule it as a god to feed into our natural instinct to kneel to a higher power. The film, however, makes clear that Loki is a not a true god, and neither the public nor Captain America are having any of it, the latter of whom expresses his thoughts in a priceless line that’s not only hilarious but also pro-Christian.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy may have taken the superhero genre into unprecedented dramatic directions, The Avengers is unprecedented entertainment—an historic event film whose magic no similar movie since has been able to recapture.