Joss Whedon that I can't talk too much about as to not spoil it. Joss, stop making great movies, so I can talk shit about them!
The Avengers was one of those movies that I never actually thought would happen, let alone work on any level. How are you going to combine all of the characters and what they've established in several films and it not be a mess? Well, they managed to pull it off. It is the definitive superhero team-up movie. The JLA is on notice!
Having said that, The Avengers does require that you have seen the previous Marvel films. You don't necessarily have to have them memorized, but at least be familiar with what happened in Iron Man 1 and 2, Captain America, Thor, and to a lesser extent, The Incredible Hulk. Then again, I can't imagine anyone looking forward to this movie that hasn't already seen those.
The basic story is that Thor's brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), has recruited an army that he plans on using to dominate Earth. Early in the movie he's able to steal the Tesseract, also known as the Cosmic Cube (which you've see in both Captain America and Thor), from S.H.I.E.L.D. He needs the Tesseract to open a portal to bring his army here. In order to stop Loki, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), reactivates the Avengers initiative. That's pretty much it. You've got your villain, you've got your conflict, so assemble the team and fight, right?
The Avengers actually started off kind of slow and for a bit I was worried that maybe it wasn't going to live up to the type. At 2 hours and 22 minutes, there's a lot they trying to roll up from the previous films and at the same time add depth to some of the newer characters, so the length of the film is forgivable. Once it hits about the hour mark, it really takes off and becomes a roller coaster ride. I really can't describe it in words without prattling off a bunch of adjectives. You just have to experience it.
While I think the weak point of the film were the enemies The Avengers face off against, I did think Tom Hiddleston was great as Loki. He's just so cold and slimy and Hiddleston seemed to have fun with the role. Loki is more of the type of villain that will get in your head or get you to argue with your friends, only to look back at him with big grin on his face, satisfied with himself for manipulating you.
There were a couple of fights that had a little too much shaky cam, but that's a nitpick. I really can't fault anything else with the the movie.
Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Hemsworth are all back as Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, respectively. They play their characters with the same effort and style that they did in their own movies, so there's no disconnect when watching The Avengers and wondering why a character's tone is suddenly different. Despite the large cast, nobody was giving an effort like they didn't want to be there or were upset with a diminished role.
The real surprises here were Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and especially Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. Not so much with their acting, as we all know what they are capable of, but it's how they fleshed out their characters. Like many, I wasn't too impressed with how Black Widow looked compared to guys like Thor and Iron Man. What's she going to do with a handgun, when you have the might of the Hulk standing next to her? They successfully turned her into a badass. It's the same with Hawkeye. He's a character I've never had any interest in, but again, they showed you why he deserves to be on the team. Initially, I was nervous about yet another recasting of Bruce Banner, but ultimately, I think Ruffalo's portrayal as Banner is the best we've seen so far.
Speaking of the Hulk, this is easily the best the Hulk has ever looked on camera! In Eric Bana's Hulk, he was too big and blocky; in Ed Norton's The Incredible Hulk, he was too ripped, but they got the perfect balance of the two this time around. I don't want to spoil anything, but this is the Hulk movie you've been waiting for. The best moments in the movie belong to him and he's simply awesome!
The Avengers is a team effort though and once the action gets going they really capture that dynamic well. Captain America falls into his natural leadership role and everyone has their part to play. You have to credit writer/director Joss Whedon, who's used to working with large ensemble casts. He was able to balance everything out well. They even gave some depth to some of the side characters like Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Agent Colson (Clark Gregg). They stand out and they get to have their moments. I can't mention everyone, but you get to see many side characters from the previous Avengers-related films pop up. No Happy Hogan though. He's too busy producing.
As you'd expect from Joss Whedon, The Avengers is funny and has that witty banter you've come to enjoy in his work. The story was co-written by Zak Penn, who's also wrote The Incredible Hulk, X2 and several other (lesser) Marvel comic films, so I think his involvement helped with the consistency of the Marvel Universe. While there's the great action and humor, there's also some more human moments that I actually felt were kind of touching. There's definitely more going on here than just popcorn fluff.
As it was shot in 3D, the 3D looked great and this is one of the few times I'd recommend seeing this in 3D or especially on IMAX, which I did and thought it was awesome!
Oh, stay until the end of the credits. The very end...
The Avengers could have been a disaster, but it ends up being easily the best Marvel film and second only to The Dark Knight as far as superhero movies goes. Joss Whedon managed to make me feel like a kid again, without making a movie that's for kids. It's action packed, funny and everything you want your summer blockbusters to be. It's the comic book fan's dream! This is going to be in my top ten favorites of the year, so I'm not even going to pretend otherwise.
5 (out of 5) Death Stars!!