The first thing that should be noted about The Avengers is that it wears big boy pants. It smashes and dashes, smirks and winks, passes the time and yet MAKES YOU THINK. It's a spectacle in the grandest sense of the word, a notable counterpoint to "gritty realism," and a feather in director Joss Whedon's cap. Legions of Browncoats have been trying to get this guy over for years, if this doesn't work we'll have to resort to increasingly desperate measures. Don't tempt us.
That said, the first forty five minutes drag, and this can't be swept under the rug even if we want to slumber party with Joss. There's an awful lot of expository set-up that doesn't serve the viewing audience well. Who cares where Black Widow is from, and what does the evil guy's back-story matter to a person who has shown up on the scene primed and looking for action? This is the dangerous paradigm that the (admittedly genius) modern Batman films have foisted upon us - that superhero movies need to conform to the narrative tropes of traditional dramas. Telling a story makes sense only if you have a story to tell. Otherwise, what are we doing here, fellas? Checking a few boxes so the studio can say "we tried really hard!" isn't a life skill. Let's get down to business immediately, gimme HulkIronManCapAmericaThor now please, thanks.
Still, these are small complaints, and 90 percent of a good movie, when mixed with 10 percent of a legitimately great movie are worthy of adulation. Downey Jr. makes us remember why his Iron Man character is so compelling, he's huge comic relief throughout. Mark Ruffalo's Hulk is a delight, he's a man constantly on the edge of a delicious rage blackout. Thor and Captain America? Egh, I wasn't a huge fan of their origin stories, but they both acquit themselves well with better material here.
Which brings us nicely to the main selling point of The Avengers. It's very fun. Thematically, the film bounces around like a lotto ball, but when gallows humor is employed against big action pieces it feels for a moment like the reason movies were invented. Festive escapism, laced with comedy, huge and blustery, and demanding to be taken to dinner. One-liners like "His brain is a bag full of cats" and "an intelligence organization that fears intelligence is not awesome" carry the day. Furthermore, even though Scar-Jo's Widow backstory wasn't needed, she's otherwise strong, bringing a much needed female presence to the team. Worthy too is Sam Jackson, though he's asked to convey most of the weighty material, he comes through with competence.
And then there's the action. Lord have mercy, there are scenes in The Avengers that flat out whistle. The strongest aspect of comic book action is, though it is (generally) encapsulated in a frame, it doesn't need to conform to the physics of reality. So too, The Avengers movie, which fluidly blends CGI and ambition to output something not quite of this world. When the shot goes from The Hulk to Cap' to Iron Man to Thor to Black Widow to Hawkeye ... and back again, well you've convinced me that there are still a few angles out there that haven't been beaten into the ground. Of those angles, the film uses them in a far more intimate manner than we're used to with summer fare, to the film's credit.
Overall, this is a film well worth your time, and there are a few minutes here that are as fun as anything you'll watch this year (WAIT for The Hulk's moment with gleeful anticipation). I didn't stay for the end credit's scene, because "why?", and I think the Marvel franchise is going to have a rough time going solo after this massive effort. Still, quibbles aside, this one truly sings along with a joyful purpose.