Iron Man. The Incredible Hulk. Iron Man 2. Thor. Captain America: The First Avenger. All of the Marvel Studios movies thus far have been working towards this point. The point where earth's Mightiest Heroes finally assemble in order to protect humanity from an intergalactic menace. Has the wait been worth it? Has the build-up of several years resulted in a let-down of a movie or the payoff we have all been salivating for?
Definitely the latter.
Ladies and gents, The Avengers (or 'Avengers Assemble' as it was pointlessly renamed over here), is far and away the greatest superhero movie of the modern age. You can take your gritty, bleak Batman movies and shove them, thank you very much. This is the most successful adaptation of a comics property yet, and it makes for one hell of an entertaining movie.
Absolutely stuffed with big set pieces, cartoonish action and witty dialogue, the film also succeeds in fleshing out the characters and continuing their stories from their respective films very well indeed. It's exciting, funny, loud and moving, and in all honesty it is very nearly perfect.
Director/Writer Joss Whedon has perfectly captured the essence of Marvel Comics with this film. It has the humour, the wit and the scale of the classics as well as the modern age of comics storytelling, while never feeling overly cheesy or camp. The script manages to tie together all of the Marvel Studios movies so far, whilst still dripping with all of the wit and style audiences have come to expect from Whedon's dialogue.
I was impressed with the way in which magical/alien elements have been introduced into the Marvel film universe via the Thor movie and this one, as it feels very much like a natural progression rather than jarring. The main cast have all played these parts before, and do so again here with gusto, but new characters such as Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) also have a great presence throughout the film.
Most of the big players get ample screen time, but due to pacing issues some of Captain America's own scenes were trimmed, resulting in the continuation of his story being a little less brilliant than it could have been (I'm looking forward to the DVD extras, including the scene in which Cap meets up with his sweetheart after 70 years apart). That's a small issue with what is one of the most satisfying, exciting and entertaining big-scale movies to have been made since, well, the Marvel movies which preceded it.
Of course, the star of the whole show has to be Robert Downey Jr's portrayal of billionaire genius and armour-clad superhero Tony Stark/Iron Man. He delivers once again with all of the humour and wit you could want from the character, but also adds some spectacular performances when the character is humbled, or enraged. Thor is something of a centrepiece to the whole film, considering the villain is his brother, and Chris Hemsworth seems even more at ease with the part this time round than he did with his solo film.
The fleshing out of the Black Widow character is another high point, with Scarlett Johansson being given far better material to work with than her scenes in Iron Man 2. Hawkeye, the newcomer to the Marvel movie universe (aside from the glimpses in the Thor film) is a great asset to the team, as well as Jeremy Renner giving him a very human feel, despite his skills. Samual L. Jackson is once again wonderful as S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury, and his understated delivery just adds further weight to a role which in lesser hands would have fallen apart.
Mark Ruffalo needs special mention for his damaged, nervy portrayal of Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, as he is far and away the finest actor to have brought the character to life onscreen. You genuinely feel for the guy and his struggles with 'The Other Guy'. When he does Hulk Out, we are treated to the best Hulk ever created, looking very much like the comics version of the big green brute while clearly having its facial features based on Mark's. Hulk steals every scene he's in, especially one particular moment while stood beside Thor (watch it - you'll know it when you see it), which is absolutely spot on for the character and the Marvel sense of humour.
The build up is beautifully handled, the gathering of the Avengers and their various inner turmoils is handled extremely well, and makes for an immensely rewarding rush when they do finally assemble. The climactic battle through the streets of New York between the assembled Avengers, Loki and his Chitauri minions genuinely redefines how action sequences should be constructed for films like this, and of course, there is an extra payoff for the comic geeks during the end credits, when it is revealed who was behind Loki's army all along, and who the Avengers will have to face further down the line.
While some fans would have liked to have seen Spider-Man and Wolverine (and any number of other characters) as part of the team, this gathering of Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow and Hawkeye is very, very close to the perfect superhero movie.