Basic Plot: Loki, the vengeful brother of Thor, has arrived woth an army to enslave earth. Various superheroes, including Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk must band together to stop the attack. Only...they have to get along first.
When writing the aforementioned basic plot I was stunned just how simple the plot to this movie really is. It's an attribute rather than a failing for a superhero movie to have a straight story, true, but despite having a standard setup, the various little plotlines amidst the main one were numerous and, at times, pretty confusing. If you're wondering if you should see each one of these superheroe's recent movies (Thor, Captain America, etc...) before watching The Avengers, the answer is yes. Since all these movies have been acting as leadups, as elongated teaser trailers to The Avengers, the movie begins already expecting you to know all these characters and their backstories. I saw about half of them, so whenever Thor and Loki argued, I was emotionally involved, yet I didn't a clue about Captain America.
And what the hell was that backstory about Black Widow and Hawkeye? Imagine two people talking about something scandalous in their past. Maybe a love affair or traumatic event. And you're particularly interested in hearing it, but they have locked themselves in a room blasting Guns & Roses, so you're only hearing little bits here and there. It's like that in this movie, except the characters are visible, speaking audibly, yet nothing about their backstory makes any sense.
Also, the movie is too long. With all these characters talking about their pasts and each others' pasts and insulting, mistrusting, and turning upon each other, the movie seems to forget that to make us care about these characters it also needs to hold our interest. And while there isn't anything wrong with the dialogue, there's just too much of it for no real reason. I get that a big part of the movie is the fact that our heroes don't trust each other, but it shouldn't take an hour to show that and it could have been handled better. There is a lot of fat to trim here, particularly in the middle of the film, and at 143 minutes, the movie exhausts you by the end. I felt like I ran six miles chugging Southern Comfort when it was over, which was not how I wanted to feel. The movie should have made me beg the heavens to give me Thor's powers or an Iron Man suit. Instead, I just wanted to take a nap. And not even a nap. A nappypoo.
So with criticisms out of the way, let me say that while the movie is long and occasionally confusing, it also kicks supreme amounts of ass. Every action scene eclipses every Marvel action scene ever made. At least the ones I've seen. It's awesome enough watching Iron Man and Thor exchange fisticuffs in the woods, but seeing them work together, along with everyone else, bashing and throwing and blasting apart aliens, makes me think that people should replace the Chuck Norris in every Chuck Norris joke with The Avengers.
And the action is so ornate in the way it's done as well. There's no Cloverfield Barf-O-Cam here. The camera moves and cuts only when it has to, without being disorienting. It's smooth and effective and gives you full view of our heroes. The director must have realized that the way to make a good battle scene is by getting the audience excited about what is happening on the screen, and not having to wave the camera like a kid holding a toy going "HEY HEY HEY LOOK AT ME ISN'T THIS COOL! CAN I BUY IT PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE" Since they're basically rebooting the Bourne series, hopefully the director of that movie comes to this epiphany as well.
The choreography of the fights is beautiful too, something almost out of a kung-fu epic. All the movements feel tough and real, yet everything is streamlined in its execution. There's a scene when Iron Man and Captain America are fighting off aliens together. They're side by side, pummeling enemies, and without hesitation, they face each other. Captain America holds up his shield, Iron Man shoots a laser at it, which reflects off it and kills a couple aliens nearby. The movie is chock full of little moments like that. And the battle at the end is so epic and so satisfying that it makes up for the movie having some issues getting to that point. I would be up for seeing it again but I would arrive about an hour late just to catch the action again.
Also, the Hulk rocked. And watching Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. interact was line-delevery heaven. So go see it when you can.
Best Purpose: Put it on during a beer pong tournament, and by the time the games are over the final battle will start and everyone can crash on the couch and drunkenly cheer on the superheroes.