The Avengers is probably the most anticipated film of the summer (with all due apologies to Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus). It's going to make an absurd amount of money, and it's garnered something on the order of 85% positive ratings at Rotten Tomatoes. I got to see it on Friday with my family, in 3D (no IMAX).
In a word, it was a great time.
That said, the film is not without its flaws, and I would hesitate to call it (as some have) the best superhero movie of all time.
First the good.
The dialog is absolutely terrific, and it makes the movie. People who bitch and moan about Joss Whedon being some sort of fanboy need to realize that it is precisely his love of the material that make his take on the characters work so well. Tony Stark is flawless with his snappy one-liners, and both Captain America and Thor are completely consistent with their depiction in their respective feature films, as the man-out-of-time boy scout and the former spoiled prince who has finally come into his role as grave and wise heir to the throne of Asgard. Loki is well done as the schemer par excellence, and I found Nick Fury to be well done as the ringmaster (some reviewers found his character lacking, but I thought he was spot-on).
The actors all obviously benefited from this not being their first outing (with the exception of Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk, but he was great in the role nonetheless; its one of those times when you're casting for the mundane alter-ego, and he's great there). I've got to point out, though, that even though Tony Stark had the lion's share of lines, the best line of the film goes to the Hulk. You'll know it when you hear it.
One thing I particularly liked about Whedon's script is that we saw some real growth in the major characters. Once they get past their natural ego-driven antagonisms (which erupt into a long series of fights between various parings of the characters), they all seem to "get it", and it's a sight to behold once the light bulb goes off over their collective heads that they need to set aside their egos and work as a team. Tony Stark's very understated "Call it, Captain" is pure art, borne of a love for, and understanding of, the characters.
The music was workmanlike, I thought, but it certainly didn't detract from the film like, I thought, it did from Thor. The special effects were, as one might expect, spectacular (with one caveat-- see below). The fact that the Hulk actually looks like Mark Ruffalo is absolutely wonderful. And Black Widow is one of the best characters, male or female, to come out of comic book films in a long time. She is not only completely bad-ass when it comes to fighting, but she's got a fiercely manipulative intelligence that shines in her scenes.
Now the bad.
Don't waste your time on the 3D. Seriously. I can remember only 2 shots when the 3D even mattered, and throughout the movie I found a very distracting double-image where a bright light was placed against a dark background (which happened a whole bunch of times, especially, but not exclusively, in the first half of the film). The 3D (and, I might add, the IMAX) was added in post-production. Save yourself the extra $4.
I'm a huge fan of the idea that strong villains make great films. I already pointed out that Tom Hiddleston's Loki was well-written, and he did a great job of bringing him to life, but... the alien Chitauri were absolutely lacking.
The Chitauri, in fact, are the biggest disappointment of the film. They're supposed to be incredibly bad-ass warriors, but their entire strategy seems to consist of shooting up random buildings. And then they all conveniently drop dead when the big ship a billion light years away is destroyed? It seemed very contrived. Moving up the ship's destruction a bit in the final climactic battle, and then showing some scenes of mopping up would have made a lot more sense to me.
I must say that while I understand the purpose of the parade of Avenger-on-Avenger fight scenes, they got a bit tiresome after a while. Stark vs. Thor, Thor vs. Captain America, Black Widow vs. Hulk, etc. etc. etc. It was like reading through the entire run of Marvel's What If? comics. It got old, but only at the very end.
On the whole, I really, really liked this movie. It's a fitting capstone to the recent series of Marvel superhero films, starting with Iron Man, and it really set up some interesting things both in terms of plot and character for the heroes in their inevitable follow-up movies. I only hope they can maintain this level of quality. Although I've got to say a cameo by Spider Man would have made this movie. Yeah, I know why it couldn't happen, but a geek can dream.
But as far as this being the best superhero movie of all time? I'm afraid I must still award that particular laurel to X-Men: First Class. because Shaw and Magneto are so effective as villains. But this one is definitely up there.