First, full disclosure: I do not read the Avengers or the Avenger members' individual comics. I tried reading the new Avengers Assembled book. It wasn't that I didn't like it, but rather that I couldn't remember anything about it just a few days after reading it. I tell you this so you know that I don't have the history or the baggage with these characters that some fans do. I don't use the term "baggage" in an insulting way. Anytime a fan of a comic or novel series comes to a movie based on one of those works has expectations and visions as to what that movie should be. While both types can enjoy the same movie, there are differences in how they view it. With that being said, here's my spoiler free review.
I have been looking forward to this movie since the trailer at the end of the Captain America credits. I really enjoyed the individual character movies that built to the team coming together. I had high expectations for Avengers based on how much I liked those movies as well as my love for the director, Joss Whedon. I've always thought if anyone could pull off the large ensemble cast of the Avengers it was Whedon and pull it off he did. (Sidenote: I want Whedon to direct an Avengers/X-Men movie so Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman can have a Whedon penned snark-off.)
Throughout the movie, each actor has the opportunity to shine in their roles as Earth's Mightiest Super Heroes. From Robert Downey Jr.'s on point snark as Tony Stark that never waivers even in the face of an alien war to new member, Mark Ruffalo's unwilling and humble Hulk. Ruffalo was a big question in this film as he replaced Ed Norton who had done a great job in the most recent Hulk origin story. Not only was the CGI Hulk based on Ruffalo's physical appearance a needed improvement over earlier attempts, but Ruffalo's portrayal brought something indescribable to Banner/Hulk that other actors seemed to miss. While I like Norton as an actor and as the Hulk, I can't say his presence was missed.
Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth stayed true to their character portrayals. Steve Rogers is still that untarnished American hero willing to sacrifice his all for our country and Thor is still...well, Thor. I like both actors, but I also feel like they are the most interchangeable of the current cast. They do well in the roles without necessarily bringing anything special to them. (This became clear to me when I struggled to write what it was I like about them.) When I got to the end of this review, I realized I hadn't even addressed Hawkeye (please don't be mad at me, Seth). Jeremy Renner is a very capable and entertaining action star and he brings that to his role at Hawkeye, but like Evans and Hemsworth, there's nothing really special about it.
Tom Hiddleston as Loki is becoming one of my favorite villains. Even in the midst of committing the act that made me the most angry and upset during the movie, I still couldn't really hate Loki. He's the bad guy that I can't not like. Sure, he's starting a war that could destroy the planet, but he's just so impish about it. It makes me feel like Loki's not really bad deep down, he's just misunderstood. I love a character that can give you such conflicting emotions. Hiddleston really captures the roguish nature of Loki from his body language to his facial expressions.
I would be remiss not to address the ladies of the movie, the Black Widow and the newest S.H.I.E.L.D. member, Maria Hill. (Gwyneth Paltrow makes more than a brief cameo as Pepper Potts, but really only serves to give more background to another character.) Scarlett Johansson brings the same ass kicking vibe to the role as she did in Iron Man 2 with some added emotional depth. I'm not a huge fan of Johansson, but I really like her as Black Widow. I also enjoyed the casting of How I Met Your Mother's Colbie Smulders as Maria Hill. I like that Marvel is bringing some no nonsense female characters to the screen. Even Hill's skin tight S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform manages to scream "all business" rather than "sexpot"
Samuel L. Jackson is his usual as Nick Fury, but the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent I really want to talk about is Phil Coulson. Clark Gregg has brought so much to what could have been a small role. Agent Coulson has been the character that binds all of these movies together. He handles all of these larger than life heroes with humor and affability. He's calm in absurd situations and even amongst all of the Avengers, he is my favorite character. Tony Stark's sarcasm rolls off of him and he doesn't even blink when facing down Norse gods. Forget the Nick Fury movie, Clark Gregg deserves his own movie as Agent Coulson.
To sum it up, I thought The Avengers exceeded my fairly high expectations. It builds on the earlier movies and makes me look forward not only to Avengers 2, but the coming individual character movies as well. I can't wait to see it again!
*Viewing Note: I saw this in 3D because that's what they were screening. I didn't feel like the 3D really added much (especially in light of the increase of ticket price). In fact, I forgot I was watching in 3D at points and at other points, I felt a little dizzy. Sure, there are a couple of cool moments during the battle scenes, but those don't really justify the 3D viewing for me.