Directed by Joss Whedon
When I first saw trailers for this movie, I thought it looked like it would be nothing more than a chaotic, cluttered, mess of CGI explosions... First impressions aren't always right.
Superhero movies are a tired genre. Nearly every one follows the same story structure; brief and uninspired back story, discovery of superpowers or abilities, unnecessary romantic entanglement, convenient introduction of a villain at the same time as the creation of the hero, etc. Look up just about any superhero movie (especially from the Marvel cannon) and that is what you'll get. But where other superhero movies spend most of their time with these generic set-ups, The Avengers both doesn't want, or have the need of these rules. All of these characters have been introduced in their own films, so what we have here is the culmination of a series of generally lackluster movies, including Captain America: The First Avenger, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man 1 & 2, and the result is better than I could have possibly hoped for.
Written and directed by Joss Whedon, who also co-wrote The Cabin In The Woods (another of this year's best films so far), Whedon manages to blend humor into the action to great effect. This is probably the funniest conventional superhero movie I've ever seen. Despite the incredible action sequences and top-of-the-line special effects, to me it was the comedic elements that won me over. Instead of taking itself too seriously all the time, this movie knew when it could be funny and when it needed to be serious without making radical tonal shifts.
This movie succeeds on so many levels. Along with perfectly blending action, suspense, comedy, and drama, Whedon also manages to give every central character adequate screen time, all the while understanding that several of these characters have definite limitations in how functional they could conceivably be -- let's be serious here, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Captain America are in no way going to be as useful at the world as Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk. And thanks, yet again, to Whedon's excellent writing, plot convenience rarely enters into the script. This is the case especially with Hawkeye, who for the entire duration of the movie I was fearing the script would find some convenient use for his incredible marksmanship, e.g., a far-off, pin-sized target which needed to be hit with great precision during a brief window of time. Instead of leaving the movie thinking "well, wasn't THAT convenient", you might leave the movie saying "that was AWESOME!".
Another major difference that set this movie apart was the casting of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk. Not having seen The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton, I cannot attest to his performance, but I can say that found Ruffalo to be a vast improvement over Eric Bana from the 2003 Ang Lee incarnation. Of course Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark dominates the cast, reminding us once again why the Iron Man movies are the best of the prequel series. Stark's brash confidence and sense of humor allows for excellent chemistry with the entire cast, serving as the cornerstone of the movie. Tom Hiddleston's performance is also a standout, yet again turning in a great villainous performance as Loki.
With the possible exception of The Dark Knight, I would be inclined to say this is the best superhero movie I've ever seen. But where Nolan went with a dark, moody tone with his film, Whedon went with a brighter, more exciting approach, making The Avengers less brooding, but more entertaining. It may stand as being one of the best movies of the year come December, there's no way of knowing that at this point. But one thing is for sure -- it's the most entertaining so far.