With the success of Marvel's modern comic-book to movie adaptations, it was inevitable that a crossover would one day be attempted. The studio had, after all, been building up to it for years, testing their own capabilities with every movie and the result was one huge epic that did not disappoint entertainment-wise and raised the bar for any superhero flicks that followed.
The run-up to the film was hardly flawless with The Hulk going through two makeovers before Mark Ruffalo snapped the role and Iron Man 2 not getting the best reviews despite being loads of fun. Potential further helpers Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four crashed and burned before the big project, the former going for a reboot and the latter not looking good, to say the least.
Joss Whedon leads an all-star cast in this cinematic adventure full of iconic characters so many kids and adults alike have been picturing themselves as since they were three. Chris Evans plays it straight once again as Steve Rogers/Captain America, as does Chris Hemsworth's Thor and both do really well to stay true to their characters and respective franchises while Robert Downey Jr. does his Tony Stark/Iron Man schtick as well as ever and Scarlett Johansson vastly improves her take on Black Widow, a disappointingly one-dimensional character when she was introduced in Iron Man 2. It's a great cast overall and everyone involved takes the subject matter seriously and earnestly.
But how does the film itself fare? After all, this was basically one big experiment.
The good news is: it works.
Meshing those very different characters together proves to be what the film excels at, against all odds. You really feel like these guys are a proper team working towards something bigger than their own egos and/or personal issues, despite a rocky start. Admittedly, you rarely feel like they are in real danger seeing as killing any of them at this point would have been a shock to the system but there are some nifty surprises here and there. Each character gets their chance to shine whether it's Tony Stark doing wonders with robot-bracelets, The Hulk beating Loki (a decidedly hammy Tom Hiddleston) senseless or Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) putting his gadget arrows to work. Whedon clearly knows what makes each character awesome and he exploits that to its fullest.
What really makes the film, though, is seeing these guys in action during both the air-fight halfway through the movie and the big battle which makes up the entire second half. It is a joyful spectacle and it will leave you drooling in your own popcorn. It really is pure escapism. Twenty things are happening at once but somehow you find yourself fully involved in each of them, no matter how absurd the plot thread. Frankly, a bit too long is spent during the aircraft carrier fight worrying about fixing the bloody thing. I know it's all that's left of their headquarters but I have a couple of litres of Cola I'm trying to suck through a tiny straw here, I require insane amounts of destruction!
Alas, The Avengers is not perfection itself but that was to be expected with such an ambitious endeavour. For one thing, who thought that these set-in-space scenes were a good idea? Those bits where Loki is chatting to Mr Space Ghoul on top of some plastic-looking asteroid which boasts a staircase with lightbulbs leading up to a very tiny area solely built for pontificating space villains are so silly they belong in a Power Rangers movie, not an expensive blockbuster.
Then there's Loki, a character so good in Thor but who somehow feels out-of-place here. Hiddleston doesn't leave much to the imagination performance-wise and he goes from scheming and intimidating to campy and corny within minutes. The villains, as a whole, are altogether disappointing. With a superteam this epic you'd expect a similar thing for the bad guys. They probably should have taken a page from the classic Sega Genesis video game: Red Skull, The Sentinels, Juggernaut, Whirlwind, Grim Reaper, the list goes on.
Further nitpicks include the opening 15-20 minutes which include bits from the teasers we've seen time and time again, rubbishy space nonsense and some clunky subplot in which Loki possesses Hawkeye and Stellan Skarsgard. It's a thoroughly unimpressive first act. There are also a few shamelessly cheesy moments including a scene where Loki makes a bunch of (strangely very willing) people kneel before him as some old man defies him like the New-Yorkers in the Spider-Man movies until he is saved by Captain America. I should also mention the plot which ends on a bit of a MacGuffin convenience but hey, I guess it had to end at some point.
The Avengers is as big as we expected and the superhero team is as cool as we wanted. The film? Not quite the comic-book movie masterpiece it could have been but still: it definitely ticks all the right boxes when it comes to mindless entertainment. Besides, the point of a big team crossover is epic nonsense of monumental guilty pleasure proportions and Joss Whedon certainly delivered that.
Mission accomplished, Avengers.