Written by Joe the Revelator
I can't say I much enjoyed the many individual superhero movies that make up the Avengers team. I thought Edward Norton's Hulk was good, while Eric Bana's Hulk was cartoony, and now the Avengers' Hulk is played by Mark Ruffalo (Brothers Bloom, Shutter Island). Thor was a joke, though after seeing him in a hero lineup, I've started to wonder if it wasn't the character I found hard to sympathize with. Captain America was amusing but failed to spark any real interest. And watching Robert Downey Jr. play a rich, narcissistic playboy with a suit of power armor was the height of entertainment.
The crew is brought together by Nick Fury, played by Samuel L Jackson, with the addition of Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Appearances and mention of other notable characters from prior movies are brief, but serve to sustain a level of depth which could only be improved by reading hundreds of hours of comic-book back-story.
Hulk's big scene
There's a .gif floating on the internet of Hulk slinging Loki (the demi-god villain of the Avengers movie) around Stark Tower like a wet sack of veal. If you've seen this 3-second clip, then you've seen what the Avengers has to offer. The entirety of the movie is a lead-up to this moment; from the scene of Black Window attempting to recruit Dr. Banner, to the moment Hulk reveals his big green melon-sized face. Everyone treats Dr. Banner with kid gloves except Stark, who seems intent on making Banner face his demons, poking at him mentally and physically, until the rage monster pops.
While Hulk dominates every action scene he's in, it's Tony Stark who steals the show when nobody's throwing punches. His non-stop wit is like a prize fighter sucker-punching anyone who comes near him. Captain America is the first Avenger and team leader under Fury, ostensibly the heart of the group, but Stark outstripes him at every turn.
And true to comic-book logic, the heroes find reasons to brawl with each other in ultra-destructive pissing contests. Hulk tears through Fury's flying fortress like it's his job, crumpling jets like beer cans while going toe-to-toe with Thor. A stretch of pine barrens are leveled when Thor steals Loki away from the Avengers, and an Iron Man-Thor-captain America rumble ensues. One could argue for the necessity of physical contest between men to assert dominance or pack-order. The power to topple a skyscraper doesn't seem to have tempered their aggressive urges.
My biggest shock when I sat down for this two-and-a-half hour hero mashup was how deep the characters went. Black Widow's fear of Banner's Mr. Hyde routine was palpable, while Stark treated Hulk like a neglected alter-ego, and Banner himself spoke of Hulk as a dangerous disability. Thor was instantly more likeable when he lamented that every time he comes to Earth, the place gets wrecked up. And Captain America's hesitance to step into the Hero role was both touching and irritating.
Though summer has just begun, I can say this is the best movie I've seen so far. And with the possible exception of Iron Man, the Avengers are more than the sum of their parts.