There's always something about a second act. In the second act, the characters are already familiar and since they are known quantities, a screenwriter can start working on the unknown quantities, like the surrounding characters as well as the plot. The second act also gets the opportunity to build on the first act, to take the best parts of what works and use that as the basis for a new vista.
I know that there's been a ton of ink spilled on The Avengers, and that I'm pretty darned late to the party compared to everyone else. That's really why this is called "Too Late Reviews" though, and hopefully I can take this as my own second act and build on the first. Before we go on, I can't possibly imagine anyone would need this, but consider yourself warned of the extensive spoiler space below. (If you haven't watched this movie yet, go do it like NOW. The review will still be here, promise.)
The movie starts with the HX-368 cube that was carelessly dropped in the review posted below. It turns out that this little blue MacGuffin cube is everything that Gallagher promised and more. When we come to see the cute little dollhouse that they build for the cube, we also find Samuel L. Jackson being Samuel L. Jackson. That's not only okay though, but as you watch the movie, you find out that Joss Whedon WANTED Samuel L. Jackson to be Samuel L. Jackson.
As the prologue keeps unwinding, we see the cube going haywire and summoning... well, he isn't even really Chris O'Donnell, but since he was in the first Thor movie and wasn't doing anything else, he'll do for the time being. When Loki shows up, Samuel L. starts Jacksoning at a hyper-frenzy pace. When a movie begins with this many explosions and ends up with a huge sucking hole pulling in all the local scenery, you know of what it will deliver.
At this point, we go into a sort of hybrid "prologue-2" / "Chapter One" kind of deal where the band's getting together. And they may as well be the Beatles, with Captain America playing the Paul McCartney steady organizer role and Iron Man/Tony Stark filling admirably as a more tempestuous John Lennon. They grab Bruce Banner from the mean streets of Slumdog Millionaire, though he's certainly not at his Ringo potential as of yet. They're still missing a fourth though...
Because, y'see, as Samuel L. Jackson is pulling Captain America from his flashback punching bags (I *want* one of those bags, I don't even know what I'd flash back to!), he ends up turning around and sending Captain America on his very first mission... right back to Germany. My very first thought was, "In the continuity, Captain America woke up like three days ago, and prior to waking up he was fighting Nazis over a period of years... good choice to go to Germany!" What was the weirdest thing though was that in the ensuing scene, where the guy who plays Loki desperately wants you to think of him as a ham on wry, they end up calling attention to that very point through Captain America's dialogue... Joss Whedon has him remark what I was already thinking about the scene.
Between the Jacksoning and the references back to source material, I feel very at-ease. Through these, I got the sense that Joss Whedon not only just wanted to make things as fun as possible, he wanted to invite his audience in as well. And the movie, in my imagination, just gets better from there. A scant half-hour or so into the movie, the main villain gets captured... just like that. Not that it hasn't happened before, but the point here is that it hasn't exactly happened often, and that's good enough for me. In the immediate scene afterward, we get more cultural references, including Captain America happy that he caught the reference to The Wizard of Oz.
There's already a pile of happy going on, and we haven't even met the (tortured metaphor) George Harrison of the group yet. Thor shows up as Captain America and Iron Man are flying a surprisingly docile Loki back to the really super-awesome flying carrier... oh, wait, I didn't mention the super-awesome completely unrealistic but super-awesome anyway flying carrier?
Side-track for about two minutes here... THIS is what the Captain America film was missing. Remember my complaint about reality being five percent different? I'm not sure how they could have accomplished it in that movie, but I personally liked that when Joss Whedon tweaked reality, he went all-in on it. Why give me things that are really kind of commonplace (like television cameras and B&W monitors and vague zappy rifles) when you can go all-in and fly me up a carrier? I don't care that Joss cranked up the 'slightly different' volume to 'really different' with the Stark building looking *down* on the Chrysler building, or the flying carrier, or even the huge sucking hole... just make it AWESOME! </Jack Blacking>
An-ee-way, next up is an actual fight. Again, just a few minutes after Loki fought. But this time, it's between the putative heroes. Iron Man, in all his tempestuousness, takes exception at the fact that Thor wants to deal with Loki personally, because Iron Man was already dealing with Loki personally. So, the villain gets completely ignored, George Harrison decides to test John Lennon's chops, and Captain America breaks up the whole fight.
The very next scene... Loki's still caught. Huh?! This movie is really pressing against those conventions, because if there ever was a time that the villain would escape, it would be when the heroes were occupied elsewhere. On the flying carrier is a Hannibal Lecter cell where they cram Loki in, and we get everyone bringing out the worst in everyone else, where Iron Man's ego rubs Captain America raw while Nick Fury explains that weapons were being built which incites Thor because the cube is being used while at the same time Bruce Banner is getting more and more unhappy that he's been thrown into this mix and Scarlett Johannson continues to be in the scene.
Just after, all hell breaks loose. AGAIN. If there's one thing that filmmakers should learn from this, it's to keep using those superheroes, give the audience a breather for plot, make the plot darned good if possible, but get those superheroes back out there! In this situation, the William Tell currently-evil Avenger shows up to strafe the carrier in his plane, Hulk starts going after Scarlett Johansson to complete the "superheroes fighting each other" trifecta, Captain America and Iron Man set their squabble aside to fix the flying carrier, Loki manages to escape as we find out that he just wanted Banner to Hulk out the whole time and screw the carrier up. Loki traps Thor in the Lecter cage, but that's not the real news of this fight...
Throughout the movies, it's pretty much a given that you have to match up heroes with equally-powerful villains. There's really no way to allow for a fair fight to have suspense otherwise, as the superhero should mop the floor with the Muggle. One of the best sequences though was the one between Captain America and Random Dude With A Machine Gun. It was a fun sequence because Iron Man could've cleaned Random Dude's clock in a second... but Iron Man was not only busy saving the flying carrier, but *depending* on Captain America to save his butt after getting the carrier going again. But, unfortunately, Captain America's shield is out of commission and Random Guy can pretty much shoot his gun at the only superhero that would be vulnerable to such a weapon at that time... and Random Guy was really pinning two superheroes down, as he was effectively keeping Captain America from helping Iron Man. I know that Random Guy With A Machine Gun was inherently evil, but man was he awesome.
So! All that's going on, and this was supposed to be the "lowest moment" part of the plot! The carrier is saved enough for it to limp back out to sea, Loki and most of the crew escape but Scarlett manages to bonk the other pseudo-hero on the head enough to clear his mind from takeover by Loki. Hopefully the dude has some Advil, though it is shown later in the movie that all that bonking in the head didn't affect his super-eyesight.
Loki ends up accomplishing his goals by bringing an army of ID4 aliens to New York, and the Hulk finally shows up as the Ringo to the remaining three Beatles. I keep using this tortured analogy because it really fit three of the four characters very well... Hulk was kind of the emotional center to the group in that all he wanted to do was smash, while the other three characters were kind of tiptoeing around it as much as possible. Now that the Avengers have their rhythm section, it's time to bang heads. With all of the aliens, about a quarter of Manhattan becomes rubble while all of the superheroes (even the mediocre Scarlett / Arrow Dude duo) get to flex all of their powers in what ends up being a pretty awesome final fight.
There were so many good things to point out with regards to this movie. Over-the-top, by definition, is a place where things can boil over and become a mess. On other occasions though, over-the-top makes something so much more fun, as long as it's controlled. With Samuel L. doing his Snakes on a Plane routine, Robert Downey doing what had to be a parody of three quarters of Hollywood, Chris Evans doing a parody of the other quarter--the producers trying to keep the talent in line long enough to complete a scene -- and the Hulk just being a lovable force of nature... all Joss Whedon had to do was to build a script that played each of the characters to their strengths and let everyone in on the jokes. He did. In spades.
In some regards, I know that it was somewhat cliche to have "the girl", Black Widow (Scarlett), be the one who "compromised herself" by being attached to another character... but in this movie, it didn't feel as cliche because each and every one of the characters had flaws somewhere, and it humanized them. Iron Man maintained that he was a playboy, but was kissing Pepper Potts and seemed genuinely in love with her, which made it less of a stretch to have one of the other characters show similar emotion in the movie. Captain America was sanctimonious (and, mentioned above, was vulnerable to Random Guy), Thor has a god's power but couldn't even control his little brother, and Bruce Banner came to grips with the fact that he couldn't control himself... all additional sides to the same coin. They're strong, but still human.
The fractiousness of the beginning was needed in order to juxtapose the growth of the characters into the cooperative team of heroes at the end. The only way that they did anything heroic was one-on-one (keep in mind, Loki pasted Captain America before Iron Man stepped in) until the last scene, when Captain America acted as the field commander we saw in the previous review. It will likely take a similar threat to the world to get these characters working together again, but Heaven help the idiot that causes this to happen.
The movie's score gets bonus points because while it has Scarlett Johansson in a skintight suit for the majority of the film, it's not as if it's overtly sexual; she's fully covered in it, (with the exception in Scarlett's introductory scene). As above though, sensuality is not treated as something front-and-center, and the only relationships pictured seem to really have a level of respect built in rather than being just pure lust. Additionally, even though there's a lot of explosions and things breaking, the gore is really minimized. The violence is mainly limited to things breaking. While there are certainly more than a few aliens that end up dying and metric tons of bullets fired, there's not a huge body count of bloody humans -- except for the gawking idiots who can't get out of their offices in time to avoid a charging Hulk and just kinda get run over for their troubles.
This movie is absolutely a 4 on my four-point scale, and I remain a huge fan of Joss Whedon.