I find that the smaller moments in films – intimate scenes between characters that deepen the story – can make a movie, even one with a huge budget that’s based on a comic book. The Avengers has these moments in spades. Hell, between Cap and Iron Man's conversations about sacrifice and being a soldier, Thor and Loki's lamentations on war, what it means to rule, and brotherhood, and Black Widow's talks with Bruce Banner, Loki and Hawkeye, the film almost reaches Tarantino levels of dialogue.
As of this writing I've seen the film twice, and I'm very satisfied with how the story and characters came together. The film was at an advantage compared to a sister movie like X-Men – most of the main characters had already been established in their own films. But the sword is double-edged. For every iota of story or character that these stand-alone films provided, it made this final amalgamation that much riskier and more difficult to create.
One of the aspects of the film that I like the most is how director Joss Whedon and the cast and crew brought these characters together as a team. The Hulk, Thor, and Hawkeye go from attacking the rest of the Avengers to fighting alongside them. Captain America, who has a bit of a chip on his shoulder and seems out of place for most of the film, ends up commanding the team. Black Widow goes from a spy to a soldier.
And finally, Iron Man. Not only does Tony Stark make the big sacrifice - laying down on the wire so another soldier can crawl over it, as Cap would put it - his story within the film acts as a metaphor for the rest of the team finding humanity in a way. There's a scene where Stark lists the members of The Avengers to Loki and informs the villain that he's pissed off all of them. “You also pissed off one other person,” Stark says. “And his name was Phil.” Recall that Stark started the film off by informing Pepper that Coulson didn't have a first name other than "Agent".
The film had some great call-backs to the earlier stand-alone Avengers films. S.H.I.E.L.D. built weapons of mass-destruction because Thor and the Destroyer leveled a small town. Nick Fury references Stark learning about The Avengers Initiative back in the first Iron Man. Cap learns that Hulk was a result of Banner trying to replicate the super solider formula (Something I was surprised to hear actually. Banner wasn't just experimenting with Gamma radiation in this version of the story?).
There's so much about this film that I love. The one-liners. Stark's nicknames for the rest of the Avengers. The unexpected fight between Thor and The Hulk. The fact that almost all of the main characters interact one-on-one with each other. The way Cap takes charge near the end of the film. The Hulk beating Loki senseless. And that final, final scene. My God that final scene. Never has munching food in silence been funnier.
My problems with the film are minor but I'd like to list them:
Where were War Machine, Odin, The Warriors Three, Lady Sif and General and Betty Ross? I guess you could argue that the final battle, while devastating and a threat to the world and beyond, sort of came out of nowhere in a way. And this was the Avengers' film after all. Still, part of me would have liked to see the cavalry called in.
What happened to Cap being the main character? If anyone was, I'd say it was Iron Man. He makes the big sacrifice and the film more or less ends with a scene featuring him. I've heard that the DVD will contain more footage, mostly of Cap, so I suspect we'll be seeing a slightly different film come home video time. Scenes near the film's end seemed to focus on a waitress that appeared to have a connection to Cap, and I wonder if there was an earlier scene in the film featuring the two of them that was cut.
And just why does The Hulk go from being a mindless monster to fighting alongside the rest of the team? I was waiting for some sort of small scene focusing on Banner that would make him more in touch with the Hulk, but we never got it. He goes from point A, trying to kill his teammates, to point C, fighting with them, skipping Point B all together.
One big complaint I heard going into the film was that it was great, but sort of "TV". I didn't really notice that much. I might see that applying to one of Whedon's earlier films (err, his only other film to date?) Serenity. I think it's plain to see that he's grown as a feature-film director.
I mentioned that I like smaller moments, even in big films, and it sounds like that's what Whedon's got in store for The Avengers 2. Some die-hard action purists may have a problem with that, but I say bring it on. Maybe the sequel can start right after the shawarma scene, when the team has to figure out how to split the bill.