Generally, it's a positive contribution to the superhero movie genre. It's better than most, but probably not on the level of the greats: Batman Begins, Dark Knight, Incredibles, Kick-Ass, Iron Man, X-Men: First Class, and Superman.
What does Avengers to well? Numerous specific things are done well. In the big picture, I think there are a couple weaknesses.
And since I watch movies with a political eye, I actually assumed Joss Whedon was writing from a Right Wing perspective. Actually, he's an atheist who has taken liberal positions and he's donated to Barack Obama.
I'm going to write about the whole movie below the fold. Consider this a spoiler alert. But I don't think I'm going to spoil the ending because it's not the kind of movie that can be spoiled any more than the trailer spoils it.
I liked that SHIELD is portrayed as being morally complex. Nick Fury has to argue with the Council. He also engages in trickery to manipulate The Avengers psychologically. Fury disobeying orders out of loyalty to his personnel is a trope that feels a little cliched. It might have been better if the Council was divided with Fury siding with different factions at different times. But this might have cut down on the action to talk ratio.
Casting Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye was a good move. I remember Renner from the Hurt Locker. While there are some minor differences in the two characters, they both had a brooding, meticulous loner quality. It made Hawkeye easy to "get" without breaking to some back story.
Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner
Mark Ruffalo is strong as Bruce Banner. He captures the tension between reacting to what we feel and using intellect and discipline to control our feelings.
Black Window (ScarJo)
The writing for Black Window is cool too. Every time she's acting hurt or vulnerable, she's totally in control of the situation and manipulating the guy she's dealing with.
I also liked that Loki was having problems with the aliens he was bringing to Earth to destroy stuff. Which starts to bring me to the problems with the movie.
Robert Downey, Jr.
But before the problems, I have to acknowledge, Robert Downey, Jr. and the writers have totally re-conceived Tony Stark that makes him interesting. In the 1970s the chief thing Stark needed was to get his battery re-charged. Later his alcoholism was emphasized.
As re-conceived in the movies, Stark is a vehicle for understanding the excesses of the elites and discussing the Military-Industrial Complex. He's funnier, more hip, relevant and more human.
Why don't aliens double cross Loki?
Loki cuts a deal with the aliens to bring them to Earth so they can be destructive. The aliens want the Tesseract, which produces energy and opens portals between different parts of the universe.
OK. Once the aliens pass through the portal, why not just renege on the deal and take the Tesseract from Loki? They don't like him anyways. The thing they want is right there. Why bother reigning destruction on New York City, especially since they are taking a large number of casualties in the fight?
Parting with the Tesseract and letting the aliens kill Loki seems pretty aligned with the interests of everyone but Thor, who feels obliged not to kill Loki because they are brothers.
And that brings me to discussing the main weak character in the movie: Thor. Thor is from Asgard and has taken to Earth the way that rich people take to a vacation community. Thor is not only a god, but a royal among the gods and something of a pompous ass. Thor has decided he loves Earth, humans and Jane Foster. (IMO that was done poorly in the movie Thor, but that's spilled milk at this point.)
To make Thor interesting, the differences between human culture and Asgard should be developed a little bit. I'm skeptical on the whole "magic and technology are one" perspective, but artistic brain trust opened that box in Thor, so they probably should have developed it.
I was recently listening John McNaughton speak to the Chicago Screenwriters Network about writing and directing. He was pretty hostile to actors rewriting lines written by people he respected. His attitude was that writers put significant amount of time into a script before it gets to the actor. It's been rewritten numerous times with input from a bunch of people. Generally, the idea that an actor is going to improve on the dialogue on the fly is... absurd.
However, if I was having a beer with Chris Hemsworth or his agent, I'd encourage them to push for some deeper analysis of the Thor character. I think there's potential at exploring the differences between culture in Asgard and on Earth. Steve Rogers/Captain America is socially awkward because he's from the past. It seems like some smart writing could allow Thor to be more interesting and be active in the social commentary packaged into the movie.
Back to Loki
Loki supposedly wants humans to realize that freedom is pointless. He tells a crowd he has kneeling:
Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It's the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.The problem is that Loki has complete contempt for humans. It doesn't make sense that he wants to be worshiped by humans.
I can believe Loki would love to turn humans against Thor. Thor actually likes humans, sorta the way my sister-in-law likes her chickens. But why would Loki care about teaching humans a lesson? Doesn't make sense.
The final fight sequence seemed a bit long and pointless from a plot perspective. Also, the Avengers aren't working as a team so much as multiple individual efforts in parallel. And the fighting doesn't lead toward the resolution of the conflict. It's something that happens and takes up time until the event that resolves the conflict happens.
Stuff for the comments
I have more points to make, but this is too long already.
Ask me about:
1. "Pentagon Quit The Avengers Because of Its ‘Unreality’" by Spencer Ackerman
2. "The Awesome Politics of 'the Avengers': The latest superhero flick foregrounds clean energy and other progressive politics" by Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
3. The Americana of the movie