For comic-book fans and the moviegoing masses (though probably too much for others above a certain age), Marvel's The Avengers is definitely worth the wait as director Joss Whedon diligently delivers from the 1963 antecedent produced by Stan Lee (who deservedly gets a cameo in all of these movies, in end this time) and Jack Kirby keeping a whopping sequence at arm's length. While thematically and visually a little frantic, the filmmaking and well-modulated, surprisingly witty, elemental plotting invests a lot into an action-adventure with superheroes, many of whom already been in their own blockbuster-type entertainment. Like the sweepingly swift enterprise itself (which was put in development after the smash unexpected returns from Iron Man), assembling them isn't that easy given their foibles (one has "red on their ledger") and competitive, suspicious sides. There's even a self-conscious, derisive nature to the supergroup individually and collectively as video monitors indicate during the denouement.
This spin-off of a tale (with many of these characters to have their own future installments) hinges on preening, mischievous Norse immortal Loki (Tom Hiddleston of War Horse and The Deep Blue Sea) procuring a blue cosmic cube with unlimited, unsustainable power ('tesseract') from top-secret international peacekeeping organization SHIELD (whose executive council is leery about its existence and purpose which comes into play when it feels compromised).
So, a grave eminent situation impels its demanding, vigilant one-eyed director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his closest agents (Clark Gregg getting more due time as Coulson and Cobie Smulders as Hill) to retain their soldier-like elite (not quite the same as when the first comics were issued) - Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark, Scarlett Johansson's former Russian spy Natasha Romanoff, Chris Evans's Steve Rogers, Jeremy Renner's Clint Barton, and Mark Ruffalo's edgy scientist Bruce Banner, more commonly known as Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America, master archer Hawkeye (put under a spell early on by Loki along with an astrophysicist played by Stellan Skarsgaard), and The Hulk (referred to as the "other guy" by Dr. Banner). Oh, there's also Asgard's demigod Thor (Chris Hemsworth of"The Cabin in the Woods where Whedon served as a scribe) who happens to be the brother of the megalomaniacal Loki using the aforementioned energy source to provide a portal for an alien invasion.
As Whedon displays finesse into coalescing the distinctive figures into a prominent, stately united force by modulating the tone via billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, relationships are developed from archaic to sassy line readings. A table-setter is the wry banter between Tony and his devoted assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) that smoothly diffuses among the adept ensemble. Natasha will have to lure Bruce from India and help Clint get back in his right mind, while Tony and Steve have their hands full after some necessary troubleshooting; Thor will have some intense horseplay with Iron Man and will have to watch out for The Hulk when Banner goes on his numerous, if necessary rampages (often to hilarious effect).
The multiple characters are streamlined from the solo features, but not that much where they lose their edge or complexity in so much as Whedon (a Marvel fan and comics writer) keeps the story grounded through them. While Hemsworth and Evans are a little old-school, at least elocutionary (and good together as a virile twosome), a willowy Johannson and a more sidelined Renner (very good in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) display enough toughness and smarts through their empowered expertise. Though Downey has his way again with an acerbic candor in and out of his cool armored outfit, Ruffalo is more of a surprise in the way he maneuvers somewhat cynically around the contained nuances of a beast (needed to combat low-level radiation) and a haunted, tussling doctor . Even Hiddleston is formidable as an infecting multi-faceted malevolent presence with a grin often as wide as The Joker's even when he doesn't have the upper hand. What's evident is that all have their moment in the sun in a punchy, crackerjack case of canny, if chaotic cinematic prestidigitation. Whether on the covert agency's state-of-the-art airship or around Central Park, when the group is together some of the best dialogue can be heard. Besides when they're up against Loki (imprisoned for a while) who's trying to keep them scattered and divided against one another on his fulfilling a "glorious purpose of human subjugation."
Diehards (and even many newcomers) should grasp an outlined subtext that helps establish a schematic artistically rendered with a flair for comic-book panels which Whedon indulges through his own signature from a career with much success on the small-screen. There are many opportunities here to grab the spotlight with some close-ups that may flash by at the expense of overall clarity. The gadgetry and mayhem (which does get rather intense even for its rating) is marvelously harnessed through the logistics of the CGI and visual effects (integrated well enough with subtle flair in employing the common dimming 3D format). It all culminates to some momentous, calamitous thrilling action (against Loki and his vicious otherworldly allies to try to close said portal) around Midtown Manhattan, the new Stark energy efficient high-rise and the Grand Central Terminal. Throughout, a conviction skyrockets Marvel's The Avengers even through a darker moment with Capt. America's playing cards that happens to be mindful of the world we live in and know that difficult and unfettered folks like these must band together from time to time.