Short review: it's lots of jolly fun and I enjoyed it heartily.
If, however, you're in the market for a longer review (it contains some SPOILERS for the movie, but I've used LJ spoiler cuts to hide the most egregious of them from casual readers), then then read on:
- I have seen all the precursor movies, with varying degrees of interest (the first Iron Man probably being the peak, The Incredible Hulk being the nadir). Most of them had at least a few great moments, but also a fair few stretches of tedium (disappointingly two-dimensional love interests, I'm looking at you). So I turned up pretty much wanting nothing more than a muscular poutathon with lots of explodey things and one-liners, and this was pretty much exactly what I got. It has a light touch and a bright, engaging shininess, and best of all, so many jokes that I missed a couple on first viewing because I was still laughing too hard at the previous one. Even when it turns into a smash-em-up video game in the final sequence, there was more than just noise to keep me awake. Frankly, that's an achievement of blockbuster proportions.
- As a marvellous example of concise exposition at the beginning, I loved the way they all seemed to watch DVDs of each other's previous films (or at least the YouTube highlights thereof) to catch up with who everyone else is. I also hope they all stayed in touch on Facebook afterwards, although I'm not sure what WiFi coverage in Asgard is like.
- Like almost everyone in existence, I feared that the Hulk was going to be the boring part of this film but my worries were unfounded. I've previously thought of Mark Ruffalo as an actor with a rather limited palette of "easy-going, verging on stoner", and he didn't exactly break away from that here, but having the Hulk be a loveable shambles is much funnier than the I'm-so-tortured angsty approach, and if you'll excuse me a bit of modish parlance, he brings the LOLs in appropriately hulking quantities.
- Iron Man is pretty much the climax of Robert Downey Jr's entire career, still gleefully strutting along the borderline between effortlessly cool and eminently slappable. Gwyneth Paltrow also turns up and manages to Not Be Too Irritating, which is more than I expected of her. I can't tell you how much their talking-over-each-other schtick in Iron Man 2 annoyed me, mainly because it meant I couldn't follow what either of them were actually saying, but here they achieve something more akin to charming banter.
- Chris "Not THAT Chris Evans" Evans brings a gung-ho boy-scout quality to Captain America. I particularly loved his "ooh, I spotted a cultural reference!" excitement, complete with bonus implication that he could well be a friend of Dorothy. In the interests of equal-opportunity leching, he also has as many (if not more) gratuitous arse shots as Scarlett Johansson, not to mention a more ample bosom. On the downside, his costume IS ridiculous, isn't it? Yes, I KNOW it's traditional, but the retro one in his own movie was much better. And he hasn't even got the "this is what passes as business-casual in Asgard!" excuse that Thor's got. I blame Agent Coulson for his "design input"...
- Speaking of Coulson, I'd barely registered his presence in the previous films, but he was amusing here, with his fanboy love for Captain America being the highlight. While the whole "I watched you sleeping" business had a giggleworthy hint of Twilight about it, it occurred to me that [even more SPOILERS might happen!]the romance is made even MORE Twilighty by his untimely demise. Yes, I'm predicting Resurrected-Vampire!Coulson/Bella!Steve (he's pouty and a bit confused, it's quite similar!) as the next big slash ship! Stranger things have happened, after all.
- Samuel L. Jackson is obvious a safe pair of hands as Nick Fury. I'd have liked to see him doing more action scenes, but he gets a few good one-liners (I was particularly fond of "Let me know if real power wants a magazine or something."), and also a great starship captain moment on the Helicarrier. I consider that a covert Trek audition, ready for the day that he decides to sweep up the few major franchises that he has yet to grace.
- It's rather an odd coincidence that Scarlett Johansson has the same red hair and leather catsuit that Uma Thurman had in the OTHER Avengers film (i.e. the rubbish one). Although there really OUGHT to be more Avenging women (sort it out, Whedon!), Scarlett makes a surprisingly competent ass-kicker in an "unusually violent captain of the school hockey team" way, although I would have liked to see someone with a bit more wit and fire behind the eyes have a go in the role.
- I'm afraid I was less enamoured with Hawkeye, who has a face like a grimly determined guinea pig.* Whichever way you splice it, shooting arrows at people who are only six inches away looks a bit silly.
- What WAS up with Thor's hair? I'm not saying that he ought to look like a L'Oréal ad at all times, but his barnet kept going all limp and stringy at the strangest of moments. I also missed seeing more of him in chatty relaxation mode, which is always amusing, but the brief quips about his sibling troubles were great. You can imagine the Christmas dinners in that house, can't you...
- Speaking of which, Loki. Ah, Loki. Yep, despite all the muscular talent on display on the side of the angels, predictably I'm all about the lithe and delicious bad guy, even though he didn't particularly grab me in the Thor movie and even though the "Slytherin head boy meets prog rock" look is SO ten years ago. But given that he's what The Guardian calls a "Brit-thesp villain in the traditional mode" and Tony Stark calls a "full tilt diva" and what I call prime crumpet, I'm sure you can do the maths yourselves. Tom Hiddleston now graduates in style to the hallowed ranks of British character actors who can be relied upon in a crisis, treating the campest of lines like poetry and able to keep a straight face in even the silliest of hats.
- Speaking of silly hats, Loki's best trick by far was his magic sceptre, a.k.a. the Glow-Stick of Destiny, especially its multidimensional wardrobe settings. What a great gift for any supervillain: imagine, no more desperately trying to remember where you were the last time you took your helmet off! Also, where did that Lecter-esque gag come from at the end, not to mention the handcuffs? Does SHIELD have an even bigger toy cupboard than we know about, or did Tony S. hack the sceptre and find the kinky bondage setting?
- For me, the absolute cast-iron comedy highlight of the entire movie was [a SPOILERY thing.]the look on Loki's face after he got resoundingly Hulked into Tony Stark's living room floor. Not so much ant-meets-boot as ant-meets-the-largest-pair-of-Doc-Marten
s-the-world-has-ever-seen. His belated demand for a drink at the end was also golden, although it's a shame nobody wandered over to the mini-bar and just handed him a massive bottle of gin. And a straw.
- How nice to catch an unexpected glimpse of the national treasure that is Jenny Agutter as a member of the SHIELD Council. In view of the famous scene from The Railway Children, in which she stops an oncoming train with only the power of her petticoats, I was only slightly disappointed that the Council's cunning plan to save the world didn't involve the same method. Frankly, I'd jump at the opportunity to wave my underwear at Loki, especially if it's for the good of the human race. Or even if it isn't, frankly.
- While the post-credits scene that we got was nothing to write home about, I'm ever so disappointed to discover that the US is getting an EXTRA post-credits scene THAT WE DON'T GET (boo!), mainly because it sounds hilarious. [The subject matter of said scene has been cut to preserve the joke...]Apparently it consists of the gang popping down to the nearest kebab shop for some shawarma. How delightful is that?
- So the $6 trillion question is: how many years will we have to wait for the sequel? I know there's more Iron Man and more Thor to come first, and probably more Hulk, but it's all so much better when everyone's together. I want a weekly series, where they [do spoilery things]end up down at the kebab shop at the end of every adventure! Is that asking for too much? Is it, now? Sadly, viewers, I think it probably is...
* Before you ask, I'm not going to create Grimly Determined Guinea Pigs Who Look Like Jeremy Renner, but you might be interested to know that someone's already come up with the Avengers and their doggie lookalikes.