So, last night I went to the midnight opening of The Avengers because I'm a nerd and I like that sort of thing. Turns out it was a bigger event than I had expected, the theater had it playing on 10 screens and had started seating people hours in advance. I guess in retrospect I should had expected this, since Marvel has been building to this movie since Iron Man came out four years ago.
Anyway, the movie was a ton of fun. It got a surprising number of laughs, the action looked great, and it didn't feel nearly as long as it actually is. Going in, the movie had three major assets it could employ, and it used them all.
The first was the interplay between characters. This isn't a team that all come from the same environment and have a sort of joint identity the way the X-Men do. Rather, it's a team of individuals from very different settings who typically function independently and have their own unique identities. They are all accustomed to being the star, and now they're sharing the stage. This created the potential for some entertaining banter and conflicts which the filmmakers (I guess mostly Joss Whedon) wisely capitalized on as fully as possible.
The second was a luxury few movies enjoy: freedom from exposition. Four of the six team members have already had at least one movie of their own, and even the lesser-known pair of Black Widow and Hawkeye have made appearances elsewhere. Because all the characters with superhuman powers have already had their origins and characters explored independently, there was no need to burn time on any of that here. The result was that the movie could get to the interesting stuff without having to spend an hour following around some pre-super individual just so we could get to know them.
The third, which is ways is more a condition than an outright advantage, was that nobody expected the movie to take itself too seriously. Christopher Nolan has turned the Batman films into dark, brooding, psychosocial commentaries that give intellectuals and film critics something weighty to discuss. Meanwhile, Iron Man showboats, Hulk smashes, and Thor runs around with a big hammer being a comic book Viking. Whedon could have been pretentious and tried to appeal to the intellectual crowd, but he knew that this movie was supposed to be the big, campy payoff at the end of a long trail of breadcrumbs, so instead he gave the audience what it came there for. I know that makes it sound empty, or maybe even stupid, and I don't really want to give that impression. This was no Transformers 2. That said, it wisely focused its cleverness on the interactions between the characters, since that's really where the greatest potential for entertainment was to be found.
All in all, I loved it. I'm not going to make any claims that it was a "great film" or anything, but I think I had more fun watching it than any other superhero movie I've seen.