While the Marvel movies up to this point have been good, they just haven't been good enough for me to totally dork-out on them. Sure they have great character development, but that's only one small part of the equation. For me to totally dork-out on a movie, it also has to have interesting production designs (character costumes, vehicle designs, etc) and exciting action. And the Marvel movies have, more or less, failed at those two points.
Cool production designs are pivotal for me to develop any sort of interest in toys and merchandizing. But most of the designs in the Marvel movies are boring and trite. The heroes look cool, but there just isn't anything else that's visually interesting enough for me to put any Marvel toys on my desk. And since merchandising is, for me, more important than the movie itself, if I can't get behind the toys, I can't get behind the movie.
The action scenes for Marvel movies have also been, for the most part, disappointingly forgettable. While they serve the movies well enough not to tank them outright, there isn't anything exciting enough for me to want to watch the movies again. That's certainly disappointing considering the action potential of the superheroes, but nothing in Marvel movies has yet lived up to that potential.
But what about The Avengers?
I'll dispense with the plot summary because I hate writing plot summaries. Loki is leading a bunch of aliens to take over Earth and the Avengers have to stop him. There you go. That doesn't matter anyway. What's important to me is whether the movie can pull off what has eluded Marvel movies up to this point: cool production designs and awesome action.
To the first point, I'll say that I love many of the production elements of The Avengers. The heroes themselves look much as they did in previous films, but the standout is the Hulk with a new design that plays up the classic Neanderthal-troll facial proportions of the comic Hulk.
SHIELD's jets and ships are awesome, a great blend between realism and the Bayformer tech that permeates today's cinema. The aliens are cooler than the online photos of their action figures make them look. And that giant alien serpent thing of which you see a brief glimpse in the trailer is way too awesome. The aliens' color scheme is a bit bland, but they were certainly visually interesting enough for me to want to buy a few for my desk.
And you know what? They finally nailed the action. This is arguably the first superhero movie, Marvel or DC, that actually lives up to the superhero action potential. There are a number of memorable action sequences peppered throughout the movie, and the final extended invasion scene at the end is incredible. The action effortlessly flits from one Avenger to another, each fighting the aliens in his or her own unique way... although it does push the boundaries of belief that Hawkeye and Black Widow, two normal schmoes, are able to keep up with the super-powered Avengers. Regardless, the action is fast, memorable, and impressive, thanks in large part to the Hulk.
Speaking of which, I agree with many reviewers who say the Hulk steals the show. Although Marvel seemed totally clueless as to what to do with Hulk in his two previous movies, he has finally determined his "calling" in this movie. Maybe Hulk isn't a strong enough character to carry a movie on his own, but he works great in an ensemble cast like Avengers. His primary purpose in this movie is to drive the action, and he's such a kinetic character that his dynamism is contagious to the other heroes.
My one complaint is that, like the other Marvel movies, there's just too much character development. Although character development is obviously important, too much of it can stifle the flow of the movie. There are a couple of scenes in The Avengers that I found myself thinking, "Wow, the movie has ground to a halt because of this scene. It definitely should have been cut." But otherwise, the movie flowed remarkably well given its two and a half hour runtime.
I will say that The Avengers totally kills any interest I have of seeing sequels of the stand-alone movies. Any sequel of Captain America, Thor, or Iron Man can't possibly live up to this movie, so why try? Just give me more Avenger action. Hulk is the main draw anyway.
It should be noted that I didn't see this in 3D. I've heard that the 3D in The Avengers is actually pretty strong, especially for post-conversion 3D, but I've been burnt by 3D four times already and I'm not eager to give it another try. Honestly, there aren't many scenes that would have benefitted from adding another dimension so I doubt I missed much, if anything.