If Marvel Studios stopped at Avengers (or the mouth filling Marvel's Avengers Assemble in the UK) they won. With the dizzying heights the Marvel Cinematic Universe reached just this year with Captain America: Civil War and the interim movies, it's hard to remember just how lightening-charged the prospect of Marvel's movie franchises combining into one big superhero-a-palooza!
Not only had we seen our heroes go from zeros to heroes and back again, we would now get to see how they'd fare kickin' ass and takin' names as one force. While the freaks and geeks could revel in the dream of seeing their half tone heroes writ large on the silver screen, any Average Joe with more than a passing interest could appreciate the culmination of 5 movies tying together. Even if you didn't know that Joss Whedon, King of the Nerds, would be polishing the script and directing the gathering of World's Mightiest Heroes, it should still be the cinematic event of 2012. Which it was. By the end of it's run Avengers was the third-highest grossing flick of all time and it had earned it stripes.
Even when you take some nods from the comic book origin where Asgardian, Loki, seeks revenge on his brother, Thor, and even uses Hulk as a pawn at one point, there's still an awful lot going on and one thunderous mountain to climb in terms of storytelling. Whedon must have felt a lot like Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD. He may have had a reason to bring the 6 heroes together, but he had to tie strands from the previous flicks together, make reference to them for anyone who'd wandered in blindly to the multiplex and lived in a cave since Iron Man, set up the characters and their conflicts, put them all through the meat grinder so the audience cared about them, convincingly make them work together and then bring it home in the third and final act. More importantly, each and every character needs a complete arc in the same running time usually allowed for one hero. If you're unsure how tricky a chemical mixture this is to get right, take a look at Suicide Squad. For all it's effort and best intentions it never did balance the elements of character and story - and that's with two main characters to focus on while the others strutted in the periphery. Even other rag-tag ensembles have offed characters to make things a little easier narratively.
When you watch Avengers, however, you'd be hard pushed to notice the Hulk-like heavy lifting it had taken to keep this fictional hellicarrier flying. It had much more than most of us expected. In part, this is because Joss & Co manage to combine the story telling and character beats with action. Even though the Stuttgart Standoff is part of Loki's machinations, it includes Loki measuring up his adversaries - Cap gives him more trouble than expected - it reinforces Loki's ethos in ruling humanity and the introduction of Iron Man to Captain America. You may have time to catch your breath, but it's a matter of minutes before Thor is thrown into the mix and Shakespeare in the Park turns into smack down where powers and abilities are compared. Even the Hostilities on the Hellicarrier galvanize Tony and Steve's respect and understanding for one another. While this leaves time spare for the biggest world-wrangling war that's ever taken place in the Big Apple, it still manages to squeeze in Tony overcoming his narcissism by selflessly flying a nuke into a worm hole. Which unto itself sounds as ridiculous as a flying battleship, but the approach is so primed with gusto you very rarely have a chance to question anything. Where this gusto doesn't fill the gaps, the funnies fall in between. Multiple viewings offer even more nuanced rewards, the repartee between the main team is one thing, but Coulson creepily explaining he watched while Cap slept and LuchKov's confused assurance that "I don't... give everything." are gems more appreciated on multiple viewings.
Amid the fireworks there are some jumps in logic that need suspension of disbelief. Banner's ability to conveniently control the Hulk, come the third act, is alluded to during the spat in SHIELD's lab but it doesn't make sense when you consider he would've given a world-beating pimp slap to Black Widow had Thor not rolled up. Likewise the hive minded Chitauri collapse once the mother ship is obliterated, but seemed perfectly organic before that moment. The fact that it's never enough to derail the behemoth is testament to how well it's crafted and it's startling effectiveness.
5* - Fanfare of the Uncommon Man
Others in the series:
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
The Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America: Civil War