The Avengers: super-fun, but entirely vacuous. We're talking about Michael Bay levels of depth, here. (But with better dialogue, 'natch)
— Neil Shyminsky (@neilshyminsky) May 4, 2012
And that's still true. The film is utterly unrelenting in its action - most of the movie is one extended, real-time, multi-site battle - but absolutely lacking in subtext.
The battle direction is superb, and one continuous shot where the Avengers work together to kill the invading alien horde is surely the single greatest teamwork sequence that I've ever seen. The storytelling is sharp and every seemingly arbitrary storytelling choice - is there any particular reason that Loki's staff must pierce them through the heart? why yes, yes there is - has some sort of satisfying purpose behind it. And the dialogue is written by Joss Whedon, so it's hilarious and wonderful.
But, yeah, it still has all the substance of a marshmallow. There's a shadowy global security organization that wants to nuke New York, but that's what passes meaningful political dialogue. Certainly, there's nothing that approaches the thoughtful engagements with international terrorism, American neocolonialism, and realpolitik that made the source material, Mark Millar's The Ultimates, so compelling. There's no character-work here, either, save for Cap's intro (which they never build on in any meaningful way - that's for his solo sequel, I guess) and a few throwaway lines from Bruce Banner and the Black Widow. In fact, as my friend Noa noted, there's nothing relatable about any of the heroes, and they're all larger-than-life demigods. (I think, again, that Whedon recognized this and tried to make the Black Widow more accessible. But it totally didn't work.)
All that said... I'm starting to think that I missed the forest for the trees. To quote some guy who I saw re-Tweeted on the internets:
Avengers backlash is silly. You can't overpromote chocolate-covered orgasms rolled in happiness.This.
— Gladstone (@WGladstone) May 6, 2012
Over on the facebook, Geoff Klock said that he "loved the Avengers as a tonic to the dread seriousness of Nolan's Batman". And he's right, because we do need movies like this - and that's especially clear when you see the trailers that precede the Avengers, which are for the next Dark Knight film and the new Spider-man movie. (Unfortunately, it looks like the new Spidey is taking its cues from the Nolan films rather than the Raimi Spider-man series. And I'm gonna make the call right now: that's a big mistake.)
If every other super-hero film is aiming for overwrought, despair-inducing gravitas, then we should applaud Joss Whedon for going in the total opposite direction. It might "only" be "chocolate covered orgasms rolled in happiness", but if you're going to eat anyway, you can do a whole lot worse than chocolate covered orgasms.