There were several films from summer 2012 that were hugely anticipated, but this one might have taken the top prize in that category, if only for the fact that it's so unprecedented. Like the superhero team it's about, this film brought together a huge cast of well known, talented, and respected performers, and tried to create the ultimate team. In a lot of ways, this is kinda like the biblical studio ensemble epics of old, though more spectacular and epic, if for different reasons. While this sort of thing isn't entirely new, it's never been done on this level before, and that's not including the fact that it's done with comic book superheroes. Joss Whedon had one daunting challenge before him as the co-writer/director of this, but I can safely say that he succeeds.
After gaining control of the Tesseract (the mystic blue cube thing as seen in Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger), Thor's half-brother Loki uses it to gain control of an extraterrestrial army that he plans to use for global, if not universal domination. In response, S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury and his underlings assemble their own counter-strike team of sorts to help combat the looming threat...and the lineup they choose is great: besides S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives Black Widow and Hawkeye, they get Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, and Iron Man.
It takes a while for this newly assembled team to learn to work together and play nicely, but when they do, they prove that it is possible to put egos, opinions, and other things aside in order to work together for a great cause. And the exact same thing can be said about the film's cast. I honestly don't know if II would want to be in Whedon's shoes. He had to take several lead-in movies, their established characters and actors (well, one's a re-cast but he is amazing), and piece them all together to make a cohesive and wieldy whole. Amazingly enough, it works. All of the performers bring their best, they have great chemistry with one another, and I love how they seem to treat this as more than just a paycheck.
Downey Jr. steals the show as one might expect, but each performer has at least one moment where they really shine, and the film does a pretty good job at developing at least all of the principles and giving them mostly balanced amounts of screen time. Renner could have been used more, but he's bad ass when he's around. Ruffalo makes a great replacement for Norton, and he is probably my favorite person to play the character in the last decade. I didn't give him much thought in Thor, but Tom Hiddleston is superb as Loki. He's a great villain: really creepy, charismatic, dangerous, and a joy to watch. Cobie Smulders makes an impression as agent Maria Hill, but she gets the short end of the stick mostly. Here's to hoping the sequel gives her more time to strut her stuff.
While the film does a really good job at juggling all the characters and their individual stories, the main plot of the movie is rather lackluster. I understand that the film was already pretty long, and it was noble of them to be so ambitious to take so much on at once, but they could have beefed things up a lot better, and fleshed out the stuff with the Tesseract more than they did. That might really be my only complaint actually. Granted, it's not small, but it's not quite enough to really wreck things.
Especially when this movie is so fun. It's action packed, thrilling, almost never drags, and, while not designed to be a comedy, is flat out hilarious at times. There's lots of great lines, character interactions, and little things here and there that all come together to make a movie that is bound to please almost everyone in at least one way or another.
This was quite an accomplishment. It's not perfect, but it sure comes close. It's easily the best movie of summer 2012, the best superhero movie of the year, and quite deserving of a place on the "best ever" superhero list.