CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS AND WHINGING
Finally, it's here. You can come out from under the bed where the marketing and hype can't get you. This film, the comicbook uberproject which Marvel and Paramount (and now distributors Disney) have been building steadily towards with Thor, Captain America and a couple of Iron Mans, is at last here - and happily the UK are getting it before the US for some reason - for you to watch in full on the big screen rather than the trailers and preview clips on YouTube. Admittedly it's not difficult to avoid that sort of marketing (all you have to do is not click on the damn things) but the Avengers has still been in the air for ages, and it's increasingly difficult trying to remain completely unsullied - the best way to see a film, regardless of what the studios' promotion departments might think.
First off, however: the monumentally stupid title. Was it really changed because some spotty marketing bod thought we'd get confused and we'd go in expecting John Steed and Emma Peel? Not only is Marvel Avengers Assemble probably the first movie to incorporate the production company and publisher into the title - like DC Superman or Penguin Lady Chatterly's Lover - but even without it, Avengers Assemble just sounds like a film in which Captain America, The Incredible Hulk and Nick Fury have to put together a flatpack wardrobe against the clock. There's absolutely nothing wrong with The Avengers as a title - that's what the film is about.
The Avengers are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hensworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), along with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a superteam brought together by one-eyed badass Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) to take down Loki (Tom Hiddleston), brother of Thor, thrown out of Asgard and planning to wreak all kinds of vengeful havoc on the Earth through the Tesseract, a source of unlimited energy as well as a portal across the universe. Frankly any kind of plot synopsis makes the film look like arrant nonsense, and to an extent that's exactly what it is: a colourful romping pantomime with bags of special effects, monsters, explosions, chases and fights and huge amounts of destruction as - yet again - the climactic battle between the Avengers and the forces of evil takes place on the streets of New York.
Sadly, the film does take a little while to get into gear because it has to Assemble the team first and that takes time - the film runs 142 minutes and change. But what ultimately saves it from being a visually spectacular bore is a sense of humour - something that Christopher Nolan's Batman films notably lacked. Neither Batman Begins nor The Dark Knight were much fun, and for all the heavyweight star thesping and psychological analysis of Bruce Wayne, they never came to exciting life (and I fear the same will hold true for the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises). To a certain extent this was how I felt about the X-Men films and Sam Raimi's Spidermans: they were trying to treat pantomime knockabout as though it was serious drama about the human condition, and it couldn't support the weight. Marvel Avengers Assemble is more along the lines of the Fantastic Four films: shiny, empty superhero nonsense that's pretty and spectacular and never once pretends to be anything else. It's superheroes: it's blokes in lycra and tights and superweapons and collapsing skyscrapers. It's not to be taken seriously and fortunately Joss Whedon hasn't.
Everyone delivers. In some ways Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye gets the worst deal because (apart from a brief appearance in the post-credits teaser at the end of Thor) we've not seen him before and the plot demands he behave out of character for half the movie. At least Scarlett Johansson's "something for the dads" Black Widow had a goodly chunk of Iron Man 2 as an introduction. Mark Ruffalo is the third screen Bruce Banner/Hulk (after Ed Norton and Eric Bana), a character I never really found very interesting but he does get the two biggest laughs in the film. Thor, whose intro film was easily the best of the Marvels thus far (Captain America was a close second), is great fun, but Downey Jr's Tony Stark is frankly as annoying as he ever was. And Samuel L Jackson is always good value in pretty much anything and especially when in badass mode.
Once past that opening half-hour of setup and exposition, as the film manoeuvres all the players into position, The Avengers (Marvel Avengers Assemble, whatever) is romping entertainment with snappy dialogue - there's one great scene with all the Avengers bickering in a lab - and thumping fight sequences. How the numerous CGI effects sequences work in 3D I wouldn't know: I only watched the film in 2D but my suspicion is that the post-conversion brings nothing to the party but dimness; there's nothing in the flat version that suggests you're missing out on pointy things jabbed into the camera lens. (Nor did I bother with the IMAX version or the D-Box shaky chair version or any combination of needless gimmicks.)
It's a lot of big noisy fun. Yes, the film doesn't have great depth, which I'm grateful for as it doesn't become po-faced and humourless. And it takes time to find its pace, but I enjoyed it and I'm not much of a fan of the superhero comicbook genre as a rule. But the frequently ridiculous action sequences, an Alan Silvestri score, and the interplay between the Avengers make it a thoroughly likable and enjoyable fantasy blockbuster. Stick to the end of the main credits because there's the now-traditional teaser suggesting a reassembly somewhere down the line.