That was basically what I expected, but it was so well done.
-Natasha! <3 <3 <3 She is so my favorite, and I love that this is her movie as much as it's anyone else's. Where do I sign up to get a Natasha and Clint: Superspies movie made? I want to know what happened in Budapest! And other places! And the whole epic backstory where she killed people and has epic guilt from setting orphans on fire or whatever.
One thing I thought was interesting was that she and Clint have roles that are a gender-reversal of what you usually see in action movies: he's in danger, she's working to free him, we get to know a lot more about her character, and I as a viewer cared about what happened to him primarily because she did.
-Coulson the fanboy was hilarious, and I give him 50/50 odds of still being alive, since the movie itself established that Nick Fury was a lying liar. And I loved that he and Pepper were buddies.
-Mark Ruffalo did a great job as Bruce Banner, and the Hulk got the best moments in the movie. "Puny god" = best end to a supervillain monologue ever. And I had an "Oh, Bruce" moment when I realized that he wasn't in Calcutta for peace, he was there for anger, working with the sick and the poor every day, doing something to make things better. Loved him and Tony bonding over science, and the fact that he seemed to scare Natasha the way nothing else did - maybe because the Hulk is a force that can't be reasoned with or manipulated, or maybe just because she has an accurate understanding of how dangerous he really is.
-I thought Loki was great in this too, and more genuinely menacing than he was in Thor. I saw some reviews (I think the NY Times?) that talked about the movie having no real point or meaning to it, and I was curious to see to what extent that was true and to what extent it might have points that the critics may have missed, but ultimately, I think it's a reasonably fair criticism. There's just so much plot and so many characters to move around the board that there's not much time for much else, and it's impressive that Joss is able to hit all the necessary beats and keep everything running smoothly as it is. The deepest it gets is Loki in Germany and "there are no men like me"/"there are always men like you", coupled with Thor's speech to Loki about how seeing himself as superior means that he misses the real point of ruling. Because that's really the point for all of them: to not see yourself as a lone superior/damaged being, but to put your ego aside to work with other people, to accomplish things as a group that none of you could do alone. And Loki is the dark reflection of that, as supervillains always are. But that's not really as textually fleshed out as I might have been expecting. I'd love it if Avengers 2 involved more of a choice on everyone's parts to work together rather than being thrown in on the brink of an alien invasion. Who's actually going to say no to that? "Nah, I'll just hang out here while the earth gets destroyed." That's probably always going to be a little odd in the movieverse, though: they're a team that works together! ...except for all those other movies where they don't.
-Loki's whole "I'm here to free you from freedom" speech was also very Jasmine from Angel.
-Oh, and haha: "look to your elders. let him be an example." And then Steve drops in. I love Joss' segues.
-My one costume quibble: Captain America's helmet just looked really goofy. They need to go back to the one from the first movie.
-Going forward, I feel like (other than Natasha) Steve's story is the one that's most interesting to me. How do you adjust to living in the future, especially on days when there aren't alien ships to fight? Can you ever really get over losing everything and everyone you knew? Even though Captain America had some pacing/plotting issues, I loved the way they set up his character - he IS a good man, but he also feels very human: stubborn, loyal, angry, awkward with girls, and willing to break orders when his ethics demand it. (Please, please, please let Captain America 2 not suck.) There's also still story to tell there with him and Tony - I was surprised they didn't pay off the Howard Stark thing as much as they could have, and the two characters are certainly an interesting study in contrasts. I wonder if there'll be anything in the DVD missing scenes that sets up how snippy they are with one another, even before Loki's staff presumably starts influencing everyone.
-For Tony, this has got to be a high water mark in his cinematic journey: he's healthy, he's happy, he and Pepper seem to be doing well, he's making new friends and saving the world, he's even giving advice to Bruce. And I have to figure, knowing the basics of comics canon, that that can't last and that Iron Man 3 is not going to be him skipping through fields of daisies and developing clean energy sources. I liked the Tony/Pepper scenes here - I thought they were cute in the first Iron Man, but then didn't like their dynamic at all in the second one. She needs to not be running around shrieking all the time; he needs to not be treating her like crap. Here they were working together and joking around and generally seeming like functional adults who care about each other, which was nice.
-Samuel L. Jackson is so awesome that it's easy to forget to give him credit for it, because he just seems effortlessly perfect as Nick Fury, but let me give him credit for that anyway.
-Finally, re the post-post-credits scene: I was wondering about that. Since they filmed it last month, when Chris Evans had a buzz cut and a beard, apparently they had to paste prosthetics over his face? That must have looked... interesting.
And while I'm at it: Cabin in the Woods was also very enjoyable, in a very, very different sort of way. I'm pretty thrilled that Avengers is making buckets of money and Joss will hopefully get more opportunities to make things that don't get cancelled or shelved.