Be warned, spoilers included amidst the gushing.
I struggled with the opening sentence of this, but the best thing that i came up with, the truest thing, was also the first: Joss put the best part of my childhood up on the screen. Not in any Wonder Years sense, but the part of my childhood that disappeared into the four color world of the comics at the age of 7. Its 1973 and the Avengers are being tricked by Loki and Dormamu into battling the Defenders in Steve Englehart's Avengers/Defenders cross-over. I've just started reading comics, an escape from the nasty playgrounds and bullied bus rides to and from school in Houston, Texas. I'm picking up Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain Marvel, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four. Daredevil and the FF are not in, how shall we put this, their creative prime. The first three? Magic. Iron Man, in the Avengers and guest starring in Captain Marvel, kicks ass and takes names, and there seems to be no end to the inventive stories. The Celestial Madonna? Thanos? The Zodiac team? It was a world of wonder.
And Joss understands everything that was cool about those comics and he's put it all up on the big screen. If the common complaint is that superheros are power fantasies, then we get to see the proper application of that power. this is something is commonly missing among the pundits who want to make a psychological hash out of those of us who loved sueprheros. "Juvenile power fantasies" the common derogatory remark. Yes, but it wasn't out of using the power to bully, we all knew that power all too well. It was how we would use the power if we, the formerly weak, the ones that no one else would protect, ever got the chance. Captain America was a reminder of the root nature of the appeal of the superhero. Just as Joss understood the need to turn the tables on the blonde walking down the alleyway alone in Buffy, here he understands how they should act. How they should fight.
Oh and yes, how they fight. the most glorious fight scenes ever recorded with superheroes and with the proper use of their powers. From Cap's Adamantium shield to Iron Man being both smart and powerful, Stark using his mind as much as his armor. The scene where he confronts Loki out of the armor may be one of the best of the movie. And we get the team, as they become one, deferring to Cap, the ultimate soldier, who gets to turn to a weapon unlike one that any general has ever been able to wield, The Hulk, and give him an order: "Smash."
So why reference the Englehart issues? Because clearly Joss read them and loved them and knows a good moment to steal when he sees it. Here, from Defender #10, still sitting on the spinner rack in my living room, is the moment when the Hulk tries to pick up Thor's hammer... and can't. It plays beautifully on the Shield Helicarrier in the movie.
They finally got the Hulk right as well. Mark Ruffalo plays Banner with a resigned air about him, with an apparent edge underneath as well. Its a great, pocket, tour-de-force performance, hidden among all the effect laden grandeur. Hiddleston's Loki is excellent as well. If there is anything else that Joss brought to the movie it was the sense that everyone in the ensemble had to have their moment to shine, and there are really great moments for all the characters. No small feat that.
Small quibbles, because, yes, there will always be a few. The blue on Cap's uniform was way too bright. And its hard to miss. And since they nailed Iron Man's armor, Thor's Simonson outfit, and the Widow so well, its a little shocking to see that bright a blue. The uniform itself is fine design-wise, but more of a navy next time please. The middle third of the movie could be tighter. We spend a lot of time on the Helicarrier waiting for the coolness to start, and for the heroes to figure out why Loki allowed himself to be captured, and it takes a little more time than it should. Perversely, i wish that the anonymous aliens that attack were some species that we'd see before. Badoon perhaps? Just a name change would have been cool. That's about it.
And because talking about the alien race leads us to the post-credits sequence...
And because Joss knows that, if this makes money, which it has, and if you can actually get everyone back for a sequel, there are very few places that you can go to surpass Loki as a villian. The final, post credits sequence, with the alien complaining to his overlord that the humans aren't as weak as we thought leads us to the one final twist set-up. Anyone reading the bio part of my blog knows that it was Starlin's Captain Marvel series that, literally, changed my life. So punch in the gut when the overlord turns his head and it reveals Thanos is one that, well, took my breath away. If they decide to do a second one, it will be because this makes enough money to validate them doing a film with Thanos, and all I hope is that a certain kree Captain at least gets a name check. But for now, Marvel has, astonishingly, rendered me truly speechless by making the superhero film of my dreams. Wow.