From my limited knowledge of Avengers comics canon I was expecting the movie to focus more on the clash of personalities between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, but the genius of The Avengers was that it explored all these different permutations of the Avengers team that I'd never considered before. The best example of this was the unexpectedly perfect combination of Bruce Banner and Tony Stark. The most poorly-handled character of the Marvel universe thus far -- the Hulk's human alter-ego -- ended up with the most engaging hero's journey in the film.
Tony grew up with fame. He might seem careless about his public image, but that's a carelessness borne of long experience with being in the public eye. We know that Tony is a vulnerable, isolated person, but during the scenes in the Iron Man movies when he's either in public or speaking to the press, you can tell that he's just a little more over-the-top than usual. Not to the extent of Bruce Wayne's idiot playboy persona in Batman Begins, but the Tony Stark who we see drinking alone in a lab full of half-finished robots (because Tony Stark has to build friends for himself) is significantly different from the Tony Stark people would read about in the tabloids of the Marvel universe.
The quantity of luxury product placement in the Iron Man movies is testament to the Tony Stark image. Cars, watches, drinks, suits... Tony, like James Bond, is an advertiser's dream character. There was far less of that in The Avengers, though. Mostly we see Tony at home in worn t-shirts (including a Black Sabbath shirt, a nod to the character's love of classic rock) or dressed in a slouchy, non-traditional suit (pictured above) when he's visiting SHIELD in his role as a consultant, the closest we ever see to him being dressed "like an engineer". He's relaxed, he's grounded, and a lot of that is thanks to his relationship with Pepper.
why Pepper Potts is such a great character and why costuming is a big part of that, so when she first showed up in Avengers my reaction was basically: LEAVE ME TO DIE BECAUSE PEPPER IS RELAXED AND HAPPY AND IS WANDERING AROUND TONY'S BACHELOR PAD WITH HER SHOES OFF. Note to my family: I would prefer an ocean burial.
Unlike the rest of the Avengers, Bruce Banner's costumes are not really showy or flattering. He doesn't even get a superhero outfit. Bruce is middle-aged, he's kind of a mess, and Mark Ruffalo is the only actor in the main cast who wasn't on a strict diet and workout regime. So physically, Bruce is not a fighter or an athlete, and in terms of his everyday look the costume designers were intentionally avoiding the alpha male appearance of, say, Steve Rogers. When Bruce first appears he's in a wrinkled, dirty suit, and after that we get the purple button-down shirt -- a reference to the Hulk's famous purple shorts. I'm rather forlorn about the shorts thing because I was SO HOPING for a scene where Tony engineers him a pair of stretchy polymer-whatever panties for when he Hulks out. Maybe in Avengers 2?
Now, I know we don't see any paparazzi or TV crews in that final scene, but a) the Avengers are now world-famous for saving New York from certain doom, and b) for the first time in the movie, Tony is wearing his Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist duds. The only possible explanation I can think of for this scene is that it takes place specifically for the public. I mean, they're transporting an alien war criminal to another planet from Central Park. If they'd wanted to keep things safe and secret then they'd have done it from somewhere in the bowels of one a SHIELD base. My guess is that the (weirdly deserted) place where the Avengers stand to bid farewell to Thor and Loki is in fact a carefully guarded area with the press roped off somewhere in the direction of us/the audience/the camera. We view the scene from the perspective of "the crowds", who are there to verify and report on the fact that Loki is definitively gone for good. Because there is just no other way I can interpret the decision to film that scene in such an incredibly public area.
Part 3: Steve Rogers, Captain America.
Product Placement in The Avengers.
This photo of Robert Downey Jr in shoe lifts (I think for one of the Iron Man movies).
My weird fixation with the relative heights of the Avengers cast was already pretty awful, but while I was writing this post I got stuck in a google-vortex and ended up at this actor-height related review of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which is more or less diamond-hard proof that every single actor in Hollywood is standing on a box and/or in a trench at some point during every movie.