Blu-ray Review: Marvel’s The Avengers



Risk assessment is something a studio considers when it moves forward with a big-budget project. It’s a gamble that will either result in a big payoff or a huge bust. The Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings franchises represented zeitgeist moments in cinema for their specific genres. In the world of superhero movies, the success of 2008’s The Dark Knight ushered in a new appreciation for heroes, be they superhuman or rich millionaires masquerading as vigilantes.

While Christopher Nolan’s take on DC Comics’ watchful protector of Gotham City transcended the superhero genre, Marvel Studios did a masterful stroke with constructing a cinematic universe that spanned six films, culminating with the release of Marvel’s The Avengers. Beginning with Iron Man (2008), Marvel Studios saw an impressive return on its investment, as did Walt Disney Studios, who acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009. By paying Paramount Pictures approximately $115 million for the distribution rights (Paramount will still collect 8% of the box office) for both The Avengers and the forthcoming Iron Man 3, Disney is living marvelously.

Walt Disney Studios may be known as the house that Mickey Mouse built; one could argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU, for short) was built on the success of Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal as Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). In his own way, this was Downey’s Capt. Jack Sparrow. The success of Iron Man opened up so many doors for Downey who had been doing stellar supporting work after drug dependency issues pretty much derailed his career. Sticking through the end credits revealed a brief scene with Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) where “The Avengers Initiative” is mentioned. Stark would also pop up at the end of The Incredible Hulk (2008) and talk to the not-so Jolly Green Giant. The second Iron Man film had so much Avengers exposition that it could have been called The Avengers: Issue 0, as it introduced Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the discovery of Thor’s hammer. Thus bringing us to the film release of 2011’s Thor with the Thunder God (Chris Hemsworth) fighting his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to protect the otherworldly world of Asgard – mortal Avenger Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) makes a cameo. The last piece of the puzzle is Captain America: The First Avenger about, you guessed it, the first Avenger, Captain America. Chris Evans, who has the distinction of playing both Captain America and Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, goes from puny weakling to super stud, and from 1940s WWII hero to become a stranger in a strange land in present day New York City.

After five films and $2.3 billion in gross earnings, we arrive at Marvel’s The Avengers, the culmination of a seven-year journey, when Marvel Studios first decided to produce its own films in 2005.

I already reviewed the film when it was released theatrically back in May 2012. Having seen it a few more times since then, my thoughts have changed somewhat. I enjoy the film, but not nearly as much upon further reflection. At the time of my review I was on such a high that it was easier to overlook some of the logical flaws. Still, Marvel Studios made the right decision when it entrusted Joss Whedon to helm the project. His trademark wit is all over the film, which he also wrote. Tony Stark has the lion’s share of funny lines being the most loquacious Avenger. While Downey may be the biggest star and Iron Man is a fan favorite, the best surprise was Mark Ruffalo’s performance as Bruce Banner and his signature “Hulk” moments.

Rather than dissect story just know that Thor’s brother Loki looks to conquer Earth with the help of an alien race known as the Chitauri. But before that happens, the individual Avengers must come together and function as a team so that they can save humanity at the expense of millions of dollars in property damage.

As a special effects driven film, Joss Whedon and the effects team have created the best-looking comic book movie to date, as glossy and vibrant as the comics themselves. While there is an issue in pacing, as the character introductions and interaction take time to develop, Whedon’s sense of humor moves the story along smoothly enough. Besides, who could disagree with Tony Stark calling Thor Point Break?

The video has been given 1080p/AVC MPEG 4 encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The film has a strong color palette, with strong blacks and dark shadows. The detail in some of the costumes are so great that you can see most of the dings and scratches of Iron Man’s armor and Captain America’s shield.

If you don’t have proper surround sound you will really miss out on an impressive DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack; easily in the running as one of the year’s best. In the opening scene alone you can hear as a helicopter passes from the rear speakers to the front. The dialogue is also crisp without any issues. If you’ve already seen The Avengers feel free to skip to the massive 40-minute final battle. Just be ready to have your socks knocked off.

Strong audio and video, and a popcorn movie that became the third-most successful release of all time – what else could you ask for? How about some decent extras? Sadly, the extras are light for such a high-profile Blu-ray title.

We get Whedon offering self-deprecating remarks and insight on the commentary track. There’s a new Marvel One-Shot entitled Item 47 (11:20) where Lizzie Caplan and Jesse Bradford star as a bank-robbing couple that gets its hands on one of the Chitauri weapons after the Battle of New York and make like Bonnie & Clyde. There is a pair of EPK-style featurettes about Assembling the Ultimate Team (8:08) and A Visual Journey (6:28) about the film. Deleted scenes featuring a longer Steve Rogers/Captain America backstory/exposition can be found in the Deleted / Extended Scenes section (8 scenes total, running 14:59).  We also get a four-minute gag reel that’s just like the end of Smokey and the Bandit, Soundgarden’s “Live to Rise” music video, and a more interactive viewing experience with Marvel’s The Avengers: A Second Screen Experience, which gives you access to the S.H.I.E.L.D. data base and The Avengers’ comic book history.

If you want more extras, be sure to pick up Marvel’s The Avengers at Target. It comes with an exclusive bonus Blu-ray Disc with a seven-part, 98-minute feature titled Marvel: Building a Cinematic Universe. Such a feature should have been included with all editions of The Avengers. Originally, it was going to be included with the limited edition MCU box set in suitcase packaging, but a lawsuit prevented the suitcase from making it to store shelves and online retailers.

The Avengers may not be flawless but it is pretty marvelous. Joss Whedon, who is looked at as a god to the millions of Fanboys that support his work (both on television and the big screen), made a rollicking good adventure film, expertly blending tone with character and action. The audio is reference quality and the video transfer isn’t bad either. Special features are lacking, unless you make your purchase at Target and get the bonus disc with the feature length documentary about Phase One of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Definitely a must own for the Blu-ray format.

Walt Disney Pictures and Marvel Studios present Marvel’s The Avengers Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon. Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo. Running Time: 143 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released: September 25, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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