The Avengers [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Andy James & Noor Razzak (21st October 2012).
The Film

Before I get to my actual review of "The Avengers" I'm just going to talk a little bit about comic-book/superhero movies in general and my reaction to some of them and the increasing trend of them. And, let's face it, "The Avengers" is something of a turning point for this recently popular sub-genre.

I'm old enough that I remember the early days of this recent trend: I remember hearing about the Wesley Snipes starring "Blade" (1998, I was too young then to get in to see the R-rated slashenings) and the storied rumours of an upcoming "X-Men" (2000) film (my favorite comic-book characters). I remember watching the TV movie of "Generation X" (1996) with my mates, so starved of comic-booky movies were we. A Spider-Man movie looked to be an impossibility, with the character's rights tied up in weird legal legally things. Superman hadn't been around for awhile (not since he Quested for Peace in 1987 and fought on the moon). Batman had recently shat the bed. And Judge Dredd had taken a steaming shit on the multiplex.

But after "X-Men" hit in 2000 things started to improve for the frustrated comic-book/movie geek. Then "Spider-Man" swung in in 2002 and got the mainstream geeking out about people in tights. Thwip! KA-BOOM! The floodgates opened: "Hellboy" (2004), "X2: X-Men United" (2003), "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006), "Superman Returns" (2006), "Spider-Man 2" (2004) and "3" (2007), Batman got real in "Batman Begins" (2005), "The Dark Knight" (2008) and "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012), "Fantastic Four" (2005), "Hulk" (2003) got art-housed, "Daredevil" (2003), "Constantine" (2005), "Blade II" (2004) and "Blade: Trinity" (2004), people even watched "The Watchmen" (2009) and the "X-Men" went back to class in "X-Men: First Class" (2011). Indie, non-superhero comics like "Ghost World" (2000) and "American Splendor" (2003) even got a look in. And the superhero genre itself has been skewered with the likes of "Kick-Ass" (2010) and (the not based on a comic-book) "Super" (2010).

And so, late last decade, Marvel Comics decided to stop shilling its characters out to other studios and instead began developing their own movies based on their large library of characters. Thus, in 2008, "Iron Man" was released and the first step on the road to "The Avengers" was taken. Since then Hulk became Incredible in "The Incredible Hulk" (2008), Iron Man got a sequel in "Iron Man 2" (2010) and two characters who I felt sure would never grace the silver screen got fairly great movies: "Thor" (2011) and "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011).

So within that context, you can see how "The Avengers" is a culmination of not just these characters and four years of Marvel Studios films but something that has been building for a decade now. "The Avengers" is the first spin-in film; the first film to have characters from their own starring films appear in the same film together and facing a threat no single one of them could defeat on their own. "The Avengers" is, to paraphrase Ron Burgundy - "kind of a big deal".

There is so much that could have gone wrong with this film; I'd be lying if I wasn't just a little worried going in. Not only did the threat have to be big enough to pull all of these characters together - a super soldier, a high-tech man-as-weapon, a god, a monster and two highly-trained black-ops spies - but there was a balance that needed to be struck between all of these disparate characters. Not only did they all have to have their own storylines and moments to shine but the chemistry between them had to be right, had to work seamlessly.

The good news is: it works. It all, amazingly, works. "The Avengers" is big, bold, confident, emotional and a very real, very large achievement and turning point. Frankly, given the history of similarly packed superhero films "The Avengers" has absolutely no right working as well as it does. Those worries that the chemistry and characters could be the biggest weaknesses are instead film's greatest strengths. And no small thanks should be given to writer/director Joss Whedon for this. A favorite among the geek community, his only other feature film directorial credit was for "Serenity" (2005), the continuation of his much admired but cancelled TV show "Firefly" (2002-2003). In hindsight, "Serenity" was a near perfect training-ground for "The Avengers": peppered with characters who already have an established history but not one that is known by everyone in the movie-going public they all have to be introduced, have their own arcs and times to shine.

The various members of the team, far from being one-note and voiceless, are instead given moments upon moments that distil their essence. Chris Evans' Captain America remains my favourite Avenger - he's such an unpretentious, aw-shucks kind of good guy you cannot help but like him. But characters like Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow are really given time to shine here: in between the explosions and martial artistry she's given a real characters storyline and we're given more of an insight into who she is and what drives her. Mark Ruffalo subbing in for Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk brings a completely different energy to the role, and I have trouble seeing how Norton's intelligent intensity would have worked with the dynamic. And when Ruffalo becomes the Hulk, it's a Hulk we haven't really seen before and he is absolutely one of the (many) highlights. Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man was the character I was most worried about: I feared him dominating proceedings due to the outstanding success of the previous "Iron Man" films and the upswing Downey Jr.'s career is currently on. But Whedon's smarter than that. Sure, Downey Jr. likely gets the lion's share of the cracking one-liners but he doesn't come to overly dominate proceedings.

Tom Hiddleston's Loki (along with Hugo Weaving's brilliantly demented Red Skull) has been one of the great comic-book movie villains and here he is even wilder, crazier and vengeance-driven than in "Thor". Hiddleston continues to impress as the emotionally volatile god of mischief and the relationship and interplay between him and his brother, Chris Hemsworth's Thor, is one of the stronger in a film of strong relationships. Hemsworth's Thor is still a delight to watch. Thor is such an out-there character, a god bestriding the world of mortals, but Hemsworth continues to play the human in the divine. And the more human characters, Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury and Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson, are also given their time in the spotlight. Jackson's Fury really gets a bump up here and Coulson, a surprising common thread through most of the separate films, really comes into his own in "The Avengers". The only major character to really get short-shrifted is Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye; but even then he has his own very definite arc within the film.

Surprising me, in the most delightful way, is how downright hilarious the film is. It never veers into mocking or camp territory; Whedon and co-plotter Zak Penn are too respectful for that. Instead, it is dialogue and moments of humor that are used to illustrate character and punctuate tension. There are laughs, with nary a one not landing, throughout: from these larger-than-life characters arguing on the Helicarrier to the big-time balls out finale.

And that final battle that rages across New York City is a wonderful piece of action/comic-book filmmaking. Not only is it a visual spectacle, but the outcome actually matters because the character's care and matter. Coming into the film, this was one of my biggest worries. Whedon, as a director of big-time cinema action, is relatively untested. But, boy howdy, he and his crew really get into it with confidence and an amazingly sure hand.

"The Avengers" is, in many ways, the ultimate distillation of a comic-book movie. While Nolan has been stripping Batman down to a more "realistic" level, Whedon fully embraces the world of the comic-book. He is a man who knows his genre and has no qualms opening himself up to the craziness of it all: just like in the best team-up comic-books, the heroes come to blows with one another; there is crazy sci-fi tech (the SHIELD helicarrier) and aliens, gods and super-heroes fit side-by-side effortlessly. Whedon has an incredible amount of fun with that world and these characters and I had a big-ass grin on my face almost the entire way through.

If I was to review "The Avengers" completely dispassionately it was probably not the best idea to have originally seen it at a midnight showing, with 700-odd other amped-up geeks. But as a fan, this is exactly how I wanted to see "The Avengers" and it was the most wonderful, pure and entertaining piece of superhero cinema yet. We were all whooping, laughing and cheering as one; every single person in that cinema had the time of their lives. I, unashamedly, unreservedly and geekily, loved the hell out of "The Avengers".

I almost still can't quite believe it, but "The Avengers" have assembled. And they're phenomenal.

Video

Presented in widescreen 1.78:1 mastered in high definition 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression, this pack includes both the 2D and 3D versions of the film. How many positive buzzwords can I possibly write down to describe this image? Let's see - Amazing, Smashing, Brilliant, Fantastic, Excellent, Super-sharp, Phenomenal, Lush, Masterful, Awesome, that's ten... the fact is whether it's the 2D version or the 3D version these transfers are what High Definition home theaters are made for. If anything screams "Reference Quality" it's "The Avengers" and stands as (probably) the best looking disc of 2012. The picture is dazzlingly colorful, with lush and robust colors and deep blacks. The HD image brings out the intricacies of each character's costumes, and the level of detail is exceptional. Depth looks great, the image is clean and free from any flaws. The 3D works really well here (for a post-conversion), in fact I thought it was better rendered for disc than when I originally saw it in cinemas. Overall this is top notch stuff.

Audio

Three audio tracks are featured in English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as audio tracks in French DTS-HD High Resolution 7.1 surround and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Much like the image this audio track matches the intensity and brilliance of the picture in equally reference quality fashion. This soundtrack is LOUD, it' bombastic and rollicking. The dialogue is clear and distortion free, ambient sounds are subtle, intricate and well placed, as are direction effects. However, "The Avengers" comes to lofe with it's inventive and over-the-top action set pieces that really put viewers through a ringer. The active, complex and rich surrounds really come together in those scenes and do a marvelous job of immersing the viewer in the world of these heroes. Mayhem is probably the best word to describe the final act of the film and the soundtrack matches it perfectly. Additionally the film's epic and sweeping soundtrack adds another layer that helps immerse the viewer. This track, pure and simply - rocks!
Optional subtitles are also featured in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Marvel's "The Avengers" comes to Blu-ray in a 4-disc set that features both the film's 2D and 3D versions. Included are supplements that offer some excellent behind-the-scenes perspective on the making of the film. Featured is an audio commentary, an interactive viewing mode, a short film, a gag reel, a series of deleted and extended scenes and a collection of two featurettes, a music video plus bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

DISC ONE: 3D Blu-ray

This disc only features the 3D version of the film, playable only on 3D Blu-ray players. There are no extras on this disc at all.

DISC TWO: Blu-ray

This disc features the standard 2D version of the film, playable on all Blu-ray players. The majority of extras are all featured on this second disc.

First up is a feature-length screen-specific audio commentary with the film's director Joss Whedon. Geeks rejoice! Your leader has taken time out of his busy schedule to offer comments on this past summer's biggest movie. Whedon is tremendously fun to listen to, he offers a lighthearted yet comprehensive look at the production process of a giant summer tent pole movie. He comments on being chosen to helm Marvel's crown jewel production, on assembling the cast and working with them to create the wonderful interactions between our heroes. On developing the story, shooting the action among other things. Whedon offers an insightful, honest and funny track that every fan should listen to.

"The Avengers Initiative: A Marvel Second Screen Experience" viewing mode is an interactive feature that connects via your iPad, iPhone or laptop to access a S.H.I.E.L.D. database. As you watch the movie viewers are granted access to additional information about the featured characters, story elements and histories. The feature is pretty neat, I used my iPad to integrate the feature, however I was bored with it quickly.

Next up is a short film (1080p) entitled "Marvel One-Shot: Item 47" which runs for 11 minutes 20 seconds. This film spins-off from the film, and follows a couple, Claire (Lizzy Caplan) and Benny (Jesse Bradford) who rob banks with an alien weapon they found in the aftermath of the battle seen at the climax of "The Avengers". It's a cool little short that ties in with the film.

A fairly typical and standard gag reel (1080p) is also featured and runs for 4 minutes 5 seconds.

There's a collection of eight deleted and extended scenes (1080p) running for 14 minutes 59 seconds. The scenes also included an alternate opening and ending for the film. The opening is much darker than the one used in the film and offers an interesting direction in which the film could have gone. The rest of the scenes are in various states of completion. The scenes included are:

- "Maria Hill Interrogation" alternate opening
- "Loki and Barton Strategize" extended scene
- "Steve Rogers: Man Out of Time"
- "Nick Fury & World Security Council"
- "Extended Viaduct Fight" raw footage
- "Fury & Hill Discuss the World Security Council"
- "Banner and Security Guard" extended scene
- "Maria Hill Interrogation" alternate ending

"Assembling the Ultimate Team" (1080p) is a short featurette that runs for 8 minutes 8 seconds. EPK stuff is mostly featured here as viewers are introduced to the characters.

The second featurette is entitled "A Visual Journey" (1080p) which runs for 6 minutes 28 seconds. This features takes a look at the visuals of the film, locations and story elements. Another EPK style clip, which would have been a bit more in-depth.

A single music video (1080p) is also included "Live to Rise" by Soundgarden which runs for 4 minutes 49 seconds.

Finally bonus trailers (1080p) are also included for:
- "Marvel films on Blu-ray"
- "Marvel's Phase One Collector's Edition"
- "Marvel Avengers Alliance"
- "Marvel Universe on Disney XD"
- "Frankenweenie"

DISC THREE: DVD

This is the standard DVD edition of the film.

DISC FOUR: Digital Copy

This is a digital copy version of the film for portable media devices. Also featured is a download code for the complete "The Avengers" soundtrack album.

Packaging

Packaged in a 4-disc Blu-ray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The film review was originally published on the blog Rockets and Robots are Go! by Andy James. The A/V and supplements were reviewed by Noor Razzak.

The Film: A+ Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: B+ Overall: A

 


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