No matter one’s stance on superhero movies, you have to give credit to the great success Marvel Studios achieved with what is referred to as the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One. The six-film series delivered an impressive return on its investment, earning nearly $4 billion worldwide on the $1 billion spent, and that doesn’t take into account all the ancillary items and licensing agreements.
The MCU began with the release of Iron Man (2008) starring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, which did better than expected since the character wasn’t well known outside the comics, like Spider-Man and the Hulk. A brief scene after the credits hinted at what was to come with S.H.I.E.L.D Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) revealing, “I’m here to talk to you about The Avengers Initiative.” In The Incredible Hulk (2008), Downey had a brief scene and events in Iron Man 2 (2010) were set about the same time. Shellhead’s second film seemed just as much about setting up The Avengers with the appearance of Fury, the introduction of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the discovery of Thor’s hammer. In Thor (2011), the Thunder God (Chris Hemsworth) fights his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to protect Asgard. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) tells the character’s origin and brings him into the present day. Throughout the films there are Easter eggs for Marvel Comics readers and fans on the MCU as well as moments that help coalesce these films into one story that concludes in Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), which finds Loki working with an alien race known as the Chitauri to conquer Earth.
After Loki steals the mysterious cosmic device known as the Tesseract, which allows him to take mental control of S.H.I.E.L.D agent Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Fury and his agents bring together the heroes, but they don’t fit well together. They even fight amongst themselves, which was always a fun occurrence in the comics. As the magnitude of the danger increases, Fury is eventually able to focus them on the mission, requiring a bit of subterfuge on his part, which was a good character moment as it made him more intriguing a figure. In New York City, Loki, through the use the Tesseract and a device built by Selvig, opens a portal for the Chitauri. While the battle the invading forces and the Avengers progresses, a mysterious guild decides the best way to handle things is to nuke the city.
Writer/director Joss Whedon was given quite a Herculean task and assembled an entertaining, action-packed adventure that went on to become the third-highest grossing film. It felt like he knew the characters and what people liked about comics and captured many of those moments. Early on, the amount of exposition and character introduction required bogged the pacing down a bit, but there was always some excitement or laughs to move the story along. Though this Blu-ray only offers two dimensions, the action remains as dynamic and exciting as I remember it from the theater.
Taking over for Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo brought intelligence and restraint to Bruce Banner. He along with Whedon and the effects team have created the best version of The Hulk to hit the silver screen. The effects folks also deserve high marks because the transitions between actors and CGI creations are near seamless in their execution.
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, though hints of teal pop up. Blacks are deep and some scenes are quite dark, allowing shadows to overwhelm objects. Great details as seen on Iron Man’s armor, particularly after it gets dinged up in battle, and the same goes for Cap’s shield. The image exhibits good depth, likely helped since it was shot for 3D.
The DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio is even more impressive as it makes full use of what it has to offer and will likely be talked about at year’s end as one of the best. The viewer is immersed in effects. A helicopter passes from the rears speakers to the front. Action is placed around the soundscape When the Tesseract first comes to life so does the LFE as the speakers rumble with great intensity. Dialogue is clear, even during the scenes inside Iron Man’s helmet, which sound slightly different in the small, enclosed space. But it’s everything else that will really knock your socks off.
The extras are disappointingly light. Whedon performs the commentary by himself, offering bits of insight about making the film and self-deprecation, making it informative and entertaining. All video extras are in HD. “Marvel One-Shot: Item 47” (11 min) finds Jesse Bradford and Lizzy Caplan as a young couple who benefit from the aftermath of the Avengers NYC battle. Cute, but ultimately not worth the time. There’s the typical gag reel (4 min), which doesn’t offer much laughter, and deleted and extended scenes, which even at 15 minutes doesn’t seem long enough. There’s a different opening and closing that features Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), a scene with Cap adjusting to the year, and raw footage of a fight scene, but it left me wanting more. Two Featurettes (15 min), “A Visual Journey” and “Assembling the Ultimate Team,” briefly look into the film’s creation and its character, but neither have time to get too deep. There’s also the Soundgarden Music Video “Live to Rise” (5 min) and “The Avengers Initiative: A Marvel Second Screen Experience” for those who want additional info.
Marvel’s The Avengers is a thrilling blockbuster well served by its high definition presentation. It’s well worth owning, even with the limited extras.