Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobbie Smulders, Gwyneth Paltrow
Marvel’s The Avengers is easily the most important theatrical film of 2012. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best film of the year, just the most important. The reason it’s so important is that it has executed something that has never before been executed in theatrical film; five separate films have converged into one Universe with crossing characters and culminated in one epic film featuring the main cast and a connected story from all of the films. This extremely complex type of storytelling has never been attempted in film, not even close. It happens all the time in comic books though. It was a pretty daring play on Marvel’s part to try and create a single universe for all of these characters and their individual films to exist in. The resulting movies have made millions, probably billions at this point considering The Avengers alone has made a billion dollars.
The only way this film works, and any of the Marvel films for that fact, is if it exists as a completely individual film that can be enjoyed on its own but is enhanced if you’ve seen all of the other films. Direct sequels don’t count. To completely enjoy Iron Man 2 you need to have seen Iron Man 1. There’s nothing new about that in the world of filmmaking. What I’m talking about is that you can enjoy The Avengers having not seen Iron Man or Thor but if you’ve seen them the experience is even more entertaining. On that mark, Marvel and its super talented team of creative has hit the nail on the head. The avengers is exciting, hilarious, and full of great character moments both big and small that can be truly appreciated having seen none of the other Marvel films. However, if you’ve seen the other films all of the subtle moments and in jokes are so much more effective.
The overarching story of the Avengers began mostly during Iron Man and was hinted to in Hulk. Nick Fury wanted to create a team of heroes to fight the fights humans can’t win. As all of these heroes deal with their own lives and fight their individual fights Fury is in the shadows pulling the strings and pushing these people together. The battle in the Avengers began in Thor where Loki, brother to Thor made his descent into villainy. His ultimate weapon however, made its appearance many years earlier in Captain America’s WWII story arc. All of these pieces could have come together to make a perfect puzzle or a disaster. Luckily Marvel Entertainment has taken this work very seriously and has managed to attract filmmakers to these projects that truly have passion for the characters and also took the projects seriously.
The Avengers not only had to show a culmination of all of these five films but it also had to give importance to each member of this fairly huge ensemble cast. Everyone needed something to do. Joss Whedon was the perfect man for the job. Few creators working in Hollywood have his level of understanding of the comic book universes and even fewer can handle ensemble casts of this size and make every character relevant. Whedon has shown he can do this sort of work with television projects like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Both of these shows had huge ensemble casts that he was able to give balance too and to make each of them matter. The biggest concern I had wasn’t with the writing of the story or the tone or character, it was the handling of the action. Whedon has never worked with action on this scale before with this size budget. After the credits rolled I felt stupid for worrying though. Whedon was able to brilliantly craft the action to make the heroes work together as a team, have those iconic comic book panel shots, and even have moments of levity. One thing that really stood out for me is that Whedon made me appreciate the Hulk. That particular character has never interested me, even as a kid reading comics. Mark Ruffalo brings a quirky oddness to Bruce Banner and Whedon actually makes the Hulk monstrous and truly scary in one particular scene.
After seeing the film in the theater a few times I would have given the film a 10, no problem. Now I’ve seen it another few times on Blu-ray and finally I can see the issues with the film coming through. It’s a long movie, which should be understood considering just how many characters had to be assembled to make the team. Fortunately Whedon and his editing team are able to keep the pace clipping along so the film doesn’t seem bloated even if it is a little. Also, from a strict filmmaking perspective there are some fantastic camera angles and shots and then there are some long instances of hard cuts between flat shots of talking heads delivering tons of exposition, minor quibble. Also, Loki allows himself to be captured in order to simply use his scepter to set off the Hulk. It’s really never clear why he wants to do that. One assumes it’s to get the Avengers fighting each other. Later in a conversation between Loki and Tony Stark it appears that Loki is shocked that the Hulk is around. He thinks the beast would have “wondered off”. This bothered me a little when I first saw the film in the theater and after subsequent views it still stands out as an issue. Also, Loki is a fantastic villain and he seems to be able to stand against the Avengers only through his planning and cunning, and that’s perfect but his army seems soulless and has no personality or investment in the goings on.
On the plus side the characterizations are all spot on and highly entertaining. There’s great balance of tone between the epicness of the coming battle and Loki’s darkness and Tony Stark’s humor and even some great humor from the Hulk. Whedon actually apologizes for some one liner setups for gags in his commentary but he says he couldn’t resist it because it would just be too funny and he’s right. The Black widow was a really failed character in Iron Man 2 other than the way she looked in the suit but Whedon not only rescues her but he makes her one of the most emotionally complex characters in the film. The twist conversation between her and Loki is easily one of the best scenes in the film both acted and shot. Bruce Banner’s little reveal in the final act of the film is also a brilliant touch.
There are still other little quibbles and nitpicks that could be made of Marvel’s The Avengers but the movie is just so entertaining and it so well encompasses the universe designed by the films that came before it that most of those complaints just don’t matter. This truly a groundbreaking moment in the world of filmmaking and I couldn’t be happier that it is set in a comic book universe and I couldn’t be happier about the movie that came from all of this work. Summer blockbuster fans, comic books fans, science fiction fans, and anyone that enjoys a good movie should see this one.
The 1080p video presentation of this film is for the most part gorgeous. Detail levels are extremely high, even in darker scenes. The downside to that level of consistent clean HD detail is that a few of the CG fx look a little cartoony here and there. Colors are vibrant and skin tones look spot on though. There’s a lot of color and texture to take in here and it all comes through crisp and clean. There’s just a little edginess around some of the fx to which may play into the cartoony look. Overall though, a great presentation.
The surround usage here makes the movie feel enormous. The score is a little generic but there are individual pieces dedicated to some of the characters which helps give the music a better body. It fills the soundstage during bigger scenes. Action scenes also fill the soundstage with whizzing lasers and shrapnel. By the end of the film you feel like you’re in the middle of New York City. Through it all the dialogue is crisp and clean and easy to hear. In fact there’s one comment by the Hulk that I was never able to make out in the theater that is clear on the Blu-ray.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The version we were sent for review is a 2 disc release in a slim amaray case. The art features the ensemble but it feels a little flat. There’s a standard DVD and a Blu-ray, no 3-D version, no digital copy. The Avengers was shot in 2-D but was blocked and planned for a 3-D conversion so it seems appropriate to have a 3_D version.
As far as supplements go the best one is the feature audio commentary with director Joss Whedon. It seems like a lot of pressure to sit down solo and chat about your film but Whedon handles it fantastically with very few silences. He’s both funny and informative. He shares different perspectives on crafting the story, discusses editing decisions, apologizes for things he deems to be mistakes and shares little behind the scenes stories. Sadly he stops the commentary the minute the credits roll with no discussion of the two post credit sequences. Seems like there should have been some discussion of these add-ons.
There are a few deleted scenes which are awesome to see and some previews for other Marvel films. Most of the deleted scenes needed to be cut for time but at least we still get to see them.
There’s a selection of short featurettes with the cast and crew discussing the film. They are all really brief and feel like marketing videos more than actual documentaries. Honestly they felt very cookie cutter and not extremely interesting. The little information you do get from them comes direct from Whedon in his commentary in a much more entertaining way. It feels like Marvel and Disney are purposefully holding back better bonus materials for a second release, perhaps the now delayed briefcase edition?
Marvel’s The Avengers is unequivocally the best super hero film of 2012 and perhaps the best one every made. Some fans will argue that The Dark Knight Rises is better but that’s just not true. The Avengers aims for a very specific target and it hits that target dead center where The Dark Knight Rises misses its own mark by a wide margin. We really can’t even discuss The Amazing Spider-man in this article; it just doesn’t exist on this level of filmmaking. This movie is just ridiculously entertaining in every way with great characters, exciting action, and classic Whedon humor. The film actually deserves a better Blu-ray release than this.
Overall (Not an Average) 7.5 /10
The Movie 9.5/10
The Video 8.5/10
The Audio 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 5.5/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7.5/10