I was 13 when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes made their fall 1963 debut in a Marvel comic—a group that originally featured Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, and Thor as they banded together to fight The Hulk. Maybe Disney-Marvel will find a way to introduce the insect heroes in a sequel, but, for now, the amalgam of franchise superheroes they’ve assembled seems to be doing just fine. I mean, who else are you going to call when a Norse god and aliens threaten to destroy Earth, and The Hulk is a time-bomb that could play right into the hands of the villainous Loki?
Critics and audiences agreed that “Marvel’s The Avengers” put the “pop” in popcorn movies last summer. That it turned out as well as it did is amazing, actually, if you consider that it’s directed by Joss Whedon, a guy who had only worked on one other full-length feature before (“Serenity,” 2005). But Whedon gets it. “They’re a mash-up; they’re insane,” he told GQ. “But the beauty of that is as exciting as the problem of that is daunting.”
What excited him most, he told Collider, was the prospect of working with Tom Hiddleston. “Because Loki was the grand sort of beginning of The Avengers back in the day and so to have him, to watch the beautiful performance he gave in ‘Thor’ and then to know, ‘Now I get to take him to some serious-ass evil and build him up.’ That was really exciting.”
That’s no easy task, if you think about it. I mean, Loki is going up against his more virtuous brother, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who not only was chosen by Odin to succeed him as ruler of the god-kingdom Asgard, but who also starred in his own well-received film (“Thor,” 2011). And it’s not just Thor. He’s facing off against a cocky Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) who starred in two films (“Iron Man,” 2008; “Iron Man 2,” 2010); an anachronistic Captain America (Chris Evans) who had his own film (“Captain America: The First Avenger,” 2011) and who’s been unfrozen and brought onto the superteam by super S.H.I.E.L.D. recruiter Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson); and some peripheral players who haven’t gotten their own movies yet—like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
It is a mash-up of superhero films, but Whedon does a nice job of moving the plot forward while giving the individual heroes a chance to jump into the ring and do their thing, one, and sometimes two at a time. Call it tag-team filmmaking.
I’m probably in the minority in that I always preferred single-character comics (and films), because it allowed for greater depth and character development through backstories and introspective moments. That’s not possible with a film that’s juggling so many stars, but Whedon and his writers manage nicely by focusing instead on the developing relationships between these heroes who’ve been assembled into a not-yet-cohesive force. In other words, before they can defeat Evil, they have to learn how to play nice together . . . and how to accept each other. It’s that side plot, if you will, that adds some texture to what’s otherwise a series of battles and explosions.
If anyone’s marginalized it’s Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, from the “Iron Man” movies. Other non-heroes—like S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders)—are better integrated into the story.
At 143 minutes, “Marvel’s The Avengers” (which could have been called “Disney’s Marvel’s The Avengers,” as it’s the first film distributed by Disney since they acquired Marvel) should feel long, but it doesn’t. For that, credit something visual going on at all times, whether it’s elaborate set designs or impressive CGI action and special effects.
Get ready for shrapnel, arrows, tumbling vehicles, skyscraper debris, smoke, and all sorts of objects to break the plane of your television screen and look as if they’re coming into your living space. Anyone who’s ever watched a 3D movie at a Disney theme park knows that they do 3D well, and that’s certainly the case here. There’s a nice level of depth and detail throughout the film, but what’s more important is that these plane-breakers are done well enough so that they’re not deal-breakers. 3D and Marvel fans won’t be disappointed. “The Avengers” is an intentionally dark film, though, and there are times when you’ll wish for more backlighting. Other than that, and some slight ghosting of fast-moving objects (common to 3D), everything is impressive, with dark black levels and a nice level of detail even in those dark scenes. “The Avengers” comes to 50GB 3D Blu-ray disc via an MVC/MPEG-4 transfer and is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
The Blu-ray of “The Avengers” is also impressive—the beneficiary of the film being envisioned for 3D because of a constant depth of field that suggests 3-dimensionality. Nothing ever breaks the plane, of course, or floats the way objects do in 3D, but that depth is nicely conveyed through a pristine AVC/MPEG-4 transfer.
I recently rigged my TV room for 7.1 Surround and was eager to pop in “The Avengers” to take it for a test drive. All of the speakers are active, though not artificially so. There’s a logic at work in the sound mixing, so that the separation makes sense. Cars hurtling toward you, for example, sound as if they’re rumbling over you and gradually fading in the distance as they continue to tumble. Side to side sound movement is also strong, and the subwoofer will be active whether you have an “active” subwoofer or not. There’s plenty of rumble as the superheroes “rumble.” What’s more, the sound is remarkably clear and full-toned. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 really does the trick. Additional audio options are a French DTS-HD HR 7.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. The Blu-ray also features a 7.1 audio track.
This is the four-disc combo pack with the DVD and Digital copy stacked on top of each other on an oversized spindle on the left inside cover of a standard-size Blu-ray box, while the 3D and Blu-ray versions of the film are stacked on a spindle on the right.
But 3D isn’t mainstream, so if you want to watch bonus features you have to pop in the standard Blu-ray. There you’ll find a commentary by Whedon who talks at length about the film in 3D and probably wish that the commentary was attached to the 3D version so you could actually see what he’s talking about.
“The Avengers Initiative: A Marvel Second Screen Experience” gives fans the chance to access the “S.H.I.E.L.D database” on their laptop, iPhone, or iPad to access comic book history and trivia.
But after the commentary and the handheld gadget diversion there really isn’t much in the way of bonus features. A gag reel runs under five minutes, a music video (“Live to Rise,” by Soundgarden) isn’t even in 7.1, eight deleted scenes total only 15 minutes (but at least include alternate beginnings and endings), a direct-to-video short titled “Item 47” runs 11 minutes and revolves around a found piece of alien equipment, and there are 14 minutes of featurettes that mostly track how the cast was assembled and what each of the stars brought to the table.
Don’t look for any message or relevance. “Marvel’s The Avengers” is a visual comic book and it doesn’t aspire to be anything more than that. As a film version it succeeds—one is tempted to say—MIGHTILY.