The Avengers was 2012’s biggest hit, and is now the third highest grossing film of all time both domestically and worldwide (it’s hard to top James Cameron). And now that summer’s over, it’s fair to say it was the most entertaining blockbuster and the most entertaining superhero film of the summer. It’s also got huge problems, though they ultimately don’t matter. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlet Johansson, Jeremy Renner, and Mark Ruffalo assemble here to fight an army of aliens led by Tom Hiddleston. Joss Whedon writes and directs, and our review of the four-disc 3D Blu-ray set follows after the jump.
One of the great things about the film is that it keeps getting better, which is also to say the opening is flat out terrible. We’re introduced to the alien threat, and then it goes to a secret military base where Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) meets with Agents Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) to check on the work being done by Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard). Selvig is working on the cosmic cube, and Hawkeye (Renner) is keeping an eye on things from above. After some awkwardly dished out exposition, the cosmic cube opens up and brings Loki (Hiddleston) into the picture. Hiddleston manages to look menancing when he shows up, but he then uses his staff of power to turn some – but not all – of people there into slaves, and steals the cube. Which starts Fury on his plan to assemble his team of superheroes. But his arrival, and the chase that follows is really flat, and there’s piles and piles of exposition
Steve Rogers (Evans) is still adjusting to the modern world, but he’s in. Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is also pretty quickly convinced to sign up as well. But it takes Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) a little bit of work to convince Bruce Banner to at least meet with everyone, and she suggests she just wants him as a scientist, not as “the other guy.” Of these scenes, it’s funny how much of it is resting on our familiarity with the characters, and that may work best with Downey Jr. because the patter is a nice pick-me-up. Loki ends up going to Germany to get some Iridium, and it’s there we get our first superhero fight scene, and our first groaning metaphor. It’s Germany, he asks them to kneel. An old man makes the Nazi parallel obvious, then so does Captain America. It’s pretty cheese-dick.
And here the movie is still pretty shaky, and then Thor (Hemsworth) shows up because he has to. Thor, Iron Man and Captain America all have a bit of a throwdown, because of no good reason, but it is a fight scene and it’s been at least three or four minutes since the last one. They capture Loki and bring him on board. Loki is obviously the world’s biggest mastermind because he figured out before he was captured that Nick Fury was going to assembled all the people he has, because his plan counts on Bruce Banner being on the plane, it seems. But around this point the movie starts coming together (much like the team itself).
Loki’s staff of plot necessity then starts making everyone angry – which is weird because later it’s shown that it has no effect on Tony Stark – and Natasha knows that getting Banner angry is part of Loki’s plan, but no one says anything because we need another action sequence. Loki’s plan works, everyone gets angry, which then leads to the helicarrier being attacked by Loki’s team of zombie slaves. This leads to a death that unties the Avengers and gels them into a team, which is good because they’ve got to protect New York against an alien invasion.
The reason why The Avengers works at all is because it’s most build up to the third act, or – to be fair – the last twenty minutes or so (which is actually about fifteen minutes of action), but that build up pays off because so few action movies hit their stride at the end. Think about it: Name a modern action movie that doesn’t peak in the middle. That’s partly because – for the most part – that’s the only time in the movie when the hero can fail. Think about Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, or even the best superhero movies previous. The ending fights are usually less interesting that the battles that came before. Even the best previous Marvel-made movies like Iron Man or Captain America taper off toward the end. Even The Dark Knight, even Spider-Man 2 start to sag. The fact that this film gets awesome as it’s concluding means that the film ends on a high unlike most other big action movies of late.
But what that also means is that you have to sit through a lot of set up which would be more interesting if Whedon was a better visual filmmaker. Much of the film before the end is perfunctory, and Whedon shoots most things like television coverage until the end sequence (which was probably all pre-viz’d because of the effects involved). But the film gets steadily better as it goes along, even if the plot is built on the shakiest of foundations. That’s not an insult, the film works and works well, and perhaps wouldn’t work if it was firing on all cylinders before that conclusion. But for a movie following a number of origin films, there’s a little disappointment in this film also being an origin tale. And much like J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, it’s about getting things in place, but saving that “in place” until the film’s final moments. That’s all well and good, but let’s hope the sequel hits the ground running now that the pieces are in place.
Disney’s Blu-ray four disc set presents the film in 3D, regular Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital copy, and also comes with a downloadable version of the soundtrack. The film is presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and in 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The 3D in the film was weak, and the film is dark, so I found the 2D version preferable. The transfer is otherwise excellent, and the soundtrack is deliciously bass-heavy. The film comes with a second screen app (that was not online for review), and a commentary by Joss Whedon, who is good at the format, and often makes fun of himself. Also included is the short film ‘Item 47’ (11 min.) which has Lizzy Caplan, Jesse Bradford and Titus Welliver dealing with a stolen alien technology. It’s silly. There’s a gag reel (4 min.), and eight deleted and extended scenes (15 min.). There’s an alternate opening and closing which are terrible, but there’s also a great scene with Steve Rogers that should have been in the movie. There are two featurettes: “A Visual Journey” (6 min.) and “Assembling the Ultimate Team” (8min.) which are super fluffy. The disc closes out with a Soundgarden music video.