The Avengers (Blu-ray)
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon (screenplay), Zak Penn and Joss Whedon (story)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner
At this point there can’t be many people left in the world who are unfamiliar with The Avengers. When the movie hit theatres back in May, there may still have been some minor concerns about this particular line-up of superheroes being second stringers in the eyes of the general public, but these concerns were soon obliterated as it went on to become the third highest grossing movie of all time. Now that it has arrived on DVD and Blu-ray, it’s not really a question of whether the movie is worth your time, it’s more a question of whether or not it holds up to repeat viewings. Is it a must own title for your home movie collection?
Rather than rehash my entire theatrical review of the film, I’ll simply state that I loved The Avengers the first time I saw it — which was somewhat surprising to me, considering that I wasn’t blown away by many of the Marvel movies leading up to it. I was impressed by how well all of the characters played off of each other and the fact that the amount of screen time and key moments assigned to each were fairly balanced. It also proved that a comic book movie doesn’t have to be dark and gritty to be worthwhile, replacing a realistic or grounded story with personality, humour and colourful action sequences instead.
That being said, upon revisiting it this time, I did find that a few minor flaws became apparent, particularly with regards to pacing. The movie is almost two and a half hours long, and it strains the limit of what a fun popcorn movie can typically support. The first hour definitely drags a bit on a rewatch, and a lot of the time spent at the helicarrier feels extraneous. Fortunately, the film’s final 40 minute action sequence is still quite spectacular and expertly executed, which definitely makes it worth the wait.
Getting to the technical details of the Blu-ray, I watched the movie in 2D and the 1.78:1 1080p presentation is incredibly crisp and clean, bringing out a lot of the vibrant colours in the costumes and the environments. However, it also draws attention to the overabundance of scenes that take place at night or in darkness, which are a bit murky at times, not so much due to the transfer but rather the original cinematography. The audio is a fantastic 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that delivers on everything you would expect from a blockbuster of this magnitude with plenty of explosions to shake the room but also some nice ambience as well.
As far as extras go, the 2-disc combo pack is not the most heavily loaded release I’ve ever seen, but it is more than adequate. The meatiest component is probably the audio commentary by Joss Whedon, which is both entertaining and interesting although it does come with a dose of Whedon’s typical self-deprecating humour as well. Since he wrote and directed the movie, he is able to cover a lot of different aspects of the film from dialogue choices and actor’s performances to special effects and cinematic influences. He has plenty to say and there aren’t really any lulls throughout the running time.
The two featurettes, “A Visual Journey” and “Assembling The Ultimate Team”, cover the production design and casting of the movie respectively. They are not particularly deep, nor are they very long, but there are a few amusing bits of interview footage with some of the actors. Speaking of amusing, the gag reel is hit and miss, but Robert Downey Jr. at least delivers a couple of decent laughs. As for the deleted and extended scenes, there is nothing that didn’t deserve to be cut from the film, but it’s interesting to see that Cobie Smulders originally had a slightly bigger role in the film. (The original opening scene with her being interrogated by S.H.I.E.L.D. is pretty terrible, however.)
The so-called “Second Screen Experience” is something I have heard about being included on a few other Blu-ray releases but this was my first time trying it out. It is an app that you can download for an iPhone or iPad (or access on a PC or Mac), that displays trivia tidbits and other interactive elements while you are watching the movie. It’s kind of an interesting idea, but I found it hard to watch both screens at once. If you ask me, it’s a poor substitute for a true picture-in-picture experience, which I would have preferred.
Last but not least, there is the Marvel One-Shot, Item 47, a short film that stars Lizzy Caplan and Jesse Bradford as a couple who stumble across a Chitauri gun after the alien attack. They decide to use it to rob a bank and end up being pursued by S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernandez). The production values were a lot higher than I expected, but overall it is still pretty forgettable, although it could serve as an indication of what to expect from Marvel’s proposed S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series.
Oh, and there is also a Soundgarden music video.
Overall, The Avengers still ranks among the top tier of superhero movies ever made and is a great example of how to cram a ton of big personalities into a single film without sacrificing anything as a result. The Blu-ray release is an easy recommendation for fans, and probably deserves to be on just about anyone’s shelf. The only real qualm here is the slightly underwhelming collection of extras, which could indicate that there is another special edition release being planned for the near future. But is that a risk you’re really willing to take? — Sean