We all remember the Battle Of New York, when Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow got together to fight off extra-terrestrial terrors coming through a wormhole, due to a plot by Loki. This documentary looks at what led up to that battle.
Well, okay, I’m sure you’re aware this isn’t a documentary, as we’re in a world sadly lacking in superpowered heroes (although the lack of alien terror-mongers is a bit of a plus), but as audiences proved earlier this summer, we do love to escape to a comic book world. Avengers Assemble is only the third film ever to gross more than $1.5 billion (and the first not directed by James Cameron). It’s an astonishing success, particularly as the movie made more than twice as much as any of the movies that led up to it (Iron Man 2 was the biggest previous Marvel produced movie, taking $623 million).
Now the film hits DVD & Blu-ray, but does it stand up on a smaller screen, without the bells and whistles of 3D? Quite simply, yes. Indeed, in many respects it’s an even more satisfying experience. Without having your eyes darting all over the place as they try to take in the added depth, you can appreciate the effort Whedon’s script puts into the characters and creating a fully formed world.
It’s Whedon’s world building that is perhaps the most impressive element of Avengers Assemble. He manages to bring together four very different characters from different movies, while adding in the lesser known Hawkeye and Black Widow and bring them together in a totally cohesive way, in a universe that seems absolutely complete. While a lot of filmmakers would have faltered with this, bringing Joss Whedon on-board was just about the smartest idea anyone at Marvel’s had.
Throughout his career he’s shown an amazing ability to truly understand the worlds he’s dealing with, sensing their limitations and silly elements (and often commenting on them), as well as finding clever ways to make them work. He certainly does that here, spending time at the beginning with each of the heroes so that it makes sense by the time they all come together, and the ways in which they might butt heads is already clear. While it would have been easy to sideline certain characters or take the easy way out by toning down their individuality, Avengers gives each of them a clear role in the plot, a fully-formed character and enough screen time to ensure they earn their place in the team (or as the villain, in Loki’s case).
In fact it’s the characters that make the whole thing work more than the plot. The story could have come across as pretty silly, but some smart scripting and the fun of the characters doesn’t just make it palatable, but ensures it’s ridiculously fun. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has come to Earth and means to rule over the humans, but first he needs to get the Tesseract, the power source seen in Captain America that has been fished out of the ocean. Once he has that – brainwashing Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) into his service in the process – SHIELD’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) realises that mankind is essentially at war with this new force.
He sets about resurrecting the abandoned Avengers initiative. That’s easier said than done, as Captain America (Chris Evans) is still reeling from having been frozen for decades, and Iron Man prefers going solo and is smarting from being told he wasn’t suitable for the initial Avengers plans. They also need Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo) expertise in gamma radiation to track down the Tesseract, but he’s hidden away in India trying to ensure the big green rage monster inside him doesn’t escape. As Fury and his agent, Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), try to bring these people together, they get an unexpected addition to the team when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) shows up, determined to stop his brother, Loki.
It’s certainly not a team that wants to be together, with the middle of the movie largely consisting of egos flaring and some very different personalities butting up against one another. The script is very smart, ensuring it keeps a balance between entertaining bickering, moving the plot forward and ensuring we still like everyone – oddly that includes Loki, who may power-crazed and rather evil, but is also oddly fun and entertaining. The film finds plenty of humour in all this, so that even when there isn’t any massive action going on, it’s still great fun to watch. It doesn’t hurt either that they’re all pretty easy of the eye.
And when the action does come, it’s absolutely enormous. From the opening destruction of an entire science campus, through the immensely fun three-way dick-measuring battle between Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, and on to the eruption of Hulk in a crashing helicarrier, the action sequences are spectacular. The final Battle Of New York has to be one of the best blockbuster fights there is. It’s phenomenally complicated and one of those times where you wonder how on earth the filmmakers kept track of it all to ensure it all makes sense as well as exciting the audience.
The admiration for what went into the final battle is even greater after you watch the deleted scenes. This includes an extended sequence from the battle, showing more of Hawkeye and Black Widow fighting the alien forces, but showing what it looked like before the special effects were done. It proves just how much work went into creating the lengthy battle, from planning through production to the incredibly complicated effects. And to do it all in such a cohesive way is pretty amazing.
Sadly the features package isn’t as all-encompassing as you might have hoped, but what’s included is all worth watching. As well as the scene of Black Widow and Hawkeye in battle, there are various other interesting deleted snippets, including an extended introduction for Captain America. There’s also an alternate opening and ending, which would have bookended the movie with SHIELD’s Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) giving her official thoughts on the Battle Of New York. Many of the scenes give things a more sombre tone than the finished film, and you can tell why they removed the bookends, as while the conclusion would have been a good way to end the movie, the opening is better as an idea than for setting-up the movie we actually see.
There’s also a short ‘A Visual Journey’ featurette, in which Joss Whedon and co. briefly talk about creating the look of the movie, such as finding great locations (including an enormous NASA vacuum chamber, where the early scenes involving Loki stealing the Tesseract were shot) and the look of the helicarrier. Added to this is an entertaining gag reel and another ‘Marvel One Shot’ short film. While previous shorts have helped link together the movies that ran up to The Avengers, ‘Item 47’ deals with the fallout of the film’s final battle, as two young lovers come across a piece of alien technology and decide to go bank robbing. It’s quite fun, and has the slight feeling of being a pilot for a TV series, although whether any of the characters featured actually end up in the planned SHIELD television show isn’t known.
That’s it for the general release Blu-ray, although if you head to Sainsbury’s, they’ve got an extra bonus disc with a 90-minute ‘Marvel Studios: Building a Cinematic Universe’ documentary on it. Sadly we haven’t had a chance to watch that, but it certainly sounds worthwhile.
As for picture quality, it’s as sharp as you’d hope for a brand new blockbuster movie. The clarity and sharpness is excellent, bringing out the superb colours and production design employed in the movie. The HD picture and bombastic surround sound ensure you don’t miss a moment of the action, and you’ll almost certainly notice things you didn’t in the cinema. This is both good and bad, as while it highlights some truly awesome shots, it also shows the flaws in a few of them. Mainly though it ensures it’s the best way to re-experience one of the best blockbusters in a very long while.
Whether Marvel will be able to keep up the quality in Phase 2 of their universe, Avengers Assemble has certainly been a magnificent set-up for Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and ensured audiences will be lined up around the block for The Avengers 2 when it’s released on May 1st, 2015.
Overall Verdict: Avengers Assemble more than survives its transition to the small screen. It’s undoubtedly one of the most entertaining blockbusters in recent years, perfectly balancing humour and fun, with action and excitement. This disc is a must-have in your collection.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac