By Chaz Lipp

I’m not sure there’s anything left to say about the year’s biggest movie to date, Joss Whedon’s summer phenomenon The Avengers. I loved every minute of it, saw it multiple times in theaters, and snatched up the Blu-ray as soon as it was available. With each passing year, I get more and more jaded when it comes to summer blockbusters. They so frequently fail to deliver the goods, little reason is left to expect much excitement or (dare I say) wonderment.

But since the 2008 release of Iron Man, Marvel has gone a long ways towards restoring the giddiness that used to be par for the course during summer. I liked everything they released in the run-up to the comic book movie mega-mash-up that was The Avengers. That first blast of Iron Manawesomeness gave way to the flawed, but still relatively solid, The Incredible Hulk (great first half, but the climatic Hulk/Abomination throwdown was uninspired—plus the Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) cameo at the end should’ve come after the end credits, minor gripe but it’s always bugged me). Iron Man 2 was, in a way, the weakest film in the Avengers cycle. Nothing against Don Cheadle, but I wanted Terrence Howard back as Rhody. And really, when you think about, Tony is inactive for most of the movie. But it was cool seeing more of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the introduction of Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson).
The 2011 one-two punch of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger only increased my faith that Marvel could actually pull off their unprecedented team-up. Especially Captain America, which for me is second only to the first Iron Man in the Avengerscycle thus far. Director Joe Johnston did everything right with that one. The only reason I can think of that it didn’t perform better (both with critics and at the box office) was comic book overload in the summer of ’11. Thor had already done solid business, X-Men: First Class had underperformed (despite it being the best X-Men movie yet), and the DC Comics property Green Lantern deservedly fell flat on its face. All of this contributed to the relatively blasé reaction that greeted the emotionally involving Captain America (though as with Hulk, I so wish they had placed the coda—where Cap (Chris Evans) wakes up—after the credits where it belonged, rather than tacking on an Avengers teaser trailer).

If The Avengershas a weakness, it’s that it didn’t get roped in on the level of the earlier films in the cycle. Then again, I don’t think it was trying to. Sure, the fate of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) had the desired impact. But overall, I don’t think Whedon was aiming for the same effect as Yinsen (Shaun Toub) passing in Iron Man, Odin’s forgiveness of his son’s follies in Thor, or the final act of heroism in Captain America. Instead, Whedon was intent on having as much fun pairing up these different heroes as possible. Seeing Thor (Chris Hemsworth) battle Iron Man, then later Hulk versus Thor, perhaps didn’t advance the plot was it was a blast to watch. Pitting “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” against each other, at least initially, was possibly the best decision the filmmakers made. And Mark Ruffalo made a great Bruce Banner.

Actually, it’s a minor miracle that Whedon managed to juggle all these characters, giving each his or her key, defining moments. Watching the film again on Blu-ray, I was reminded how much I would like to see a Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)/Black Widow prequel. They’re backstories, both separate and together, are subtly hinted at throughout. I also love Tom Hiddleston as Loki. What a great choice it was to make the main villain insecure, petulant, and ultimately human (even if he is a demigod or whatever). Actually, if anything is a flaw in The Avengers, it’s the somewhat conventional Chitauri-versus-heroes climatic showdown in New York City. Too many comic book movies end with this type of battle, but Whedon’s sure handed direction (and consistently winning humor) kept it many cuts above the likes of Michael Bay and the Transformers series, which many naysayers compared it to.

I saw several complaints about the 1080p Blu-ray visual presentation of The Avengers being excessively dark. I didn’t feel this was a problem, quite honestly. To my eyes, the picture was absolutely stunning. I’m not saying there weren’t dark scenes, especially early on. But whatever effect the low lighting had on the visuals, it appeared totally by design as far as I could tell. Clarity is fairly stunning throughout and the colors are rich and vivid. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is demo-worthy, even when limited to a 5.1 system. Directionality is nothing short of astounding, while the subwoofer is thoroughly exercised with all the LFE activity. No lines of dialogue are lost amidst the sonic fireworks. A completely satisfying audio/visual experience is delivered by this Blu-ray.

As for extras, I’m not sure if there are any of those Target exclusives available out there but if you see one, grab it. First of all, I was seriously impressed that the bonus disc included with Blu-ray sets is, in fact, a Blu-ray. I assumed that the same bonus DVD would be packaged with Blu-ray and standard DVD sets. The 98-minute documentary is largely comprised of rehashed stuff we’ve seen in the features for each of the five previous films. That said, it’s not all recycled. In fact, I found this to be a totally fun way to “prepare” for watching The Avengers on Blu-ray. The bonus disc is divided up into shorter features, one for each of the six films, but conveniently there is a “play all” function.

As for the standard extras, there is surprisingly little considering what a hugely popular film this is. The crown jewel would have to be Joss Whedon’s funny, informative commentary track. I can’t comment about the “Second Screen Experience” feature, because I’ve not accessed it. I hope I’m not missing out on anything cool. The Marvel One Shot short film, Item 47, is nothing special. In fact, I could’ve certainly done without it but if you dig it, that’s cool. More interesting to me are the 15 minutes of deleted scenes, especially the alternate opening and ending that would’ve framed the entire story differently. It puts more prominence on Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill. There’s also a couple short, non-Earth-shattering featurettes, a disappointing gag reel, and a Soundgarden music video.
I’m guessing we’ll get more features with next year’s “briefcase” box set (delayed from its originally planned September release). While the special features may be a little underwhelming when all is said and done (less so if you snag the Target bonus), the audio/visual specs of The Avengers on Blu-ray are so good they lessen the inevitable disappointment of watching the film at home on a smaller screen, without the energy of a large, enthusiastic audience and cinema-sized presentation.
Chaz Lipp

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