Since 2008, comic book fans have been gearing up for a major movie event. Marvel Comics had imagined the concept of uniting major Marvel superheroes into one gigantic film based on the comic book series The Avengers. To do so, they released multiple films that paved the way for this to happen, sprinkling setups for this movie all throughout multiple superhero movies. Iron Man was the first of these, followed by The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and finally, Captain America: The First Avenger. The pay-off? 2012's The Avengers. It's such a daunting concept that its execution may seem a bit dodgy; all of these major heroes--and more--must share screen time with each other and somehow have a unique story involved as well?
Director Joss Whedon (TV's short-lived Firefly and the follow-up film Serenity) enters into the Marvel director's chair with the overwhelming task of making all of this somehow work cohesively as one. Whedon also pitches in some writing efforts on the script, however, and the end result is more triumph than anything. The dream for any comic book fan to see all of these major superheroes on the screen together and interacting with each other in one massive movie is realized in this one major motion picture. It's pure entertainment and Whedon delivers in more ways than one could expect.
Humor was a huge part of both Iron Man films due to the wonderful performance from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. For The Avengers, Stark is the catalyst for much of the humor once again, but Whedon often uses it to shock and surprise the audience in extraordinary ways... especially when the humor is coming from a character like Hulk instead. But The Avengers spends a satisfying amount of time in rounding up the individual heroes and then even pitting a few against each other briefly. It's these moments that will tickle the comic book hero fan's fancy, and when we see the team finally working together, it's just glorious. Whether it's Captain America ordering Hulk to "Smash," Cap deflecting Iron Man's beam with his shield to take out nearby aliens, or Hulk getting more than just a couple moments to truly shine, it's pure superhero bliss.
The villain for this outing is Loki, who sort of dropped into oblivion at the end of Thor. He's after the Tesseract, a "Cosmic Cube" containing incredible energy which had been found and stolen by Red Skull in Captain America. He zombifies a few of the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew and lets them aid him in doing his bidding as he attempts to bring an alien race called the Chitauri to earth to help him rule. But Nick Fury, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., isn't about to stand by and watch this happen, so he rounds up the troops and assembles The Avengers for their first major assignment - to stop Loki and reclaim the Tesseract. Loki, played wonderfully once again by Tom Hiddleston, is a formidable foe. Thor had defeated him in Thor and Loki is back for revenge. The Chitauri are brand new to the film series canon, and while they aren't given much development other than as being a mysterious brutal menace that aims to take over New York City (and then the world), they bring a sense of freshness to the story. Also, Jeremy Renner's role as Hawkeye gets significantly beefed up from the few minutes he appeared in Thor, and he does well to aid the superheroes in their mission. Finally, Hulk was once again re-cast for this movie. Having been played by Eric Bana in the 2003 film and Edward Norton in the 2008 film, this is Mark Ruffalo's first turn as the big green guy. At first, he seemed a little out of place, especially since his approach felt so different than Bana's or Norton's, but Ruffalo actually is fantastic as Banner. They also injected some of Ruffalo's likeness into Hulk and it works wonderfully on screen.
While The Avengers is a near-perfect superhero movie, being more fun at the cinema than most movies these days, it isn't without a few minor flaws. For one, there's a lack of clarity over some of the behaviors of some of the characters. Most noticeably, it's the fact that Hulk goes on a rampage when we first see him, but when we see him again, he's officially a team player, working well with the other Avengers. There is some speculation as to why this is, but ultimately, it's left a bit fuzzier than it could have been. Although a minor issue, viewers won't get the full enjoyment out of The Avengers if they haven't seen the other, individual Marvel films for these characters. It's not completely necessary to see those beforehand, but there are frequent references to events in those films, and they provide backstory that isn't touched upon in this movie that fleshes out these characters beyond what can be squeezed into a 2 and a half hour ensemble film. It seems potentially most problematic when they dismiss a more minor character who had bigger roles in Thor and Iron Man 2 and make a big deal out of their dismissal here. If you haven't previously been exposed to their story, you probably won't care as much as the characters in this movie seem to. Lastly, the film opens a little oddly. It's another reason you really need to see the previous films to really appreciate what's happening here and who the people involved are. Since the story of Avengers isn't really told specifically through any one character's perspective, it doesn't really start to get off the ground until we begin seeing the main superheroes emerge. Once Iron Man appears, for example, it's a bit surreal outside of the context of his own film, but you're reminded just how special this kind of film really is. Regardless, these are about as minor of quibbles as you can get and they certainly didn't detract from the enjoyment of the movie.
When it comes to content, you could tell Whedon and Marvel were trying to keep it a bit more family friendly than usual, but the action violence is very intense in this film--especially when the aliens begin infiltrating New York. The devastation is about on par with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but perhaps just a little less dark and gruesome in execution. We had a lot of little kids in our theater when we saw The Avengers, and it's just not an appropriate film for the younger audiences. There is also just a little bit of profanity included, the worst probably being a use of "S.O.B," but for the most part, it's much tamer a venture than either of the Iron Man films were. The same goes for the sexual content (which is kept to just some flirting between Pepper and Tony), with some brief shots of Banner sitting nude in a pile or rubble with his legs and the camera position blocking anything explicit. On the other hand, there's a hint of spirituality brought to the film that ought to bring a smile to some believers' faces. When someone warns Captain America about Loki and Thor being gods, Cap responds, "Well, there's only one God and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that!" Later, Stark recalls the story of Jonah before taking down a large alien beast from within. They may be small, minor references, but in a time where it's popular to exalt otherworldly characters or pure godlessness, it's endearing to have Hollywood heroes acknowledge real life truths.
All in all, The Avengers is the unification of some of the most fun superheroes to grace the big screen in some time. While The Dark Knight is often regarded as the best superhero movie of all time, The Avengers comes alongside it with an entirely different tone and approach that puts it in the running for that top spot. It's ridiculously fun and also one of the funniest films to come around in a long time (funnier than most "comedies" too). Whedon and company have done a stellar job in bringing The Avengers together and it's undoubtedly one of the biggest movies of the year. Many filmmakers could take notes from how Marvel and Whedon assembled The Avengers to continue making great cinema that's just plain, pure fun, with some good old fashioned heart thrown in. Here's hoping Marvel continues to make great superhero films like The Avengers. (Oh! And be sure to stay for the little tidbit at the end of the credits. It's not important, but it's good, silly fun. There's also a short additional scene mid-way through the credits that reveals a future film's villain.)
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 5/5/12)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The biggest movie of 2012 releases to home video in just about every possible viewing format. The bargain buy, however, is the massive 3D Blu-Ray/2D Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy/Digital Soundtrack combo pack. The soundtrack included is, unfortunately, not Alan Silvestri's film score, but is instead the various artists compilation that was assembled for the film. The movie looks fantastic in HD and is just perfect for Blu-Ray disc. Seeing it on Blu-Ray was my third viewing of the film in total (including twice in the theaters), and I found it to be just as enjoyable the third time around. Overall, it's an excellent pay-off seeing all of the recent Marvel film characters unite here and it's a movie that gets better as it chugs along and the momentum builds. By the time it ends, we're definitely left wanting more (And with Iron Man 3 releasing in May, Thor 2 releasing at the end of next year and Captain America: The Winter Soldier releasing in 2014, we won't have to wait too long for more adventures from these guys!).
You might expect a huge movie like this to have hours and hours of extras on the home entertainment release, but sadly, the extras for The Avengers are a little slim. What is included here, however, is still quite good.
Marvel One Shot: Item 47 (11:20) - First off, we get a brand new Marvel One Shot, and this time it's over ten minutes long. The acting is a bit dodgy, even though the respectable Lizzy Caplan (Cloverfield) is in the lead here, and Jesse Bradford of new TV show Guys With Kids is her co-star. This story takes place after the events in The Avengers and the two have found one of the Chitauri's guns left over from the battle. They decide to use it to rob a bank but are apprehended by S.H.I.E.L.D. who are trying to stop the powerful weapons from ending up in civilian hands. It's entertaining, but one of the more mediocre and goofy One Shot's. Also, I have to say, Agent Coulson is sorely missed here (even though The Man In Black from LOST is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. here!). (2 "h*ll")
Gag Reel (4:05) - The gag reel is mostly just the cast goofing off on set, with some of the usual bleeped out cursing. Arguably, though, the best bits here are from Ruffalo -- especially the last gag!
Deleted / Extended Scenes (14:59) - There are eight deleted or extended scenes that add up to fifteen minutes of footage here. First, we have an alternate opening of the movie that features Agent Hill being interrogated by the council after the events of the film, making The Avengers entirely a flashback! The second scene is additional dialog between Loki and the zombified HawkEye. The next scene, arguably, should have been left in the movie. Just by watching it, I can understand it was probably clipped out for pacing, but it's a must-see included here. It begins with old news reel footage of Captain America from his original time period in the war. We then see that Steve Rogers is watching this on a laptop. He stops it and examines some dossiers on his desk of Peggy and Bucky. He also learns here that Peggy is still alive somewhere, despite in her old age now. We then see him walking the streets alone and sitting at a cafe all alone where he meets the "waitress" character for the first time--whom he rescues at the end of the film. This was her introduction which makes her highlighted appearance later actually make sense. It's also in this cafe where we see a more substantial Stan Lee cameo. The fourth scene is Nick Fury being chewed out by the S.H.I.E.L.D. council. Next is a pretty extended Hawk and Black Widow fight with the Chitauri from the battle in the climax of the movie. However, there are NO finished effects here (You'd think, considering how much money the film generated, that they could have at least finished the effects here?). As such, all of the Chitauri are shown as guys in motion capture pajamas with huge green screens behind the cast. The sixth scene shows Agent Hill and Nick Fury talking about his previous encounter with the council. After that, we see a cut scene of Bruce Banner talking to the security guard who found him after he had changed back from Hulk. The guard spews some wisdom to inspire Banner, and it's a neat sequence, but it doesn't sound natural for the guard to say what he says to Banner. I see why they cut it out. Lastly, there's an alternate ending where Agent Hill concludes her interview from the council by saying Fury's enlisting of the Avengers was "a mistake that saved the world." The alternate beginning and ending weren't very good, and I think it's wise they were cut. Still, it's neat to see the possible alternate approach realized here.
Featurettes (14:37) - Brace yourself; the number three box office success of all-time (domestic and worldwide), Marvel's The Avengers, gets TWO featurettes here (even the 2008 Iron Man disc had tons of extras about the character, comics, as well as the movie). Don't get me wrong, these are really great featurettes, but the fact that there are only two and they collectively don't even cross the 15-minute mark, it just seems stingy. I've seen box office bombs get making-of documentaries that are over an hour. "A Visual Journey" talks briefly about the look of the movie, filming in real locations like NASA and the helicarrier take-off (which was filmed on a land-locked runway!). They also briefly cover the helicarrier's bridge design here. The real fun featurette, though, is "Assembling the Ultimate Team." This one focuses on each character and the actor that plays them, with the other actors talking about each other (along with the director, Joss Whedon). The fast-paced nature of these featurettes, coupled with the enthusiasm that's brimming from everyone interviewed, is actually pretty exhilarating for a film fan.
Personnel Files - On the main menu, if you click on the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo, you get a screen with multiple personnel files for the main Avengers gang: Captain America, Iron Man, Nick Fury, Black Widow, HawkEye, Thor and Hulk. However, you have to download and use the Second Screen app to exclusively access Nick Fury's file. These aren't super exciting, but fans may want to check them out.
Aside from a feature-length commentary and Soundgarden's music video for "Live To Rise" (I didn't even know they were still a band?), the last extra on the disc is Sneak Peeks (1:48), which is literally just a 2-minute commercial for all the individual Avengers characters' movies.
For bonus content, it's a bit disappointing, but what is included here is still pretty quality. Perhaps a re-release in the future will include more extras, but heaven knows that's frustrating for any fan anxious for more material but has no interest in double-dipping. Still, The Avengers is a great high-def release and one of the most fun movies you may see this year.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 10/27/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Pepper and Tony flirt a bit (and we see her in short shorts) and she whispers something presumably sexual into his ear (we see his excited reaction) before walking away; We see Banner sitting nude in a pile of debris, with his legs blocking anything explicit.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 "S.O.B," 2 "a" words, 6 "h*ll," 4 "d*mn," 2 "Oh my G-d," 2 "p*ss," 1 "b*stard"
Alcohol/Drugs: Pepper and Tony share champagne; Tony pours himself a drink and offers one to Loki who turns it down (but asks about it later).
Blood/Gore: Hill has some blood under her nose; Thor has a little blood under his nose; A blade impales a man in the chest and we see it sticking through with blood on it. We then see the blade with blood all over it. They also have some blood on their mouth; Black Widow has some blood on her forehead; A small dagger pulled out of a man's side has a little blood on it; Cap has a bloody cut on his shoulder through his costume. Later we briefly see some blood on a wound on his abdomen (on his uniform, it's not graphic); Loki has some bloody cuts on his face; Hill has more bloody cuts on the side of her face and head; Hulk has a little green blood on his lip; We see some purple blood from various aliens as they're killed; Miscellaneous innocent bystanders have some scrapes on them.
Violence: LOTS of comic book and sci-fi violence... Loki fights a group of SHIELD agents with several men being disintegrated or stabbed/shot and killed; Black Widow is strapped to a chair and being interrogated, but she ends up fighting and overcoming her captors in a brutal fight between her and three men; Loki takes a sharp device and attaches it to a man's face as a retinal scanner (it looks like it might be gruesome and the man screams in pain, but they don't focus on exactly what happens to the victim); Iron Man and Thor fight briefly; A team attacks a ship with some explosions and gunfire, etc. Hulk chases Black Widow and Iron Man is caught in a propeller briefly, while Cap battles some soldiers and they exchange gunfire. Thor tries to break out of a cylindrical prison and Loki runs a man through with the blade of his staff. The man shoots Loki with a powerful weapon, throwing him out of the room. Thor's prison them plummets to the earth, but he escapes at the last second; Hulk attacks a jet and tears it apart; A man throws another man out a window and he plummets nearly to his death before getting saved at the last second; Loki stabs Thor; Hulk tosses a man around like a rag doll; Hawkeye shoots various aliens with his arrows, killing them; Hulk smashes many aliens and punches a worm-like alien in the face causing it to overturn; There's an overwhelming amount of destruction caused to the city of New York through the entire battle, and we see news footage about memorials being made to civilians lost in the mayhem; We see buildings smashed up and people running for their lives as the Avengers fight the aliens; Loki stabs Thor in the abdomen with a small blade; SPOILERS: There's threat of a nuke missile coming to Manhattan to level the attacking aliens when one of the superheroes takes the missile through the portal and allows it to detonate on the approaching alien ship in space; and much more action related sci-fi violence.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.