Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Avengers Reassembled & Item 47 Blu-ray/DVD Review

Watching The Avengers at home was a genuine litmus test for me, as this would be the third time I had seen the film, and given my gushing review following a midnight screening some months back, an opportunity to reassess.

The Avengers Blu-ray Marvel Studios Joss Whedon

This remains an entertaining and enjoyable film, but my immediate impression is that the sense of scale and spectacle that swept up audiences in the final third of the theatrical release loses a lot of its potency outside of the cinema. The destruction of New York is still uncomfortably reminiscent of televised scenes from the aftermath of 9/11, which packs an emotional wallop because here we have superheroes fighting on behalf of the ordinary citizens frozen in fear as the invaders smash through buildings, but on the smaller screen the balance is thrown off slightly. Instead the impression is that while thousands of lives are being lost, we are being directed to pay attention to the gaudily dressed superheroes pulling off various entertaining stunts and making quips in the heat of battle. 

When Peter Jackson had Orlando Bloom's elf archer (name-checked in The Avengers funnily enough) do something similar - improvising with an arrow to stab an opponent, or singlehandedly taking on an elephantine monster's crew - the comedy and action played out entertainingly because the stakes were not as high as in The Avengers. These events were taking place on a battlefield, or in a deep mine. When Captain America and Iron Man execute a move familiar to fans of the Marvel Ultimate Alliance video game, it's a crowd-pleaser - but if you take a moment to consider what you are watching, is there a concern that innocent lives are being slaughtered during all this showboating?

The Avengers alternate opening 9/11

Of course the script is clever enough to have Captain America recognize that the Avengers themselves are a useful distraction, keeping the aliens attention on them and not the terrified New Yorkers. 

What is fascinating about the blu-ray is the reveal of the deleted scenes that would have acknowledged the massive lost of life that will occur from the very first moments of the film. It also gives a complete and compelling character arc to Agent Maria Hill, played by Cobie Smulders. We learn she is a prospective threat to Samuel L. Jackson's master manipulator Nick Fury, who is playing a dangerous long-game by 'assembling' the Avengers - through either coercion or command - in order to convince extraterrestrial enemies that the Earth can defend itself. In doing so, he may be directly responsible for the loss of life in New York. This shifts our understanding of the action of the film considerably - and makes Hill a far more interesting presence, with the actor's increasingly concerned frown throughout the film seeming more ominous. Hill's interview bookends the film, and by its conclusion her opinion of Fury seems to have changed, but knowing from the very beginning just how high the stakes were in this battle between the team assembled and the army of Loki would have altered the sense of drama felt during the climactic battle. 

To compare to Peter Jackson's Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings once more - something of a benchmark where these matters are concerned - home versions of these blockbuster films benefit more from the reintegration of intimate scenes. Whedon's one-take shot of the Avengers taking on the Chitauri threat and holding their own is incredible still. But the sequence of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wandering bewildered around a transformed New York, complete with a Stan Lee cameo, is such a great collection of scenes it is unfortunate the decision was not made to bring it back into the film, instead of being left as a deleted scene. The small screen is where we can revisit these experiences we enjoyed so much in the cinema and perhaps rediscover them in a new light. The Avengers remains thrilling, quick on its feet and extremely well put together - but it is also a more thoughtful comic book film than most that have come before and that should be celebrated. 

Also I could see Chris Evans' foundation make-up. Thanks hi-def! 

The Avengers Item 47 Lizzy Caplan Jesse Bradford

Item 47 is a great continuation of the 'Agent Coulson' shorts that joined up the several franchises Marvel Studios positioned to build momentum for The Avengers. We briefly have a moment of reflection by colleagues of the deceased agent - I still maintain Clark Gregg's character is in fact an LMD and thanks to Tony Stark's offhand remark (to him no less!) the concept of artificial humans is now canon - before the plot kicks in. Two lovers on the run have found a discarded weapon from the Chitauri invasion and discovered how to use it. Benny (Jesse Bradford) intuited what whole R&D departments of SHIELD have failed to figure out, but unfortunately he and girlfriend Claire (Lizzy Caplan - yet another Freaks and Geeks alumnus) have decided to use the weapon to rob a series of banks across the country. 

What follows is a mixture of Run Lola Run and They Live, with the assigned Agent Sitwell's orders to 'neutralize' the couple sounding quite threatening. What is interesting about SHIELD in the films is how they are portrayed as a more benevolent version of 'the Men in Black'. Coulson for example leads the teams that seizes all of Jane Foster's equipment in Thor, but he is also very polite about it and gives her a blank cheque to pay for any losses. Later when her connection to Asgard is seen to be useful, he hires her. The films continue to hedge their bets as to where SHIELD lies on the moral horizon - yes they defend the Earth, but they also invest in weapons of mass destruction, although Fury may have been stalling on that one - and Item 47 continues to underline how the organisation chooses to bend the law when it suits itself. It is a fun short and I hope to see the characters in further tie-in episodes. 

@Mrs_OC pointed out that Bradford was in Hackers, and here he 'hacks' an alien weapon. Meta-humour? 

The culmination of years of easter-egg references, cameo appearances, the hard-working Clark Gregg's efforts and Joss Whedon's master plan, The Avengers is a terrific film that impressively offers lots of food for thought. Bring on the sequel (and maybe Guardians of the Galaxy?).

Guardians of the Galaxy Marvel Studios 2014

1 comment:

  1. Interesting re-review, I never thought about how horrific the destruction that takes place at the end was. I was also a bit disappointed when I watched the deleted scenes because nearly all of them were good and added depth to the story. I was talking to a coworker at DISH about the movie, and he told me that they are coming out with another set of stand alone films before they release a sequel to this one. I think that those could be really big if the success from this movie carries over at all, and that it is a really smart move for Marvel. I saw this movie in theaters with a few coworkers from DISH, and I liked it so much that I added it to my Blockbuster @Home queue right when I got home. I was pleasantly surprised when it showed up in the mail today, and I think I liked it even more the second time. I love renting Blu-Rays so that I can see if the transfer is good enough to justify the extra cost over the DVD. I saw some issues with details being lost to darkness, so I may just wait until the ultimate collection box set comes out (hopefully with a new transfer).


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