Home Video Release: “The Avengers” a story viewers actually care about

PHOTO INFORMATION
Courtesy of Disney
Cutline: Chris Hemsworth, left, plays Thor and Chris Evans plays Captain America in “The Avengers.”

THE COLUMN

By Forrest Hartman
Forrest@ForrestHartman.com

Only one major theatrical release is making its way to home video this week, but that’s just as well because it’s one of the biggest hits of 2012.

The Avengers
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference
Disney
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand

Creating a movie with a half dozen key protagonists is a daunting feat. It means developing multiple characters to a reasonable depth and balancing the screen time and egos of several stars, all while telling a story that viewers actually care about.

Anyone who thinks this is simple will do well to remember “Batman & Robin,” director Joel Schumacher’s 1997 take on the Caped Crusader. That film not only relates the adventures of the title characters, but two supervillains (Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy) as well as Batgirl. By most accounts, the film was a failure, and one of the problems is that it has way too much going on.

Surely writer-director Joss Whedon found himself thinking about “Batman & Robin” and similar efforts when charged with bringing the Marvel Comics superhero group The Avengers to the screen. Success would mean merging characters from several previous Marvel movies – “Iron Man,” “Captain America,” “Thor” and “The Incredible Hulk” – and introducing them to even more players. The potential for failure was immense, making it rather astonishing that Whedon not only succeeded but produced one of the best films of 2012 so far.

“The Avengers” gathers the previously mentioned superheroes under the banner of S.H.I.E.L.D., a powerful government military organization dedicated to protecting the United States from all threats. This time around, it’s not just America that’s in trouble, however. Thor’s god-like adopted brother, Loki, has amassed an army powerful enough to take over all of Earth, so things look dire.

Realizing that Loki can’t be stopped using normal military channels, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) activates the “Avengers Initiative,” a program designed to bring uniquely powerful individuals together in the interest of fighting a common enemy.

As promising as the program seems, it has drawbacks. Most notable is the fact that the heroes that Fury assembles not only have egos but decidedly different outlooks on the world. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who moonlights as Iron Man, is a maverick. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), also known as Captain America, is an all-American soldier. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is torn by the fact that his brother is the enemy. And Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is horrified by the knowledge that he can’t control the Hulk lurking within him.

This is a dysfunctional group to say the least, and much of the screen time focuses on the characters getting to know one another and learning to work together. That may sound dull, but Whedon – who directed the film based on a screenplay he co-wrote with Zak Penn – does a fine job balancing these character exchanges with action sequences, creating a film that delivers a pleasant mix of plot, drama and spectacle.

Really, that’s all one can ask of a big-budget superhero film. This sort of movie isn’t meant to win Oscars or inspire late-night discussions on the meaning of the universe. The goal is to relate a winning story in a fashion that is exciting, entertaining and just plain fun, and “The Avengers” does all that.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature and an audio commentary by Whedon.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Bond 50”: It’s time for 007 fans to rejoice. This release collects all 22 James Bond movies into one impressive boxed set. The movies are available on either DVD or Blu-ray, and the only negative is the rather expensive list price. Because so many movies are included, the Blu-ray collection has a suggested retail price of $299.99, and the DVD set has a suggested price of $199.98. The good news is you can find both sets significantly cheaper if you shop around.

Alfred Hitchcock – The Masterpiece Collection: Few directors have impacted the world of movies like Alfred Hitchcock, and this set collects 15 of his most noteworthy movies into one Blu-ray boxed set. Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that this marks the Blu-ray debut of 13 of the 15 titles. Included are: “Saboteur” (1942), “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943), “Rope” (1948), “Rear Window” (1954), “The Trouble with Harry” (1955), “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956), “Vertigo” (1958), “North by Northwest” (1959), “Psycho” (1960), “The Birds” (1963), “Marnie” (1964), “Torn Curtain” (1966), “Topaz” (1969), “Frenzy” (1972) and “Family Plot” (1976).

“American Horror Story” – Season 1: This horror drama is a critical and commercial success for FX. The first season tells the story of a Boston family that moves across the country into a haunted Los Angeles mansion. Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Jessica Lange and Taissa Farmiga star. Season two is set to debut Oct. 5, and it will focus on new characters and a new location.

“Resident Evil – Damnation”: With “Resident Evil: Retribution” making its way through theaters, this seems like the ideal time for Sony to release this animated movie based on the same franchise. The story is a sequel to the 2008 animated film “Resident Evil: Degeneration,” and it tells the story of a U.S. federal agent who travels to a European battle zone to investigate claims that Bio-Organic Weapons are being used.

“Eating Raoul”: Criterion Collection release of director Paul Bartel’s 1982 comedy about a New York couple who hatch a horrific plan for ridding themselves of bad neighbors and acquiring funding for a restaurant they’ve dreamed of opening.

“The Game”: David Fincher is one of the finest director’s working in Hollywood today, and this Criterion Collection release of his 1997 hit is a reminder of how special he is. The film stars Michael Douglas as a wealthy man whose brother (Sean Penn) gives him the opportunity to play a life-changing game for his 48th birthday. Criterion’s release features not only the film but an audio commentary by the filmmakers and an hour of behind-the-scenes footage.

“Delicacy”: French romance about a young widow (Audrey Tautou) who learns to live again thanks to an unexpected romance. Francois Damiens also stars. Directed by brothers David and Stephane Foenkinos. Presented in French with English subtitles.

“The Man From Beijing”: German drama about a Swedish judge (Suzanne von Borsody) who mounts a private investigation into the brutal murder of 19 people. Presented in German with English subtitles.

“Snowman’s Land”: German thriller about two hit men who find trouble when the wife of a crime boss is accidentally killed while under their protection. Written and directed by Tomasz Thomson. Presented in German with English subtitles.

“Desperate Housewives” – The Complete Eighth and Final Season: ABC concluded this astonishingly successful primetime soap opera in May. Now fans can relive all the Wisteria Lane drama. Bonus features include cast recollections about the show’s entire eight-year run. Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria and Vanessa Williams star.

“CSI”: Several incarnations of the popular “CSI” TV franchise are making their way to video this week. Fans can choose from the 12th season of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” the 10th and final season of “CSI: Miami” and the eighth season of “CSI: New York.”

“Gossip Girl” – The Complete Fifth Season: The sixth and final season of “Gossip Girl” is slated to kick off Oct. 8 on the CW. Fans who can’t wait, will find plenty of teen drama in the 24 episodes on this set.

“The Carol Burnett Show”: Time Life is rolling the popular Carol Burnett comedy show onto DVD, and fans have four different purchasing options. Folks who want the deluxe package can buy the 22-DVD “Ultimate Collection,” which features 50 episodes of the show plus more than 20 hours of bonus features. Since that set is massive and pricey, Time Life is also delivering the six-DVD “Carol’s Favorites” collection, a two-DVD “Best Of” release and a single-DVD “Best Of” option. The main difference between sets is pricing and the number of episodes included.

Key & Peele – Season 1: This sketch comedy series starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele is entering its second season, and the episodes presented here are a reminder of how it started.

“Klown”: Danish comedy detailing the adventures of two friends (Frank Hvam and Caspar Christensen) who have no idea how to blend into proper society. Directed by Mikkel Norgaard. Presented in Danish with English subtitles.

“G.I. Joe – Renegades – The Complete First Season: Animated series about a young G.I. Joe squad forced to go on the run after an espionage mission goes bad, convincing the world that they’re criminals.

“Touched by an Angel” – The Sixth Season: Twenty-six episodes of the long-running CBS drama about angels who help humans through difficult periods in their lives. Della Reese, Roma Downey and John Dye star.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com.

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