Saturday, May 11, 2013

Desperately Average Super Hero Films Work Up To An Impressive Film With Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled

The Good: The Avengers, Some decent performances, Blu-Ray bonus features
The Bad: Exceptionally repetitive plots, Character arcs are often repetitive as well
The Basics: The six-film Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled boxed set eliminates some of the fat from the first few serialized Marvel universe movies nevertheless presents in one place the films building up to and including The Avengers.

As Iron Man 3 (reviewed here!) continues its powerhouse run at the box office, it is fun to look back at how the film came to be. The films that led up to Iron Man 3 - and much more importantly, its cinematic predecessor The Avengers - have been collected on Blu-Ray in a new boxed set called the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled. The Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled is six of the first seven Marvel Universe films that were loosely connected by background threads pertaining to the Avengers Initiative. In other words, it is the Marvel Universe without the X-Men franchise, The Fantastic Four or Spider-Man (or, for that matter, the vigilante Daredevil or the supernatural-based Marvel characters like Ghost Rider).

The boxed set of Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled does not include the film Hulk, which is somewhat ironic because it does include its sequel. The ten disc set, which is chock full of bonus features and an entire exclusive bonus disc that looks at the assembled films as a film franchise. The films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled boxed set includes:
Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers

Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled has five movies that are only loosely tied to one another and then is paid off with a film that unites the protagonists from the prior four films. For those who have not seen them, the basic ideas behind the films are:

Iron Man has billionaire Tony Stark getting attacked and held hostage overseas. While being held hostage, he puts together a small device that keeps shrapnel from piercing his heart and he uses it to power a primitive suit of armor that facilitates his escape. Stark’s return to the United States and the industry of weapons engineering is met with mixed results. His loyal assistant, Pepper Potts, is thrilled he is alive, but his former mentor is actually dismayed in that Stark is still alive given that he has taken control over Stark Industries in Tony’s absence. Stark’s new pacifism and obsession with refining his armor to act as something of a one-man world peace force, upsets Stone and causes Tony’s former mentor to create a suit of his own to take on his protégé!

The Incredible Hulk finds Dr. Bruce Banner hiding out, having tried to keep his alter-ego, the Hulk, under control for years. He is hunted by a military-industrial complex that is determined to bring him in. In that pursuit, a villainous leader gives a seasoned officer a serum that creates another Hulk-like creature (the Abomination), who begins to lay waste, which requires the Hulk to intervene to save lives.

Iron Man 2 continues Tony Stark’s story after his revelation that he is Iron Man. With Congress looking to assimilate Stark’s technology while he resists, Stark fights two battles: one against the corporate leader of Hammer weapons and the other, in his suit, against the Russian villain Whiplash, who rises up to get revenge on Stark for stealing the technology his father developed.

In Thor the Norse God of Thunder coming to Earth as an outcast after his brother, Loki, discredits him on the astral planes. With Thor’s father in a coma, Thor ends up on Earth where he works to redeem himself and comes to care about the humans.

There is a trip to the past with Captain America: The First Avenger. During World War II, Steve Rogers is a weak young man who nevertheless wants to join the war effort to go to fight the Nazis. Instead, he is inducted into the super soldier program and given incredible strength, endurance and tactical ability. After a stint as a publicity tool for the U.S. military, Rogers as Captain America goes to free American prisoners of war and stop the evil HYDRA scientists who are threatening to unlock the massive power of a device from the astral planes, the tesseract.

The Tesseract pops back up as the object of concern in The Avengers. Loki has been tasked by a powerful alien being with recovering the Tesseract from Earth and he is ready to use it to wipe out humanity. To respond to the menace of Loki and the army he is ready to bring through a wormhole to lay waste to Earth (starting in New York City), Nick Fury – after an attack on a S.H.I.E.L.D. laboratory – works to bring together Earth’s greatest heroes to respond to the threat Loki represents.

All six films follow a similar basic format with the origin story of the super hero and the villain and the hero rising to stop them. These are all, in the end, “kill the villain” type films. Iron Man 2 has no time needed to establish Iron Man, but uses the time that these type movies to establish the heroes to remind the viewers who Iron Man and Tony Stark are and the villains are more developed in the movie. But, like the plots, the characters all have pretty obvious and repetitive journeys where, in each film, to defeat their custom villain, they must learn a Very Important Lesson about themselves.

While the films might lack a great resonance of character issues and development, the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled managed to get some pretty wonderful actors. The principle actors in this saga – Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Edward Norton (Bruce Banner – for The Incredible Hulk), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner – for The Avengers), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Chris Evans (Captain America), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson) are wonderful and add and emotional resonance and realism to the movies that makes them feel grand and sophisticated beyond the simple plots and characters they portray. The supporting actors – Sir Anthony Hopkins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, William Hurt, and Liv Tyler – lend a professionalism to a movie series that could seem campy or utterly unrealistic without their gravitas.

Ultimately, the movies in Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled are entertaining popcorn movies, but seeing them together in this set begins to reiterate the idea that some of the super heroes in the Marvel Universe are hardly all that special. These stories shake up the super powers and specific plots, but are in many ways the same essential story told six ways.

For similar boxed sets, please visit my reviews of:
The Star Trek Cinematic Boxed Set
The Lord Of The Rings
The Star Wars Trilogy


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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