Saturday, June 15, 2013

Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One - Avengers Assembled Blu-ray Collection Review

Marvel's mammoth Phase One finally arrives - but, does it satisfy?
If you're a fan of Marvel's film series (and honestly, who isn't), you might know all about its struggles to release what's been its most alluring project to date: a compilation of its films into one set.  Now, normally we don't get excited enough about a such things to warrant anything beyond the typical 'meh' - afterall, these kinds of releases are usually more like the blah Star Trek: The Movie Universe than anything else.  But Phase One promised to be different.  New individual packaging of each film, with a briefcase and collectible Tesseract?  What action figure collector wouldn't get excited about that?  But, like a prom queen who teases us with her wares before ultimately ditching us, the project was delayed almost nine months due to legal battles over the likeness of the briefcase, and hopes dimmed that we'd get a satisfying release.  Well, the collection is here, and now it's up to us to decide if Marvel made good on its promise.

The answer is a strong yes.  Phase One is probably the best compilation release ever, with an amazing set of paper supplements and goodies that more than make up for the missing discs of special features for Iron Man and Iron Man 2 and a tenth disc that's uneven to be sure.  Before we get to the discs, let's start with the case.  The set is secured in a very attractive outer case with with a small "Try Me" window at the top, which allows interested parties to activate the light-up S.H.I.E.L.D. symbol on the front of the briefcase.  The briefcase itself (dimensions can be found below) is made of heavy plastic with fairly strong hinges.  I wouldn't suggest treating things like a real Tesseract containment case, but its design works well enough.  If you plan to actually carry this thing to a freinds' house, make sure the plastic pressure tabs are fully pressed in. Inside the briefcase is a replica Tesseract containment unit, complete with a small (but non-functional) keypad, a removable flashing/glowing Tesseract and, a set of glossy cardboard sleeves that contain the house the set's six films (Discs 1-9) and exclusive bonus content (Disc 10).  For toy collectors and movie enthusiasts, this is almost a dream come true.

There's nothing new about any of the six Phase One Marvel films which are included, so we've attached links to previous reviews, in case you need more information on audio and video specs.  But, be warned: Iron Man and Iron Man 2 are not included with this set. Why Marvel went so far, only to miss these discs is odd.  BTW, if you've ever wondered what order to watch these films - a topic we discussed at length - notice Marvel's recommendation matches our own:

Disc 1: Iron Man (Originally released as a 2-disc set)
Disc 3: Iron Man 2 (Originally released as a 2-disc set)
Disc 4: Thor 3D
Disc 5: Thor
Disc 6: Captain America 3D
Disc 8: The Avengers 3D
Disc 10: Phase One Archives

Approximate outer box, briefcase and contents dimensions are as follows (h x l x d):
Outer slip-box: 10.5" x 12.5" x 4.75"
Briefcase: 9.5" x 12" x 4.5"
Tesseract: 2.75" x 2.75" x 2.75"
File Folders: 11" x 7.75"
Bi-fold Disc Sleeves: 5.5" x 5.5"

Additional bonus pack-ins and collectibles include:

  • Phase One Archives Bonus Disc (extras detailed in Supplements section below)
  • 2-Mode Light-up Tesseract with instructions sheet
  • Confidential S.H.I.E.L.D. Envelope with decoder tools and an online Phase Two access code
  • Limited Edition Set Certificate of Authenticity
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. Tactical Sys File Folder
    • Agent Natasha Romanoff personnel file
    • Agent Clint Barton personnel file
    • Item 47 evidence file
    • Tesseract report 
    • Archive HYDRA Tesseract photo
    • S.H.I.E.L.D. Tesseract photo
  • Tony Stark Recruitment Assessment File Folder
    • "Who is The Iron Man?" newspaper clipping 
    • Original onionskin Mark I armor sketches
    • Arc Reactor schematics
    • Tony Stark Tesseract notes
    • Tony Stark coffee-napkin press release: "We no longer make weapons!"
    • Stark Expo "Tent of Tomorrow" ticket
    • 1964 Stark World Expo brochure
    • AIM CEO Aldrich Killian business card
  • Dr. Bruce Banner Recruitment Assessment File Folder
    • Culver University Laboratory Incident newspaper clipping
    • Professor Betty Ross lecture highlights
    • Redacted S.H.I.E.L.D. memo
    • Stark Industries Specialized Vehicle schematic
    • Cryosync V-Ray tag
    • Pingo Doce drink label
    • Agent Phillip J. Coulson business card
  • Puente Antiguo (Thor Odinson) Recruitment Assessment File Folder
    • Mysterious Visitor portal scan
    • Bifrost book excerpt 
    • Hospital bracelet: XX, THOR
    • Dr. Donald J. Blake driver's license
    • Jane Foster ID badge
    • Two-sheet Nine Realms sketch
    • Agent Phillip Coulson business card
  • Classified Steve Rogers/Captain America File Folder
    • Department of Selective Service Certificate of Acceptability, stamped "4F" 
    • Archive Steve Rogers photo
    • Steve Rogers U.S. Army Physical Exam Sheet
    • Notice of Fraudulent Application letter
    • Strategic Scientific Reserve "Particulars of Participant" sheet
    • Steve Rogers pencil sketch
    • Peggy Carter newspaper clipping
    • Three vintage Captain America trading cards

Special Features and Extras  
In addition to the deep collection of paper extras covered above, the other part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe set is its tenth disc, titled S.H.I.E.L.D. Avengers Initiative, Phase One Archives, which features exclusive bonus content for all six films, along with an individualized code that provides online access to an exclusive look at Iron Man 3, as well as Marvel's Phase Two plans.

Iron Man 3 and Phase Two
This one is a bit of a mixed bag.  Unfortunately, rather than containing a sweet featurette and other goodies on the disc itself, we're forced to view everything new about Phase One and Iron Man 3 via online.  Unlike the ongoing mission releases which make Halo 4 so enjoyable, this content promises to be ongoing, but to what degree is up for discussion.  Essentially, in order to gain access to these extras, one must crack open rather the sealed S.H.I.E.L.D. "Confidential" envelope and use a special decoder sheet before gaining access to the website.  Not only are you limited to online content, but you have to search fairly deep before finding the URL. Once you jump through the hoops, we do get a lot of information about Marvel's Phase Two plans.  Because this project is ongoing, we're not exactly sure whether we'll get that Halo 4 never-ending stream of data or not.  That's a part we'll have to wait on, making this portion of the review hard to grade.

There is new content on the disc, which we've included below:

Iron Man
  • Agent Coulson Intro (HD, 1 minute): An AMC Theaters intro, courtesy of the beloved S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.
  • Animatics (HD, 25 minutes): Five lengthy animated storyboard sequences are available - "Convoy Attack," "Tony Escapes the Cave," "First Flight," "Dogfight" and "Final Battle."
  • Pre-Viz (HD, 22 minutes): Five early-render pre-vizualization sequences are also available - "Tony Escapes the Cave," "First Flight," "Gulmira Attack," "Dogfight" and "Final Battle."
  • Deleted Scene - Champions (HD, 3 minutes): Stark banters with his fellow captive in Afghanistan.

The Incredible Hulk
  • Agent Coulson Intro (HD, 1 minute): Another AMC Theaters Marvel Marathon intro.
  • Pre-Viz (HD, 23 minutes): Eight sprawling pre-viz sequences are available - "Fight at the Bottling Plant," "Fight at the Bottling Plant II," "Culver University Raid," "Hulk & Betty at the Grotto," "Abomination Alley," "Brawl in Harlem," "Hulk Pre-Viz Test" and "Hulk & the Helicopter Pre-Viz Test."

Iron Man 2
  • Agent Coulson Intro (HD, 1 minute): A third AMC Theaters intro.
  • Extended Scenes and Alternate Ending (HD, 10 minutes): Extended scenes include "Ivan's Workshop," "Pepper & Tony Talk to the Press" and "Stark Expo: WHIH News Report." The real surprise, though, is a drastically different three-minute unfinished alternate ending, "Whiplash Attacks Pepper at the Expo."
  • Animatics (HD, 14 minutes): "Ivan's Apartment," "Battle at Monaco," "House Fight" and "Rhodey Delivers the Mark II."
  • Pre-Viz (HD, 8 minutes): "Tony Lands at the Expo," "Final Battle" and "Tony Rescues Pepper."

  • Agent Coulson Intro (HD, 1 minute): A fourth AMC Theaters intro.
  • Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending (HD, 5 minutes): Though largely unfinished, with laughably incomplete visual effects, three alternate scenes are available. "Going to Jotunheim," "Asgardians in Puente Antiguo" and "Alternate Ending: Smith Motors."
  • Animatics (HD, 30 minutes): "Mjolnir Ceremony," "Battle on Jotunheim," "Battle on Jotunheim - Chase Sequence," "Thor Breaks into S.H.I.E.L.D. Camp" and "Thor & Loki's Final Battle."

Captain America
  • Agent Coulson Intro (HD, 1 minute): A fifth AMC Theaters intro with Coulson.
  • Animatics (HD, 10 minutes): "Kruger Chase," "Orbital Bomber Chase" and "Captain America vs. The Red Skull."

The Avengers
  • Agent Coulson Intro (HD, 1 minute): The sixth and final AMC Theaters Marvel Marathon intro.
  • And Then Shawarma After (HD, 2 minutes): One last scene to film, and just sixteen days before The Avengers arrived in theaters. Was it worth it? Shawarma fans resoundingly agree: yes!
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 9 minutes): "Barton & Loki Escape," "Loki & The Other: Extended Scene," "Natasha Hides from Hulk," "Cap Saves Family," "The Other Tells Loki to Lead," "Thor Attacks the Tesseract" and "Cop & The Waitress Story Arc."
  • Animatics (HD, 9 minutes): "Helicarrier Lift Off," "Mountaintop" and "Mark VII Suit Up."
  • Pre-Viz (HD, 12 minutes): "Car Wash," "Helicarrier Lift Off," "Mountaintop," "Mark VII Suit Up," "Final Battle" and "Hulk Smashes Loki."

The Bottom Line
So, is this set worth it?  That answer depends largely on what you're looking for and what you already own.  If you've made the initial investment of the movies, then you're buying this set for the very attractive case, the paper goodies, and the new slipcases which does seem to justify the current price of $149.99.  If cost is an issue, then wait until the inevitable sale.  If you've been too lazy to pick up all the films, then you might have added reason to pursue it, provided you're aware of Disc 10's uneven presentation and the lack of Disc 2 for Iron Man and Iron Man 2. Also, decide if you want to actually own the content, rather than seeing new material only provided online.  In this case, we'll probably get all of it on an Avengers 2 release in the far-flung future, so factor that in to your decision.  Moreover, if that Phase Two material does in fact live up to the promise, then we'll be seeing a steady stream of content to the site that will hopefully satiate our desires for the 2015 release.  If you're OK with all of this, then the physical presentation is one of the most inventive ever conceived and should be immediately purchased.

Words by Matt; Photos by Zak