Sunday, September 30, 2012

Marvel: The Avengers DVD Review/Thoughts about Nick Fury

Marvel: The Avengers DVD Review/Thoughts about Nick Fury.

My reviews are for the converted, they are for those who read and enjoy comics. Here, I am specifically reviewing the DVD and Blu-Ray not just the movie.

There are no spoilers here. I will remind people, however, that many of the super-hero movies (Both Marvel and DC) have scenes during and after the credits and you should stay to the end see them. The Avengers follows that tradition. But first let me mention somethings about Nick Fury.

At first glance, there are three major characters in the Marvel Universe that should not be black: The Hulk, the Silver Surfer and Nick Fury.

I use the term “black” and not “African-American” in science fiction and comics for very simple reasons. Some characters, such as the Black Panther are not American; they are African so the term “American” should not be used here. Also, black characters from other planets do NOT have African roots so the term would not be correct here either. In sci-fi we often do not know the “origins” or “birth places” of many characters.

Sgt. Fury was a unique character in a unique series. At a time of the civil rights movement, Lee and Kirby presented ordinary but common men, a Jew, Izzy, an Italian, Dino, a Southerner, and a black man, Gabe Jones, in extraordinary and horrible conditions. Comics featuring black characters were not always popular. Dell released Lobo in 1966, the story of a black western hero and stores in the south refused to display them. It was cancelled in two issues. So it took courage to do have a racial mixed Sgt. Fury.

W.W. II was a war about race and Fury showed that a group of men of different backgrounds can truly become a band of brothers; this was 30 years before Stephen Ambrose wrote his book, The Band of Brothers about the 101st Airborne Division, known as the “Screaming Eagles.”

Sadly, the armed forces during W.W. II were segregated. There could be no black sergeant leading such a group in W.W. II. So Lee and Kirby, and later Lee and Dick Ayers, showed Fury growing up in the lower east side on New York, just like Kirby did. They developed the conflict between black Gabe Jones and Southerner Reb Ralston and then showed how they became comrades in arms and good friends. So for Sgt. Fury to make sense, Fury needs to be white, the story doesn’t make sense if he isn’t.

 So, how can Nick Fury be black?
Well, first, you have Samuel Jackson playing the role, perfectly, so how lucky can you get? But, honestly, my first thought was, what if it he played Gabe Jones? And make Gabe Jones the head of SHIELD. Then I saw the movie of Captain America and saw Cap fighting with the Howlers, but there was no Sgt Fury. Well, in 1965 you could have Nick Fury, veteran of W.W. II, then about 40, leading SHIELD. But while Cap was frozen, Fury wasn’t, and he, like me, would be too old today. So the movie world had a choice: Either Sgt. Fury was there in 1941 or he will be here in 2012. We can’t have both. So, it was as if the Living Eraser went back in time and eliminated him!

So this isn’t my Sgt. Fury. It’s also not Lee’s or Kirby’s or Ayer’s or Steranko. This the modern, Fury, based on their Ultimate series. The history of this Fury's early life and career has not been fully established. My Fury had a family and a brother; this one may be an orphan.  Both are war heroes, but in different wars.

My Nick Fury lost his eye during World War II fighting the Nazis. On the Avengers TV Show, Nick Fury explains that he lost his eye fighting the Winter Soldier who I knew as Cap’s partner, Bucky.

Because my Sgt. Fury was such an important part of comic book history, I am sorry to see him go. But in seeing Samuel Jackson up there on the screen, in charge of everything, I think, maybe, in the end, Nick Fury won his war after all. Thank you Stan and Jack!

Don’t yield, back SHIELD!

 Since this is a review of the DVD and Blu- Ray, let me start with the extras.

The word disappointing here would be a bit unfair, but there are only two special features here that I enjoyed. First, an 11 minute (9 minutes with two minutes of credits) “Marvel One Shot.” A small new movie, SHIELD sends Jasper Sitwell to recover a missing alien weapon. This scene takes place after the continuity of the movie. It also seems to reaffirm the death of Colson, who, among my friends, no one believes he is really dead.

In “Assembling the Avengers” we get a 9 minute obligatory piece, where the actors complement each other and tell us how great everyone was. They always mention a short list and who was on top of it to get a certain role. If you change the names this could have gone on a million other DVDs.

In “Imaging the Movie” they don’t show how they did the special effects, but just lift scenes from the movie which you have just seen.

The gag reel runs about 4 minutes and is not really funny; the actors actually say that they blew their lines to appear in it.

Scenes are often left out of a movie for three reasons:
  • Time. They need a certain running length.
  • Although the scene is good it slows down the movie.
  • The scene just does not work.
Well, we now demand to see the scenes that don’t work. Sometimes they even release DVDs and include them in the actual picture and call it “The Director’s Cut” when it is really not. So how can I say that deleted scenes are good, when they may not be? So it was interesting to see such things as the Maria Hill alternate beginning and end and agree it didn’t fit. Others screens also include Loki & Barton Strategize; Nick Fury & World Security Council; An Extended Viaduct Fight Fury & Hill Discuss the World Security Council; Banner and a Security Guard.

“Steve Rogers - Man out of Time” was the highlight of the deleted scenes and, actually, I not only wish it was longer, but it would have made a good ten minute movie. Chris Evans is perfect is showing a man our sync, lonely and sad. It really gave great insight into the Lee and Kirby 1960s Captain America. And speaking of Lee, he has a cameo in this clip.

This is one damn good movie! I enjoyed every minute of it. From beginning to end you say “wow!” My favorite comic book movies were the Richard Donner Superman and his version of Superman II. This is up there with them. I give it an A+.

Of course, the Avengers feature the super-heroes of the last few Marvel movies: Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk. Clint Barton as Hawkeye, the Black Widow and Nick Fury, are also here.

The major plot line carries over from the Thor movie. Loki comes to Earth (just as he did in Avengers #1) and causes an event so big that the heroes have to unite to save him. The event features him trying to gain custody and control of the Cosmic Cube, which is a cross-over from the plot of the Captain America movie (and several Captain America comics).

One of the strongest attractions of this movie is that you did NOT have to see these other movies to completely understand what was going on. And rather than take a huge amount of time showing the origins of all the characters, their origins and powers were just simply explained, bring everyone up to date, quickly.

Robert Downey Jr. is so perfect and appealing for the role of the “leader” that there was a danger of this becoming Iron Man III, especially when the other heroes, such as Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth arrive a bit late. But as strong as Downey is, director Josh Whedon seems to have carefully balanced the scenes with Chris Evans (Captain America) and especially Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner and the Hulk) so well that Downey helps bring out the best, and inner truths of these characters. And boy does Evans look like Kirby’s Cap.

The Hulk is perhaps the most complex and trickiest of these characters to portray and Ruffalo is the fourth actor (or fifth if you count Bill Bixby) to play him. Ruffalo’s Hulk far exceeded my expectations for a number of reasons. The Hulk in this movie is a supporting character, while Banner is more than that. Whedon plays with the audience; he knows you know about the Hulk, so much is handled with great fun and humor. The Hulk finally looks like Banner and you can believe the two entities are the same man.

Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner play the non-super members of the Avengers. But as in the comics, their participation is essential for the team’s success.

I was surprised to discover that the beautiful and talented Gwyneth Paltrow is in the movie. She has a long scene with Tony Stark and agent Coulson who is played with great comic timing by Clark Gregg. This scene is important because it adds great depth all the characters involved. (Ms. Paltrow was in the movie Sky Captain, which copied the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier and gave Angela Jolie the role of a spy leader with an eye-patch, like Nick Fury’s, in 2004.)

Samuel Jackson was wonderful and gives a strong performance. If I have one small objection to the movie it is simply that this character faces ethical choices that have become typical, if not formula, to leaders of law enforcement.

I am saving some of the best for last. Tom Hiddleston, in his second movie as Loki, just nails the character. He is delightful wonderfully cruel, devious, tricky and gives a simply powerful and memorable performance as an actor. He takes us through the entire movie.
In the past, many movies based on comics had weak writers, weak actors and weak production. Not so here. This is a grand cast, a great director, first class production, with great writing and special effects.

In the most exciting scene all the heroes line up and prepare for battle a tear came to my eyes. Really. My only thought was: “I wish Jack Kirby and Don Heck were here to see this.” Heck was responsible for Iron Man, Black Widow and Hawkeye; Kirby for Thor, Hulk, Nick Fury, Loki and, of course, Captain America. I am glad that Lee and Lieber, Ayers and Sinnott, are able to see what they wrote and drew on screen.

The movie looks great on Blu-Ray, but my 3-D projector is down for a month so I cannot tell you what the home 3-D looks like!

The era of my comics is long over. The creativity and originality, the artists and writers, are forever gone, and, though I never discuss it, you don’t know how sad that makes me feel. While I can see bits and pieces of the past on the silver screen, I urge everyone one here to celebrate those who we still have left and just enjoy those comics. We shall not see their like again. 


  1. Enjoyed your comments about Nick Fury, Barry. The tying of Marvel's non super hero characters to past events, like World War 2, does create a problem. And, agree that the Silver Age of comics is long gone. Which doesn't mean that there isn't some fine material being produced out there, just that the comics companies, with their overreliance on decades old concepts, have painted themselves into a corner. Kirby, Ditko, Lee, et al, the cocreators of the concepts being used today, are no longer producing them, so Marvel is getting further and further from the inspirational talent that gave the concepts their "spark", if you will. I mean, some characters can weather a change of many different creative hands, like the current incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, on the BBC/PBS, is just as good in its own way as earlier versions, but for a whole line of comics and the numerous characters involved with that, it's asking too much. I guess I'm saying that while an individual character might be able to last through numerous changes, that the whole Marvel universe cannot. It's just asking too much to expect the same inspiration to be there.

  2. Before I started collecting backissues, the earliest Captain America comic in my collection was issue #153 from 1973, wherein a battle-weary Cap returns to his apartment accompanied by friends, to find Nick Fury waiting for him. A furiously jealous Nick Fury, ready to duke it out with Cap. It turns out Nick isn't just mad at Cap because he thinks Cap making time with his woman, but he resents Cap because they were contemporaries during WWII but then Cap was frozen for 20 years while Nick kept on fighting and growing old for the U.S. In 1973, Marvel was still mostly following real time -- Fury, as well as Reed Richards and Ben Grimm were still veterans of WWII, which had ended nearly 30 years before but they could still all be roughly 50 years old, not yet so ancient that they needed "infinity formulas" to explain how they were still able to engage in violent physical exploits. Of course, that was now nearly 40 years ago, meaning in real time they would be roughly 90 years old. No problem for Ben Grimm, whose aging could be claimed to have been minimized due to his transformation into the Thing, and maybe even Reed's stretching powers could be claimed to slow down his aging. A big problem, however, for Fury, as well as for his still active former Howling Commandos, Gabe Jones and Dumm Dumm Dugan (I suppose Nick must share his infitiy formula with them).
    As a kid, I really liked the continuity and seeming realism of Silver and Bronze age Marvel Comics. I mostly quit collecting comics in the mid-80s, but of those collections I get these days, I prefer those that are mostly if not entirely set apart from any mainstream universe. Mainly, I like those that are the visions of great writers and artists set in mostly if not entirely self-sustained worlds, where mortal characters do grow old and change or die and stay dead and actions have meaningful consequences that can't be undone with magic.