Whether you're overseas and already seeing it in your local multiplex, or in the United States and waiting impatiently until next Friday, there's clearly only one movie that's got the whole world frothing at the mouth to see it: The Avengers. Joss Whedon's take on this collection of Marvel superheroes is the first big blockbuster of the summer movie season, and the question isn't so much if you want to see it, but how many times, where, and maybe most importantly, whether or not to see it in 3D.
We're here to help with that last part, with the latest installment of our To 3D or not to 3D column. We've set up a list of factors that go into making 3D good or bad and rank the movie based on all of them, from whether or not there's enough popping out at the screen to if it will make you sick. For our actual, 4.5-star review of The Avengers, go here; for the lowdown on the 3D, and the ultimate guide for what ticket to buy, keep reading.
Does It Fit?
Live-action films starring actual human beings can be tricky in 3D, since it's generally animated characters and spaces that do the best with the format-- and despite the presence of the Hulk and some aliens from outer space, a lot of The Avengers is about actual humans (or demigods). And maybe even more importantly, a lot of the movie is scenes of people talking to each other-- hugely important for developing these characters and making the movie work as well as it does. When the action gets started it's all the kind of stuff that works for 3D, but all the things that make The Avengers a smart, well-made movie also keep it from quite being the giant spectacle that demands you slap on the 3D glasses.
Fit Score: 3/5
Planning & Effort
When The Avengers was first gearing up for production, the rumor went around that it would be shot with 3D cameras, and they only confirmed in late 2011 that it would in fact be post-converted. But Joss Whedon has made it clear in interviews that he was planning for the 3D, and given that both Captain America and Thor were 3D films as well, there's no way they made this movie without 3D in mind. You have to dock a point for the post-conversion, since an actual 3D camera seems like the only way to plan properly, but they still have this whole thing worked out pretty well.
P&E Score: 4/5
Before the Window
Most movies that use 3D to have things fly out of the screen at you-- that is, "before" the window of the movie screen, as opposed to behind it-- are fully embracing it as a gimmicky technology and having fun with it. And while The Avengers is a really, really fun movie, it also wants you to take it seriously, so Whedon and his 3D team take it pretty easy on the pop-out effects. There's one shallow-focus shot with Black Widow pointing her gun toward the camera, and of course a ton of shrapnel and mayhem flying around at the end of the movie, but you're not going to leap out of your seat in fear of what's coming you while watching The Avengers.
Before the Window Score: 2/5
Beyond the Window
The main reason you want to see big action movies in 3D is because the technology can make everything in the frame seem deeper-- that is, make it like you're looking beyond a window into an entire world out there. Because a lot of The Avengers takes place indoors, aboard the Helicarrier, there are long stretches of the film where depth of field doesn't matter much. But when it comes to the much-hyped final battle sequence in New York City, or another earlier one up in the air, or even a brief fight in the woods, the extra depth of 3D really does help you place yourself within this world, and feel all the more absorbed in it. There's one brilliant shot in that New York City sequence where we follow each of our heroes in the middle of battle, and the added depth that 3D brings to that one scene is reason enough to give it a perfect score here.
Beyond the Window Score: 5/5
As 3D technology, and especially post-conversion technology, get better, we're having less and less of a problem with 3D glasses making the image too dark-- when done improperly, the glasses are effectively like wearing sunglasses indoors, and the entire image can be become muddy. WIth heroes in bright costumes, a glowing tesseract and all the lasers Iron Man can possibly shoot out of his suit, The Avengers is plenty bright with or without the glasses, and if projected properly, the brightness won't be a problem at all.
Brightness Score: 5/5
The Glasses Off Test
This is the test where you can separate the CGI men from the CGI heroes. If you suspect a 3D scene isn't really doing that much, take off your glasses and see how blurry the image is without them-- the more blur you see, the more 3D "pop" you'll see when you put them back on. The Avengers makes pretty subtle use of 3D, which means that when it comes time for the glasses off test, you might not notice much of a change. The blur is definitely there-- and I admit, I wasn't about to take off my glasses during the impressive action sequences-- but it's not especially pronounced. It's not damaging to the film in the least, but it is a mark against its 3D strength.
Glasses Off Test: 3/5
If a 3D movie has ever made you feel physically ill, you know how important this category can be-- directors have to compensate for the movement of the 3D image when pacing their scenes, especially the action ones, and whipping the camera around like crazy is only going to make a whole lot of people sick. Luckily Joss Whedon has a distinctly old-school sense of pacing action, moving the camera deliberately and slowly enough to catch absolutely everything-- which is especially crucial when you've got six heroes out there fighting. You're in no danger of losing your lunch in this movie, unless the sight of The Hulk makes you queasy-- but that's not the 3D's fault!
Health Score: 5/5
Final Verdict: To be perfectly honest, I pretty much stopped noticing the 3D in The Avengers beyond a handful of standout scenes, and that says as much about the amazing quality of the movie as the perfectly acceptable quality of the 3D. If you are really, really excited about The Avengers you may want to see it in 3D, since I really do think it has the power to suck you even further into the action. But if you want to save the cash and somehow managed to find a 2D screening, you're not going to miss a whole lot. This is the movie everyone will be talking about for weeks, though, and most people are going to see it in 3D-- maybe it's worth it just to be part of the conversation.
Will you see The Avengers in 2D or 3D?
For more 3D analysis, visit our To 3D Or Not To 3D archive right here.