Fans Discuss Why the First ‘Avengers’ Movie Looks So Much Like a TV Show
Marvel fans eagerly await the Marvel Cinematic Universe TV shows that will debut on Disney+ in the fall, and while they’re waiting, they’re checking out older MCU movies on the service, including the original Avengers from 2012, and they think it actually looks like a TV show.
They think, among other things, that this comes from director Joss Whedon’s TV background and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and that does play into it. However, it’s also true that the first Avengers movie is literally shaped differently from most Marvel movies.
‘The Avengers’ — suitable for TV?
Fans on Reddit discussed the original Avengers movie, which at the time was Marvel’s initial victory lap, grossing $207 million in its opening weekend alone, a record at the time. Now, fans think it looks a little quaint, or at least small. Many fans attributed this to Whedon’s experience in working in television.
One fan said, “Prob bc that’s where Whedon’s best work has come from. I honestly think it works to the film’s advantage. Especially the helicarrier scenes.” Another added, “Yeah imo Whedon is very much “just” a TV director,” and a third fan wrote, “I think it worked then. I think looking back now a lot of it looks really cheap.”
Fans went on to criticize everything from the costume choices to the “flat” lighting, probably not considering that the movie was shot by Seamus McGarvey, an experienced cinematographer who had been nominated for an Oscar for Atonement, largely on the strength of one long tracking shot that took place at the battle of Dunkirk.
As it turns out, Whedon and McGarvey had a practical reason for shooting The Avengers the way they did.
Blame the look of ‘The Avengers’ on the Hulk
Generally speaking, movies are shot in two shapes, or aspect ratios, which measure width versus height. The taller ratio, generally known as shooting “flat,” has a ratio of 1.85 to 1. The wider ratio, called “scope,” is 2.4 to 1. Most modern TVs have roughly the flat aspect ratio. Up until 2012, all the MCU movies were in the 2.4 to 1 ratio, but The Avengers was the first exception, which may be why some fans think it looks like a TV show. It’s shaped like one.
However, Whedon and McGarvey said they chose the flat ratio because of the Hulk. In an interview quoted on Quora McGarvey said that the relative heights of the Avengers was part of what prompted this choice. The Hulk was so much taller than everyone else, a wider aspect ratio would not have looked right.
“Shooting 1.85:1 is kind of unusual for an epic film like this, but we needed the height in the screen to be able to frame in all the characters like Hulk, Captain America and Black Widow, who is much smaller. We had to give them all precedence and width within the frame. Also, Joss knew the final battle sequence was going to be this extravaganza in Manhattan, so the height and vertical scale of the buildings was going to be really important.”
Does screen size matter?
The fans on Reddit noted the discrepancy in the aspect ratios, but one fan noted that the follow-up, Age of Ultron looked noticeably different, saying, “You can tell somebody up high scolded him for it since Age of Ultron looks NOTHING like this. Personally I think to a fault, Age of Ultron looks too much like it’s trying hard to look like a proper movie.”
Indeed, all MCU movies except The Avengers and Ant-Man have been in the wider aspect ratio. Just as the Avengers sequel went widescreen, so was Ant-Man and the Wasp after the first movie was shot flat.
Other MCU movies featuring the Hulk with other Marvel heroes have been in the wider shape as well, so perhaps the Hulk wasn’t as much a factor as first thought.
Indeed, most big-budget action extravaganzas are in this wider shape. But just because a movie is in the taller shape shouldn’t necessarily be a black mark.
The first Spider-Man movie, directed by Sam Raimi, was in the flat shape too, and we don’t see people complaining that it looks like a TV show.
As one fan on Reddit said of The Avengers, “I am pretty sure it was a choice to shoot it with bright colours and no filters, because action movies at that time were all being shot with that gritty muddy ‘realism’ filter. Avengers was meant to be bright and cartoony like the pages of an old school comic book. A lot of reviews at the time complimented this choice.”