With a flying Viking ship pulled by screaming goats, a killer 80s rock soundtrack and Russell Crowe trying to do a Greek accent, the latest instalment of the Marvel cinematic universe, Thor: Love and Thunder, certainly warrants a trip to the cinema to enjoy its epic soundtrack in all its bonkers, guitar-shredding, rainbow-shooting, Dolby Atmos glory.
But while we eagerly await the arrival of Love and Thunder on 4K Blu-ray to give our What Hi-Fi? listening room a workout, we've been taking a listen through Marvel's extensive catalogue to relive some of our favourite scenes that we think really stand out sonically and are ideal for testing out your Dolby Atmos speaker system at home.
No doubt you already know that Dolby Atmos expands upon a traditional surround set-up by adding channels to bring sound from overhead. But Atmos is about more than just shoving some speakers in your ceiling and waiting for Iron Man to swoop in.
The technology is used by filmmakers in the mixing stage to place sounds and voices at exact points in the soundfield rather than more broadly assign them to discrete channels. Dolby Atmos is often used in Marvel films to add thrilling movement to battles and fights, such as the Winter Soldier bust-up in Captain America, or to construct fantastical worlds, as with the towering Warrior Falls in Wakanda. It can even let the viewer inhabit a character's perspective for more empathetic storytelling and help direct the audience's attention in long, dialogue-free action sequences such as the bridge scene in Thor: Ragnarok.
Unfortunately, the excitement and drama of Marvel's incredible Dolby Atmos soundtracks doesn't always translate well to 4K-Blu-ray or Disney+ where most titles can be streamed in Dolby Atmos in its Dolby Digital Plus format.
For a number of years, fans have complained that the Dolby Atmos mixes of Marvel's home releases seem to suffer from a restricted dynamic range, muted overhead detail and limited low-frequency extension compared to the cinema experience, as well as more generally to other action films on 4K Blu-ray. But not every release is affected and, recently, Marvel's home releases have been steadily improving. So we have selected some of our favourite Marvel film scenes available on 4K Blu-ray that we think show the flexibility of Dolby Atmos and let your home system, whether a soundbar or full AV amp and speaker system, hit the greatest heights.
Warning! While we've avoided outright plot spoilers, this article does reference details in the films that some people may prefer not to know before watching.
Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings (2021): the fight in the forest
This Marvel-style meet-cute between Shang-Chi's parents in the mystical, peaceful village of Ta Lo isn't your usual 'falling in love scene' as the pair battle it out in the woods, each using their own distinct martial arts discipline that will go on to influence their future son.
But with its rustling leaves and gentle atmospherics, the fight gradually becomes a playful pas de deux that acts as an elegant counterpoint to Marvel's typically bombastic combat sequences. While it may not be packed with LFE or overhead objects, it's a great test of your system's ability to dig up detail as well as the overall integration of your system, with stunning 360-degree camera sweeps, aerial leaps and weapons hurled back and forth.
Starting with the arrival of Xu Wenwu, the creaking trees and distant sounds of the forest canopy subtly give the sensation of an expanded soundstage before the sudden enclosing of the forest cuts right through the centre of the room. After losing his car over the cliff edge, Wenwu then meets the village guardian Ying Li who challenges him with her Baguazhang style of fighting, full of circular footwork that kicks up swirls of curling dust and leaves that envelope viewer. As the fight intensifies, the ethereal score gradually builds in the height channels toward the scene's climax, where Ying Li takes control of the rings and shoots them back toward her opponent, at which point the music of the harp and the shimmering sound of the flying rings entwine and delicately ripple across the room in spectacular style.
Buy Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings on 4K Blu-ray at Amazon (opens in new tab)
Stream Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings on Disney Plus (opens in new tab)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017): the ferry scene
Marvel means nothing if not great action, and every outing of the masked web-slinger delivers on an epic scale with panoramic battles and high-flying adventures. Produced by licence holder Sony, in association with Marvel, the Spider-Man films don’t suffer from the restrained Dolby Atmos Blu-ray mixes of the main franchise, making them ideal for testing out your system’s dynamic range.
A favourite here at What Hi-Fi?, this mid-movie, first-time showdown between Spider-Man and the Vulture begins with some pretty standard busy action – gunshots from left, right, up and down; witty dialogue; a jaunty soundtrack – and then quickly moves to a full-on swinging and flying fest from the two lead characters.
The final act is possibly the most telling, certainly for your sub. There is some wonderfully unearthly groaning and buckling of the hull when the ferry splits in two, and that needs to be communicated by your system with terrifying weight to give that genuine sense of scale. Meanwhile, the height channels are kept busy as a malfunctioning weapon pierces holes vertically through the ship. But this is a moment for revealing your system’s talents for dynamics and detail, too, as the soundscape gets very bare and the music drops away, allowing you to hear true empty silences between those individual effects before Iron Man joins the fun, soaring overhead and deploying flying thrusters to help hold things together.
Buy Spiderman: Homecoming on 4K Blu-ray at Amazon (opens in new tab)
Stream Spiderman: Homecoming on Disney Plus (opens in new tab)
Venom (2018): the bike chase
Whether you think Venom is the essential evolution story of one of Marvel’s most enigmatic villains or an unnecessary spin-off that allows Sony to expand its Marvel licensing options, it’s undeniable that this ode to Spider-Man’s nemesis serves up a blistering Dolby Atmos soundtrack.
Right from the opening credits, the audience is made aware this is a sound design that isn’t afraid to bare its teeth. A spaceship carrying a sample of an extraterrestrial symbiotic lifeform crashes towards earth with an impossibly crescendoing wall of score and effects that somehow manages to make space for scattering debris and radio comms, before the powerful impact segues into an immersive rescue operation with helicopters overhead and the echo of sirens all around.
But perhaps the best scene for demonstrating your system’s strengths (and maybe limits) is the bike chase just before the film’s halfway point as Eddie tries to shake off enemy SUVs and drones trying to kill him while racing through the San Francisco traffic. This scene marks the first time Eddie realises that Venom is inside him and begins to flip out. The supercharged action reflects the turmoil inside him, with piercing transients, meaty explosions, and car flips aplenty. But Dolby Atmos keeps everything coherent, distinct and precisely controlled, preserving the amorphous sounds of Venom’s tendrils and the dialogue between Eddie and Venom’s oppressive sub-rich snarl. This big and breathtaking chase will push every single speaker in your system.
Buy Venom on 4K Blu-ray at Amazon (opens in new tab)
Stream Venom on Amazon Prime (opens in new tab)
Deadpool (2016): the highway fight
Ok, Deadpool isn’t strictly part of the MCU… yet. Still, this first solo outing for the Merc with a Mouth makes it onto our list thanks to an impressively tactile and downright fun Dolby Atmos soundtrack that delivers an avalanche of action-packed sound, all while managing to carve out space for quips, iconic songs and more than a touch of emotional nuance.
Early on in the highway fight scene, sound is used to set the tone for the film. The audience is introduced to Deadpool’s fourth-wall breaking, masked monologues to the camera in time-stretched sequences and hefty doses of gory but enjoyable violence. Atmos immediately sets up the realism of the location with different levels of traffic panning across the soundfield, before the camera’s perspective shifts to the tarmac as main villain Ajax’s convoy passes above the viewer. Deadpool throws away his "maximum effort" line and then drops into one of the cars, sending splinters of glass raining down and proceeding to slog it out with the henchmen inside.
The mix is every bit as clever as the film’s script, cutting quickly between small intimate moments and big, guttural collisions with a vast dynamic range. In amongst the chaos, every twist of metal and shard of glass is crisply rendered, and dialogue is incredibly clear and focused while still sounding natural. This attention to detail and consistency allows the film to effortlessly slip in and out of different styles and play with effects like slow motion without ever losing the audience.
Buy Deadpool on 4K Blu-ray at Amazon (opens in new tab)
Stream Deadpool on Disney Plus (opens in new tab)
Check out our list of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars you can buy