I’m a huge comic book fan. As much as I love superheroes, what I really love are the old-fashioned heroes. The ones that do good and make things right because deep inside that is who they are. That is what they were born to do. They are the ones who use their resources to make a difference. They are the ones who put aside their pride to help those that are not strong enough. They are the ones who fall on grenades to keep the rest of their platoon alive. They are the ones that protect the world at all costs, even if it means protecting it from themselves.
I have difficulty putting into words what I felt when I heard in 2008 that they were actually going to make The Avengers movie. It’s something my friends and I (all of us nerds) have been talking about for years. What it would mean to see the Avengers in live action… it’s indescribable. Back then we all speculated about the cast, about the plot. Who the bad guy would be and how they’d play it out. Whether they’d set up multiple movies or if they possibly made a huge flop and the movie franchise would die before it really had a chance to live. We were all going out of our minds, waiting for this movie. And I finally got a chance to see it last night.
Whether it’s been noticed or not, the superhero genre is heading the way of the western. It’s pretty much impossible to write a superhero screenplay and get it sold in Hollywood today. The notion of a new superhero is considered so three years ago. In fact, the only way you can make a superhero movie is if you use a concept that already has a pretty big following. Of course, Marvel has that, but there’s another problem. These stories are based on comic books, and old school comic books at that. The characters have a big following, but they play to a particular market, not mass appeal. There was a definite chance that a movie about the Avengers could go horribly wrong. So many characters in the Marvel Universe have been Avengers, there’s so much back-story, so much history—it would take forever to tell it! And up until recently, the primary form of telling the Avengers’ story was always through animated TV shows (most of which are pretty good).
But Marvel was smart. They did something remarkable with the Avengers. They broke it up into its core pieces and displayed the main components to the world in a format that just about everyone can understand and enjoy. And they were careful about what pieces came when.
It started with Iron Man in 2008. Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark, and everyone got excited. Even before we caught the trailers we could imagine Downey Jr.’s version of Iron Man, and we liked what we saw. He had the playboy attitude, the billionaire flair. That movie did more than just introduce one of the known leaders of the Avengers, it set the stage for every single movie that would come after it. That is where we are introduced to the Stark name. In the Marvel Universe, the Stark Company is king. They have their hands in everything that is something. And that movie did an excellent job of establishing that important concept.
Then later on that year they released The Incredible Hulk. Edward Norton was Bruce Banner and we were still thrilled with what we saw. Following a below par Hulk movie released a mere 5 years earlier, this one was like a much needed palate cleanser. The origin story told in that was minimalistic and I think that’s part of why it was so successful. 80% of the story was more about Bruce the man than the monster he turns into, and that was smart. The Hulk is key to the Avengers, but so is Bruce Banner, and when standing in the shadow of a giant green being of destruction an intelligent but paranoid little man can often get lost. That movie kept our eyes on the more important personality in that duo.
After that was Iron Man 2 in 2010. I’m going to be completely honest and say that that was the one movie in this series so far that I did not really enjoy. There were moments, I’m not going to lie, but they were few and far between. That movie didn’t hold up to the original at all, in my opinion. But it did establish some important things necessary for the Avengers. For one thing, Nick Fury was more of a constant. It was the first time we really had a chance to see Samuel L. Jackson’s character be something more than a specter that shows up after the credits. And they introduced Natasha Romanoff who is one of the original Avengers. I was not thrilled by Scarlett Johansson’s version of Black Widow in this movie. Johansson is usually just a pretty face with a pout, and in this it didn’t seem much different. Yes, she had some action scenes but they were more to establish that she was sexy, not that she was a clever super spy with a dark past who is capable of killing you with a blade of grass. And personally, I was annoyed that she spoke with an American accent even when she was no longer under cover. It’s explained that she knows so many languages, and because she’s in America she has an American accent. I always thought that Natasha’s Russian accent gave her more character.
After Iron Man 2 came Thor. Yes, it told the story of the Mighty Thor played by Chris Hemsworth, the son of Odin, and how his pride became his greatest downfall. It also introduced Loki, Thor’s adopted brother and constant antagonist, who would become the villain in the Avengers movie. And in a very short Easter Egg cameo, that was not credited, it introduced us at least in appearance to Hawkeye. But most importantly it established the idea of multiple worlds, multiple dimensions. Using Asgard, the home of the Norse Gods, that movie showed us that Earth needs protection from more than just itself. With the idea of multiple dimensions established properly, the Avengers’ story can be told properly, the way it should be, with more villains than just those that come from our own world.
The last establishing movie came out later that year. Captain America: the First Avenger in 2011 was the final piece that would bring the puzzle together. After seeing that movie for the first time I wrote a post about character and briefly went into why Steve Rogers is one of the greatest hero characters of all time. Like I said in the post, I was hesitant about this movie when I heard that Chris Evans was playing Captain America. Since he was the Human Torch in Fantastic Four in 2005, I was disappointed that Marvel was now recycling actors. They were establishing a whole new Marvel Universe with these movies, and reusing actors for different parts would ruin everything. But Evans proved me wrong and was amazing an amazing Steve Rogers. That movie established The Captain, the second, more constant leader of the Avengers and his character as an old-fashioned war hero frozen in time and brought back into the world 70 years later. This was undoubtedly the most important piece established in the Avengers storyline, because without Captain America, there can be no Avengers.
5 movies made over half a decade. With the stage set, with the characters introduced, we could finally see the one movie we’d been waiting years for.
The Avengers, released on May 4, 2012, has earned $200.3 million in its opening weekend alone (it surpassed Harry Potter, the former owner of the debut record). And it’s no wonder why, because as a comic book fan, that movie was everything I had hoped it would be.
We weren’t watching actors perform; they were heroes telling us a story. Everyone owned his or her role completely by bringing out every ounce of their big personalities and the tiniest character traits. The characters brought the Universe to life right before our eyes. And with the all-star cast they had, no egos were overblown. No one character was the star over the others. They did a superb job of making it even. Everyone was an equal lead, working together.
The characters that had previously been secondary were finally brought to the forefront. It was nice to see that Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow stepped up to the plate. While she was something of a gopher for the first half, gathering parts of the team and showing people around, in the later parts we really got a chance to see Natasha as more than just a sexy vixen. She was finally Black Widow, espionage extraordinaire and deadly weapon. Since she was really the only female Avenger they could actually use right now (the Wasp is still under copyright with another party), I’m glad she had more to her. And even though Jeremy Renner’s version of Clint Barton didn’t get to sparkle as much as I would have liked because of his role in the story, what he did get to show made me feel hopeful about him in future Avengers films.
The other character aspect that was of some cause for concern was Mark Ruffalo replacing Ed Norton as Bruce Banner. When he was announced to the role I was excited, and unfortunately I was the only one. I could see Ruffalo as a great Bruce Banner, and I’m glad that he proved me right. Ruffalo’s version of Bruce surpassed Norton’s, in my opinion. He had that dry sarcasm that Norton was missing. He was twitchier, less together, whereas Norton’s version always seemed to be too well adapted to his situation. And because Ruffalo did all the action for the Hulk as well, you can see him in the way the Monster moves. There’s no disjointedness; they are the same person. I’m glad that Ruffalo has signed on for more movies.
Story-wise this film was remarkable. There was so much information to cover, and we’ve all seen how terribly that can go when done badly. At 2 hours and 23 minutes they gave themselves ample time, and while it could have dragged in down moments, the writers did an excellent job of making sure there were no down moments. Even when there was no fighting, the story never stopped. Every second, every action, every line had a purpose. And they were even good enough to provide an extra scene after the initial credits that not only serviced the comic book fans in the audience; it set up another Avengers movie.
In my opinion, technically speaking no one aspect stood out over the others, and that’s just they way you want it. Like the Avengers themselves, every technical aspect worked together as a team. The cinematography, the design, the visual effects, the editing, the sound mixing, the music score; everything was working in synch to make this movie as great as it was.
Success wasn’t always a guarantee in this movie. The heroes had to fight for it, and fight they did. The old idea of a hero doing what he does because it’s just who he is has been outdated for quite some time, but I think it’s a concept that needs to come back. This film is all about the Avengers, a team of heroes that could potentially create mass chaos and kill each other, or do some serious good for their Universe and others by working together for a common goal. They’re a handful of old-fashioned heroes, and as Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) says, the world could use some old fashion.