Tuesday, May 01, 2012


“The Avengers don’t belong together, each belongs alone. But the more they’re alone, the less useful they are.”

Avengers Poster
When the Avengers movie was announced, I was very skeptical. Its not that the property is not wonderful, or that the Avengers have no great stories to tell (especially back in the Starlin-written 70s era). The current Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated series is doing a wonderful job of telling those stories with a modern perspective.

The problem is that Hollywood can't seem to do group movies very well. The X-Men films aren't really about the X-Men at all, they're just props in a story about prejudice and someone's ideal of a superhero world. The changes to the world, characters, and stories were so profound that they became separated from the comic book. And then there were the Fantastic Four movies, which were just awful in almost every way. There were some bright spots, but for the most part they were painful.

Plus, its very hard to write the Avengers, because the power level of the characters is so diverse. Thor is nearly invincible, but Black Widow is basically James Bond: martial arts, gadgets, spying. Hawkeye is a dude with a bow, and the Hulk can juggle tanks. How do you present a threat that challenges all of them without being trivial to some or destroying the other?

When Joss Whedon was hired, I was even more nervous. Unlike many, I'm not a huge Joss Whedon fan. His fixation on nubile invincible girls and too-clever quips is grating to me, despite his often clever and welcome writing. Having every single character deliver the same sarcastic pop culture bits gets a bit wearying, and he seems to write almost exactly the same story every time he puts out a show. This one is about a really hot young girl with superpowers....

But there are signs this might be well done, and a piece in Wired has given me at least some room to hope it won't be Fantastic Four III. This section in particular is hopeful:
What’s unusual is what Whedon decided to cut. “I care about these people, about the fact that they’re isolated,” he says. “But I’m also telling Marvel’s story. Much Ado allowed me to realize that taking away some of the Joss is going to make this a better Avengers movie.”

The darker aspects of the dysfunctional team dynamic: out. A quiet scene with Captain America trying to absorb the craziness of modern-day New York: out. And so on. (The rapid-fire dialog and quips are still there, and an ingenue still does some day-saving.) “You don’t have to say what you’re trying to say. You can just do it, and then people will feel it,” Whedon says. “The more I hone this and just focus on the Avengers as they relate to one another, the better it works. That’s painful, but it’s a reality.”
Maybe Whedon has learned something over time. The Cap scene sounds wonderful (and really ought to be released on YouTube as a promo or something), but this movie is not about introspection and thought pieces, its a smash-em-up spectacular. So maybe it won't be awful.

But what really struck me in this article was how the Avengers idea came up. I thought that this had all been planned from years ago, back in 2001 Stan Lee sitting down with a team of crack writers and directors figuring out how to slowly introduce major characters and set up the Avengers Movie without needing to waste time on backstory or origins.

But that's not what happened at all. Part of the problem is that various Marvel superheroes had been done by different films. Spider-Man by Sony, X-Men and Fantastic Four at Fox, so there cannot be crossovers. One of the primary concepts of Marvel is one universe, where crossovers happen regularly. When the city is half destroyed by marauding Sentinels, Spiderman is swinging through saving people's lives and his comic reflects the destruction. But you couldn't do that with the way the properties were split up.

So the idea of setting up a marvel universe in movies wasn't possible: they all had to be discrete, separate characters and movies. The X-Men cannot go talk to Reed Richards about a problem. Spider-Man cannot visit Daredevil and crack jokes. There wasn't any great over-arching plan, just the hope to get characters into film, by any means possible, and that meant different, competing studios. When it came to the Avengers, it wasn't planned at all:
But the idea that Spider-Man movies could happen in the same universe as X-Men movies? Save that kind of talk for the comics shop, kid. “On almost every movie,” says Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios and a veteran producer of films based on Marvel comics, “the writer or director would go, ‘Hey, could we add this character?’ And someone in the legal department would say, ‘No, we can’t do that.’”

With Iron Man, though, Marvel itself was running the show—and suddenly the answer was, “Hell yes.” Samuel L. Jackson’s agents had called Feige to ask about a part in Iron Man—Jackson was, after all, the model for the revamped comics character Nick Fury, head of the security agency S.H.I.E.L.D. So Feige asked director Jon Favreau to add a scene with Jackson as Fury, welcoming Iron Man’s alter ego to a larger world of superheroes. “He was not only telling Tony Stark about the Avengers,” Feige says. “He was telling the audience.” And Disney’s acquisition of Marvel at the end of 2009 was an all-in bet.

“In the first Iron Man, the Easter eggs were simply inside jokes for the Marvel faithful,” Favreau says. “By the time the second one rolled around, part of the agenda was to build toward The Avengers.”
Suddenly a little throw-in for comic nerds became a plot point. And now the ball started rolling. Iron Man wasn't a set up for the Avengers, it was just one more movie that Marvel wanted to get made about their characters that suddenly showed huge interest in the possibility of an Avengers film. Now the cosmic cube, Cap's shield in Iron Man's lab, the super soldier formula in the Hulk, everything could start to tie together. Marvel's ultimate contribution to comics - the shared universe - could come to the movies, in part at least.

So we'll see. There is tremendous interest in the Avengers movie worldwide. Even if its just dreadful, the opening weekend is going to make serious bank. And that's only good for comic books and Marvel, who will be able to springboard that into other films such as Dr Strange and Antman (?). For a comic book fan, that's all good news.


Eric said...

My birthday is Thursday... daughter doesn't have school on Friday... local drive-in is showing a double feature of the Avengers and John Carter starting at midnight... $7 per adult, $5 for kids.

I know what I'll be doing!

Graves said...

Actually, my understanding of the Captain America scene they cut was about the lack of social justice and health care in the modern age, not something a man from the 40s would say at all.