After years of planning and five films designed to work as stand-alone stories that also laid groundwork for expanding a shared universe, The Avengers finally made it into American theaters on May 4, 2012 (although it was released a little over a week earlier worldwide). North American ticket presales during the week before the release exceeded those for Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America combined by over 150% and had already more than made back its $220 million budget before the U.S. midnight shows had begun.
In 2007, things really began to get underway, though, as Zak Penn was hired to write the film and as 2008 began, Marvel announced an anticipated July 2011 release date. As the other Marvel films slipped back a year, The Avengers was also necessarily rescheduled. Jon Favreau was announced as executive producer, but did not sign on as director. By the end of June 2010 most of the main cast was announced with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner, all set to reprise their roles with the return of Clark Gregg announced at the 2010 San Diego Comic-con along with news that Joss Whedon would be directing.
The only actor not reprising an earlier role was Ed Norton as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. In July, Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, confirmed that Norton wouldn't be back and that it wasn't due to monetary factors, which had been rumored. Feige emphasized that they needed an actor "who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit" of the rest of the cast, which would imply that Norton's rewriting of The Incredible Hulk script, fighting for an extended cut, and his absence from the promotional circuit once the film was released, played a part in the decision. At the Con, Mark Ruffalo was announced as his replacement.
In February, 2011 Cobie Smulders was signed to play the part of Nick Fury's second-in-command, Maria Hill and in March Stellan Skarsgard confirmed he would be returning to play Dr. Selvig. Gwenyth Paltrow was confirmed as returning as Pepper Potts later in May.
Shooting kicked off on April 25, 2011 and finished in September.
Whedon's script does the near-impossible by giving each character enough screen time and actual development to make it feel like we're getting more than we actually come away with. Not only is there physical action to move the plot forward, each character gets at least one emotional moment to connect with the audience, and by the end of the film we've actually advanced each character's individual narrative beyond the films they starred in previously.
This isn't just a team-up; it serves to move everyone forward to a new dramatic place from which to launch the next round of Marvel Studios films, as well as providing a launching point for the starts of new franchises.
And despite fanboy anxiety that Whedon's direction wouldn't be "cinematic enough," the final product shows a very firm hand and an approach to large-screen action that is actually easy to follow while making excellent use of both Manhattan and the more enclosed sets. In fact, this film could serve as a textbook example for how to stage action sequences and makes very clear that the Michael Bay school of action should be jettisoned as quickly as possible.
The film is split into distinct narrative sections. The opening establishes the threat as Loki, under the influence of an unseen Big Bad is returned to earth to lay claim to the Tesseract. In return for its capture, he is promised an alien army, the Chitauri, with which to conquer the planet. Nick Fury's response is to call together the Avengers, even though they had never officially been established – the project was shut down before it could gain steam by the mysterious World Security Council (among whose members include Powers Boothe and Jenny Agutter!!)
Stage Two of the film involves the capture of Loki, the consolidation of the team, and the realization not only of what is going on, but of what SHIELD had planned for the Tesseract. It does a very nice job of shifting things from a pure black and white morality to something a little more complex. Plus, we get our first look at the Hulk. And he is awesome.
If you've ever wanted to see Thor and Hulk throwing down, then this is your chance.
And then Stage Three of the film is the final action sequence as the invasion begins proper. As in the earlier parts of the film, every character gets moments – big moments – with snappy dialogue and clever bits that help us never lose sight of the personalities at play. There is, quite simply, never a moment of wasted film. This sequence is the sort of thing all Action Directors dream about being able to pull off and Whedon nails it. The threat level gets more and more intense and everybody steps up to save the planet.
Plus, random Harry Dean Stanton cameo! YES!
It's the sort of superhero film I've personally wished for since I was eight years old, reading The Avengers from Englehart ("Celestial Madonna" and "Serpent Crown") through Shooter ("Korvac Saga") through Michilenie ("Nights of Wundagore") and watching George Perez and John Byrne come into their own as artists.
The first of two post-credit scenes (a mid-credit scene, really) reveals the Big Bad behind Loki and the Chitauri and should not only send ripples of giddiness through the fans, but also sets the stage for far more cosmic directions in Marvel Studios future projects. The Other, as he is credited, is voiced by Whedon veteran, Alexis Denisof, and should provide for very intriguing sequel plans.
The final after-credit scene was simply perfect, following up on a promise made earlier in the film. Some might not think it worth the wait, but it was good for a hearty belly-laugh.
With over $300 million brought in overseas before its American debut, The Avengers is a guaranteed success and effectively changes the way that superh
ero films will be developed in the future. Its midnight preview screening scored the largest midnight opening for a superhero movie ever ($18.7 million), and with the second highest opening day in history ($80.5 million) it is on track for a record-shattering opening weekend.
And if the reviews are any indication, this film could have legs. With over 200 reviews taken into consideration, the film is scoring a 93% fresh rating from critics, with a 96% from the audience. That's the best combined score of any Marvel movie ever, and puts it on par with The Dark Knight (the number three largest box office success of all time). Essentially, Marvel can now officially print money.
As of this moment, Iron Man 3 is scheduled for a May 3, 2013 release with Shane Black directing and a script by Black and Drew Pearce, Thor 2 is on the docket for November 15, 2013 with Game of Thrones' Alan Taylor and a script from Don Payne and Robert Rodat. Captain America 2 is on the schedule for April 4, 2014, but no director is attached yet. Each of these films are expected to build toward an Avengers sequel
Thanks to the strong critical reception there are also rumors of an upcoming S.H.I.E.L.D. film, possibly a solo Black Widow adventure (or a Black Widow/Hawkeye team-up), and a Hulk project. That's in addition to the announcements earlier this year that Marvel was prepping for possible Inhumans, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Doctor Strange films to accompany the long-in-development Ant-Man film from Edgar Wright.
As long as Marvel Studios can continue to produce hits on the level of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers, they can comfortably afford to support lower-end, riskier projects that can be filmed in the $140-150 million range and only need minimal domestic profits to justify sequels that will further expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.