The Avengers is not something anyone ever really expected to happen. Not really. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone wanted it to happen, especially the geeks. Years ago X-Men showed the studios and the world that something like this was possible; this being an ensemble of well-known and beloved characters with high quality actors. The problem was, and something that failed the X-Men, finding actors with one: the ability to pull off a character and two: the star power to bring in an audience. X-Men achieved what they wanted, sequels, spin offs and prequels. They focused on a few faces, others with some familiarity and had a good draw. Of course what really carried the day was Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, which none of the fans wanted before they saw him on screen. Now, one else can even attempt the role.
Casting directors, who are the real unsung heroes of Hollywood, have a difficult job. They often make decisions that the world will vilify years before the film even begins shooting and the fandom world of comic books is ruthless about their beloved heroes and villains. In consideration for what The Avengers accomplished we must go all the way back to the beginning. The Avengers might have been a good, exciting film on its own, but what the studio did to get us, not only interested in seeing the film, but hungry for the characters and the story, was nothing short of genius and something never before done on the big screen.
The first step in the plan was giving us the back stories. They needed to create characters we would like, follow and believe in. John Favreau had to fight for the opportunity to direct Iron Man, and then had to fight to have Robert Downey Jr. play Tony Stark. Downey is a generational icon and as Tony Stark he would became the foundation for the entire franchise. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that. One of the biggest and most important words in Hollywood, is “franchise.” The Avengers was always going to be a catalyst for billions of dollars in toys, candy, cereal, clothing, television and movie spinoffs, but there was no product yet, just an idea. The production company decided to do something different and monumental. They would in fact shoot the prequels’ before shooting the move. They would give us the origin stories for the most important characters. Genius, you mean make us fall in love with a bunch of products before we actually see them in action… Yes! What a concept. You mean not attempt it with a bunch of different directors and crappy scripts and reboots over twenty years? I’m looking at you DC, Batman and Superman. So you’re saying lets form a plan? Yes.
Iron Man, The Incredible HULK (HULK is always written in caps because… well it’s the HULK) Captain America and Thor. Four movies… well really five movies because the flag ship film, Iron Man, got two. The only way The Avengers was going to be as big as they knew it could be, was creating the franchise, essentially creating the market and the mythology for several generations. Only those in the realm of the geeks really knew the prequel stories and only the hardcore geeks knew them all. The studios had to let the world know who these characters were, “They’re basically God’s,” says Black Widow. “There’s only one God M’am and pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.” replies Captain America and then jumps out the airplane. They had to get people who had never picked up a comic book to know and love these characters.
There were hiccups along the way. Some of the films in the original plan got canceled or moved to the second wave. By the way, The Avengers movie as a concept is only a single cluster in a whole bunch of other movies. They are creating crossovers and team ups on the big screen like never before. The second wave will introduce even more characters and culminate in The Avengers 2. In The Incredible HULK, Ed Norton stared as Bruce Banner and had a falling out with the company, as well as Terrence Howard in Iron Man who played Rhoedy, sort of Iron Man’s second in command, but as they say, “the show must go on” and it did. By the time The Avengers arrived in theaters we had Mark Ruffalo replacing Norton as Bruce Banner and we were fortunate to see Don Cheadle had replaced Howard as War Machine in the Iron Man films. Both actors were excellent casting choices.
So now the studios were set. They had the origin stories. They had great actors. All they had to do was set up some minor plot lines to travel through all the films and they were ready to go. They dropped in a few minor characters to help run the plot lines and push the story through all the films, but wait. They still needed someone to command this team of Avengers. Someone recognizable, a face and a voice so Iconic we wouldn’t question the choice. Enter Samuel L. Jackson as Commander Nick Fury, the center piece to the assembly. A living icon who only has to walk on, say three to five words, turn and walk off screen and everyone would remember he was in the film.
The origin stories were essential to The Avengers movie. With the four origin stories, when the Avengers arrived in theaters we already had our favorites. When the film began no one had to really be introduced. There was a line or two about the secondary characters who were not in the film and some even got a short scene, then you were back to the story. There was no set up or hesitation. Loki, Thor’s brother from the movie Thor, shows up and without a word of greeting just starts kicking ass. It is literally the rudest entrance of a bad guy ever, even Darth Vader had words. Loki enslaves Hawkeye, a minor character we know almost nothing about, and steals the Tesseract. The Tesseract we know is an ancient power source from Captain America and the ride begins. The first action scene is complete and Samuel L. Jackson says okay here we go. We find Steve Rodgers, aka Captain America, with flashbacks from his film. It is a thirty second introduction and we are all caught up. Tony Stark is of course building something as Iron Man and he just as sarcastic, cheeky and cool as we remember. Black Widow is sexily kicking more ass, and sent to find Bruce Banner or the HULK.
Now something important. Bruce Banner is the one character that needs a little brushing up, because he is a principle character and this is the third actor we have seen play him as many films. Is this a Batman situation or a Superman situation? What is good is this is an obviously an older and wiser Bruce Banner. He has had his HULK, essentially a Jekyll and Hyde condition, for so long it is now it is a part of his life. He is cautious, but has accepted it and moved on. The fact that Banner and the HULK are such polar opposites, it is interesting to watch because the David Banner character is always evolving. I would love to see what Ed Norton would have done in The Avengers as Bruce Banner. The first HULK film was excellent. That said; Mark Ruffalo does an amazing job picking up where Norton left off. For fans of the HULK, we get the turmoil and can’t wait to see him shift.
There is a thing about bad guys. I don’t want to keep bringing other film into this, but there are things that other films that have already addressed that The Avengers plays on, so I can’t help it. The thing about bad guys is they are usually narcissistic, egomaniacs that want to rule the world. They will to speak their truth to anyone who will listen and they love, love, love to monologue. Loki loves the sound of his own voice. He loves telling people how insignificant and inferior they are and he loves smiling and prancing around like a diva when he’s doing it. This might be a spoiler, but it’s minor and somewhat funny if you watch for it. Every time Loki opens his mouth to give a speech… he pays for it, which is probably good that he didn’t speak in the beginning because we would have no film.
By: James Gabriel