Three days ago, Marvel Studios assembled its team of Avengers. And right there on the stage in Hall H of the San Diego Convention Center, they lit fires in the hearts of 6,500 fans present and countless others as word began to ripple across the internet. I’m sure that it was a sight to see. And from a distance, even I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of anticipation for the superhero team-up — one that will put Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) on screen together. The 2012 film will be a cinematic event unlike anything ever attempted before. There’s no doubt about that. Never has a studio embarked on a comic adaptation quite so ambitious. Then again, there’s never been a studio making comic adaptations quite the way young Marvel has done. It all seems as if planets are aligning, deities are smiling and harmony between the world of comics and the world of movies has finally come to pass.
But when we wipe away all of the manufactured bliss created on stage by Marvel Studios on Saturday, we realize quickly that there are still plenty of questions on the road ahead. In fact, there are more than questions — for Marvel, there are giant speed-bumps in the form of two films yet to be finished and released, and an entire team-up film to be planned and executed. It’s no small task. And even though the work of Marvel thus-far has been universally liked by the denizens of fandom, that doesn’t mean that things couldn’t go very wrong in between now and the summer before the end of the world.
This Puzzle is Missing a Few Pieces
We were reminded today, as Monday morning struck and the Hollywood machine awoke from its Con spend-a-thon hangover, that the eight actors (the aforementioned foursome along with Scarlett Johansson, Clark Gregg, Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson) that stood atop Mount Marvel on Saturday aren’t all the pieces of the puzzle. There are still plenty of supporting characters to be cast. Tom Hiddleston, who plays Thor’s angsty little brother Loki, has been inferred to be the film’s villain, as have about 1oo other options. Eva Longoria is back in the mix, as CBM another report saying that she’s still very much in the running to play The Wasp. And where The Wasp goes, her husband Ant-Man isn’t usually far behind. Nathan Fillion is today’s hot name being tossed around — a logical choice in the land of Whedon. But both director and well-chinned star have denied the appearance of the character in the “first” Avengers movie. Then again, Marvel is known for keeping secrets. Also, the addition of Jeremy Renner to anything is a tick in the success column.
The point is that an entire film needs to be fleshed out around these characters. This includes giving this team of giants a worth adversary and getting them to play nicely — or more to the point, interestingly for two plus hours. Director Joss Whedon probably feels good right now, but here’s hoping he feels the same way the day before the film goes into production.
Iron Man 2 Didn’t Help
With Iron Man, Marvel Studios didn’t come out of nowhere. But they certainly came out of the same neighborhood. Few expected the Robert Downey-led actioner to be as huge a hit as it was, especially considering the lesser profile of the tin-suited hero. But they did it. Then a few months later, Edward Norton showed up and gave the world of fandom a Hulk movie that didn’t make them sick to their stomachs. And so it was — Marvel Studios was a legitimate player in business (comic film adaptations) that had very few legitimate players.
Then came Iron Man 2. While it was a rip-roaring revisit to a world established with heavy metal beats and the charisma of its star, even the now infallible work of Jon Favreau was gummed up by Marvel’s desire to “work in” and “introduce” the storylines that would lead to The Avengers. It wasn’t three villains in a Spider-Man movie, but the presence of The Avengers Initiative did detract from the energy of the Iron Man story. In short, the need to wedge in these new characters (like Black Widow and the expanded role of Nick Fury) got in the way. The same thought could be applied to the inherent complexity of throwing all of these characters into the same movie. If it isn’t handled carefully, it will be a bulky, plodding affair. Sort of like Drunk Hulk, but far less entertaining.
Two. That’s the number of Marvel Studios investments yet to be cashed in before The Avengers have any hope for success. On May 6 of next year, Kenneth Branagh will deliver Thor. Unlike any of the other Marvel properties, Thor’s world is mystical and lacks the real-world grounding that was given naturally to both Iron Man and Hulk. And for that matter, Captain America. Thor isn’t from around here, and that’s not always an easy sell. Especially when you’re costumes look like something a college drama troupe might cook up. However, it’s still a film in the hands of a very capable filmmaker and a studio that knows exactly what it wants for its characters.
Captain America: The First Avenger however, is questionable for the exact opposite reason. It isn’t in the hands of a more than capable director. With The Wolfman, Joe Johnston proved himself to be a filmmaker perfectly capable of messing up a sure thing. Captain America, part period piece and all character piece, isn’t a sure thing. It’s got a young cast and hero that comes from a different era. Making that fit with the contemporary world that Marvel has created in its other films is perhaps the most difficult task of all. And Johnston’s history doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. However, Chris Evans does look pretty cool in the costume.
In the end, it isn’t hopelessness that I’m slinging. It’s caution. Too often does the world fandom get caught up in the loud, shiny newness of Comic-Con’s many high profile panels. It’s easy to get carried away because you want to be part of that moment every year in San Diego. But it’s important to realize that that moment isn’t determined in the here and now. It will be written later by the quality of the final product. That special moment in 2007 when Jon Favreau debuted the first Iron Man footage wasn’t made truly special until May of 2008, when the finished product shook the world of comic book films.
I remain cautiously optimistic about The Avengers. Questions do remain, but there is plenty of reason for hope in the kingdom of geek. There is hope that all of these characters will feat neatly together into an atmosphere that feels consistent. There is hope that Joss Whedon’s proven ability to work well with ensembles will help these big characters work together instead of tripping over each other. And there is, at the very least, hope that Marvel will continue to place the full task of making films in the hands of its filmmakers. The good news is that Marvel has years of experience putting these characters together. That’s why there is so much excitement in the first place.