In the early 2000’s, after the immense success of the Spider-Man and X-Men series of films, Marvel looked to continue their streak with different superheroes from the pages of their own comic books. After trying with movies that were profitable but universally panned like the features based on Ghost Rider, The Punisher, Daredevil, and Fantastic Four, Marvel thought to put all of their eggs into one basket and eventually produce a film based on the comic all-star squad, “The Avengers”. The problem was that audiences didn’t know who the Avengers were and throwing a movie at them with so many different complex characters would be too much for them to handle. Instead it was decided that each character would be introduced in their very own movie.
The first Avengers film is in the books and its sequel is currently shooting. I don’t think I need to add anything to the movie’s praise. It was excellent and Joss Whedon is the man. While we gear up for the second picture, let’s take a look at the long road that led to the Avengers.
Iron Man (Released on May 2, 2008)
Iron Man has always been a popular Marvel character, it was announced that a long awaited feature film on Iron Man would be released in 2008. It was then announced that Robert Downey Jr. would take the reigns as self-centered millionaire, Tony Stark. Downey Jr. has a promising career in the 80’s and early 90’s but substance abuse problems plagued his career. After doing some time in prison and several stints in rehab, the world didn’t know if he still had it in him to pull out great performances. After a string of critically acclaimed roles (including the awesome indie flick, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”), Downey Jr. proved just that.
Under the direction of Jon Favreau, Iron Man was a major hit at the box office grossing over $500 million worldwide. This set the tone for how incredible an Avengers movie could be.
All of these films will contain a special scene after the credits hyping the upcoming Avengers film. During the post credits scene here, Stark is approached by Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson), the head of the fictional spy organization, S.H.I.E.L.D., who informs them that he needs to assemble the Avengers team.
The Incredible Hulk (Released June 13, 2008)
After the disappointing results of Ang Lee’s 2003 “Hulk” film, Marvel decided to take a different approach with a reboot of the popular Marvel character. Marvel tried to capitalize on the success of Iron Man and further hype the Avengers immediately. Released the very next month after Iron Man came out, 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” now starred Edward Norton, who also co-wrote the script, as Bruce Banner. We’re not used to seeing Norton in mainstream films, especially about comic book character but Norton professed his love for the Hulk character and according to him, was a life-long dream to star in a movie about him. Fair enough. Our antagonist was Tim Roth as the Abomination and Liv Tyler was Betty Ross, Banner’s love interest.
The post credits scene shows Robert Downey Jr. Tony Stark meeting with General Ross (William Hurt) concerning their mission to form the Avengers furthering the storyline.
I thought the film was decent but really had no room to breathe since it was sandwiched between May’s “Iron Man’ and July’s “The Dark Knight”. I enjoyed how they didn’t waste any time in the film on the origin story and instead just recapped how Bruce Banner became Hulk in a montage of stills during the opening.
Hulk was once again recast for the Avengers. This time with Mark Ruffalo playing the angry monster. The story going around is that Norton requested a lot of creative control and was ultimately dropped.
Iron Man 2 (Released May 7, 2010)
After the initial superb Iron Man film, it was going to be a daunting task to top it with a sequel but that’s what Marvel tried to accomplish with 2010’s “Iron Man 2”. Downey Jr. returned as Tony Stark but his sidekick, James Rhodes aka War Machine was recast. Terrence Howard, who played Rhodes in the first film, was apparently very difficult to work with and demanded a high salary so the studio let him go. His role was then given to Don Cheadle. Mickey Rourke was the film’s villain, Whiplash, and Scarlett Johansson debuted in the film as Black Widow. Many more references to the future Avengers flick were made here including an appearance by Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer in the post-credits scene.
I did not like this sequel and forgot about it shortly after seeing it in theaters. It was more of a setup for the Avengers than it was an Iron Man film. Whiplash does not best Tony Stark once and is mostly just standing around doing nothing. We finally get War Machine here but he is wasted terribly.
Thor (Released May 6, 2011)
In the summer of 2011, we got two Marvel films. First up was “Thor”. With “Thor”, we take things to another world. In the land of Asgard, Thor, a hammer-wielding Norse god, is about to claim the throne from his father, Odin, but his jealous, adopted brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), has other plans. After an inadvertent mishap, Thor is sent to present day earth where he meets and falls in love with a astrophysicist named Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman) and fights any danger that befalls the planet.
Avengers member, Hawkeye, debuts in this film (played by Jeremy Renner).
The post-credits scene sets up Loki being the villain in the first Avengers.
Captain America: The First Avenger (Released July 22, 2011)
With Captain America, we go all the way back to World War II. Captain America was actually the very first Avenger but his story is the last we learn before the film. Chris Evans was chosen to star marking the second character he’s portrayed in a Marvel film (first was playing Human Torch in “Fantastic Four”). Evans plays Steve Rogers, a scrawny, young man from Brooklyn who looks forward to serving his country in World War II. When he finds out he didn’t make the cut due to his size and health, he undergoes a seemingly dangerous, experimental procedure that transforms him into a muscular brute. Now touring the United States of America in a patriotic red,white, and blue costume and dubbing himself “Captain America”, Rogers tries to be a good role model until he is stalked by the villainous Johann Schmitt who has now dubbed himself “Red Skull” due to his permanent blood red skin that he developed after undergoing the same procedure Rogers had.
Even though I preferred Thor to this, it was still a cool flick and set up the Captain American character perfectly for the Avengers. Hugo Weaving hits it out of the park as always as Red Skull and the slow transformation from Steve Rogers to Captain America was very well done.
Believe it or not, this was actually the second feature film about the character. In 1990, a universally panned Captain America movie was released and quickly forgotten about. An interesting tidbit was that actor Matt Salinger, the son of famed “Catcher in the Rye” author, J.D. Salinger, portrayed Cap.
Stay tuned and read my recap of the fallout from the first Avengers film and the Marvel films that followed it all in the build up to “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”.