Superhero characters from four separate film franchises come together in “Marvel's The Avengers,” an ambitious comic-book adaptation directed by Joss Whedon.
The film stars Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, aka Iron Man; Chris Hemsworth as Thor; Chris Evans as Captain America; and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk. Each of those characters has been the star of a solo movie; with the exception of Ruffalo, each actor headlined the movie introducing that character to cinemagoers.
Downey's “Iron Man” was the first to hit the screen with Samuel L. Jackson in an eye-patched cameo role as Nick Fury, hinting at a larger cinematic world with more superheroes in it. President of Marvel Studios and producer of “The Avengers,” Kevin Feige, had in mind to create the tapestry that would become “The Avengers” going back that far.
“I've been a nerd my whole life and wanted to see this movie made for my whole life,” Feige said. “The real answer, though, is sort of towards the end of production of ‘Iron Man' one, when Sam was gracious enough to spend three hours on a Saturday to come and break into Tony Stark's house wearing an eye patch and tell him and the world that, uh, you're part of bigger universe. You just don't know it yet.”
The success of “Iron Man” was the first step toward continuing to create an interconnected Marvel cinematic universe.
“And the only challenge was to try to make all the movies live on their own, even if we weren't leading towards an ‘Avengers' movie 'cause ... if they're all just interconnected puzzle pieces, that's not as fun,” Feige said. “They need to be movies beginning to end.”
After the success of “Iron Man,” Downey returned for a sequel, “Iron Man 2.” In 2011, Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans launched their films, “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” respectively.
Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson and Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury appeared in multiple films, creating the framework that these heroes live in the same world. Downey said he was impressed by the scope of the concept.
“I just remember, I would get nervous about it and excited about it and doubtful of it,” Downey said. “And then by the time, um, you know, I already had a history with Sam, and I was really wanting to capitalize on that. And by the time, uh, Chris and Chris had launched their individual franchises with, uh, success and charisma. And by the time we had Mark, I was like, wow, you know what, this is really gonna happen.”
Whedon said successful comics adaptations have to find a space between slavishly imitating the comic on the one hand, and going too far from what made the story successful originally on the other.
“It's capturing the essence of the comic and being true to what's wonderful about it, while remembering that it's a movie and not a comic,” Whedon said at a recent news conference about the film. “I think ‘Spider-Man,' the first one particularly, really captured, you know, they figured out the formula of ‘oh, tell the story that they told in the comic.' It was compelling, that's why it's iconic, but at the same time they did certain things that only a movie can do and, um, were in the vein of the comic.”
Downey said Whedon was able to give each character in the film his own moment to shine, while creating an overall movie that is even greater than the sum of its parts.
“This is essentially a comic book movie, but you kind of buy into the reality of it,” Downey said. “So I think everyone has their moments, and I think Joss did a good job of finding everyone's frequency.”
Feige agreed that Whedon's work on the film kept it from getting overwhelmed with spectacle and special effects.
“My biggest interest in the Avengers is the interaction between these people,” Feige said. “And looking at Joss's body of work and the scripts that he's written and his TV shows, the characters never ever get lost. In fact, those are the ones — those are the moments that shine.”