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It’s been four years since Marvel busted onto the movie scene controlling its own purse strings with Jon Favreau's excellent Iron Man (May 2008), and after releasing the likes of The Incredible Hulk (June ’08), Iron Man 2 (May ’10), Thor (May ’11), and Captain America: The First Avenger (July ’11), it’s ready for the giant, half-decade-long payoff that is The Avengers (May 4, 2012) to hit theaters.
And we’re ready, too. Brant Fowler, the chief operating officer of Comic Related, Rob Keyes, editor at Screen Rant, and Patrick Sauriol, the editor-in-chief of Coming Attractions, all sat down with freelancer Marc N. Kleinhenz to chat about the quality of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, and... James Cameron doing an Avengers spinoff?
Begin the one-week countdown… now.
Marc N. Kleinhenz:
A little pre-game question first: how effective have the previous five Marvel films been in prepping the stage for the mega-event that is The Avengers?
Brant Fowler (Comic Related):
Personally, I think the five films have done a tremendous job at setting the stage for The Avengers. Each of those films had elements that built on each other, and not just in the extra scenes during the credits, either.
Sure, those extra scenes were meant solely to tie the movies together, and the way Fury was used to bring them all together was very well done, in my opinion. But there were also little seeds here and there that hinted at the other movies. Like in Incredible Hulk (the Norton one), they mentioned in passing, and even somewhat utilized, the Super Soldier serum. In one of the Iron Man films (I don't recall which), we saw Cap's shield. In Cap, we saw the energy in the flying car that tied back into the Iron Man films. And so on and so forth.
Even for the general audience, if they watched all or at least more than one of these films, they surely got a sense of continuity and fluidity between them. And so when The Avengers was teased at the end of Cap and then in many subsequent trailers and TV spots, people knew these characters, knew they were linked, and fan or non-fan, some excitement had to be felt by that kind of unification.
Rob Keyes (Screen Rant):
To build on what Brant says, yes, Marvel Studios was genius in pre-planning the series as a whole – almost to their own detriment, though.
The four core heroes of The Avengers needed to be introduced first, before they could Assemble for the main event, for a variety of reasons. A decade ago, Thor and Iron Man were not mainstream/bankable characters to the non-comic-reading public. They were second-tier to the likes of Spider-Man and the X-Men, so they needed to be established in the cinematic universe before playing integral roles for the team-up.
Not only the characters and origins needed to be introduced and fleshed out individually, but the actors playing them needed to become profile spotlight celebs, as well. No one outside of savvy cinephiles knew who Chris Hemsworth was before Thor, and now he's a leading man, and the same can be said about his villainous co-star, Tom Hiddleston. Robert Downey, Jr. had lost his career until he and Jon Favreau fought to have him lead the $150 million Iron Man film, and now he's A-list.
By laying individual character pieces out in order, Marvel was able to create stars out of their talent, while at the same time letting the world know who their characters really are. They boosted branding and marketing by tying all the threads together, each laying down important foundation for The Avengers to stand on.
That being said, it wasn't all gravy. Thor, while arguable being one of the most fun Marvel Studios flicks, had one of the weaker stories, and that's because it was burdened by SHIELD taking so much screen time away from the idea of its protagonist acclimatizing to our world. Iron Man 2 was another movie that got lost in itself, held back by the forceful inclusion of certain characters and plot points.
Perhaps that was a necessary cost in order to get the public used to seeing all of these faces before throwing them all together, but I hope they learned from it for the post-Avengers flicks. From what we're hearing about the stories of Thor 2 and Iron Man 3, it sounds like they have as they return to character-centric pieces not tied to The Avengers.
Marc N. Kleinhenz:
...except that, of course, we know all the "phase two" movies will take their cue from Avengers and help build up to Avengers 2. =)
I actually think that Thor is about as mediocre a movie as you can get – and that Captain America is worse (with Incredible Hulk being not much better at all). I'm really hoping that Avengers will be a return to (the first Iron Man) form, but I'll just go ahead and assume that it won't matter for Marvel either way – they'll have a hit on their hands no matter what, and we can expect to see the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuing on for at least the next few years.
What about all of you? Any predictions for how the next movie will fare, quality-wise?
Rob Keyes (Screen Rant):
I would disagree on the quality of the Marvel films. As far as summer blockbusters go, Thor was largely successful in taking a very unbelievable and extreme character and universe and meshing it in with the grounded, tech-based theme introduced by Iron Man. While its story was mediocre, its handling of its core characters in Thor, Odin, and Loki was spot-on, and that was absolutely paramount in setting up The Avengers and sequels.
I also think The Incredible Hulk is underrated as one of the better comic book movies we've seen from Marvel – it was a solid character piece that did its roster justice. I wish the Edward Norton-Marvel situation didn't result in them breaking up, as I would have loved to see him play Banner in The Avengers opposite Robert Downey, Jr. That being said, Ruffalo nails his performance in the Banner role.
Going forward post-Avengers, I have higher hopes than I did for the current set of films, and that's because introductions are out of the way. There's no more need to play it safe. The characters, the talent, the universe is all there, and the public has accepted and welcomed it. Now it's time to tell good stories to carry on the universe to bigger and better things. I am confident that both next year's Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 will be better than their predecessors – partly due to my expectation of Marvel loosening their creative grip on the directors and storytellers, and partly due to the lack of requirement of forcing in Avengers introductions.
Brant Fowler (Comic Related):
Thor mediocre and Captain America worse? For me, Captain America was one of the two best films of 2011, hands down. The director, Joe Johnston, perfectly nailed the period piece, even down to the staging and fight scenes, creating an homage to films of an era gone by. Not to mention Chris Evan's stellar performance, one of his best to date, breaking him out of the typecast mold of the goofy hotshot character he's become accustomed to playing in other roles. The movie was classic and yet current and relevant, and it did an excellent job at setting up Cap's entrance into the modern world, and possibly set the stage for the introduction of Winter Soldier in the sequel.
As for Thor, I do agree that its story was a bit more straightforward and lacking some of the depth of the other films, but it did exactly what it needed to do, which was introduce Thor into this world in a way that made sense. I agree with Rob that they managed to do so without it seeming hokey and too farfetched. The acting by most parties in the film was superb, as well, and the action scenes alone were worth the price of admission.
And, again, I'll agree that Incredible Hulk is a very underrated Marvel film. I thought Norton was perfect for the role, and the film set itself so far apart from its bore-fest of a predecessor with the Ang Lee-directed film. It took Hulk back to the basics and was a throwback to the TV show, but updated for today's audience. If I'm being honest with myself, it's one of my favorite films. When I have nothing else to do, it's one of my main go-to DVDs to pop in and watch again probably for the tenth time by now. It was that good.
Given the rumors we've heard about Iron Man 3 with the possible long-awaited introduction of the Mandarin, I do have high hopes for it. I think they realized they went off track a bit with Iron Man 2, and after Avengers, they'll calm things down a bit. I don't think it's absolutely necessary – nor do I think they do, either – to incorporate elements for teases to Avengers 2 into the next wave of sequels.
And as for how Avengers will fare quality-wise, if that's the question, I think everything we've seen so far, and according to the early reviews and critical praise, the quality is going to be, once again, excellent. Both in terms of storytelling and in cinematography, everything I've seen and read thus far leads me to believe it's going to be a stellar film. The nostalgia and fanboy factor aside, it's a solid and proven cast that seems to play off each other very well. If they can pull off enough growth and emotional aspects between the characters involved without the film feeling rushed and overwhelmed, which I think is the challenge with such a large cast, it's going to be a great film.
Patrick Sauriol (Coming Attractions):
Overall, Marvel Studios is doing a fantastic job of coordinating their movie universe. Movies are inherently a risky business, and Feige and his team have a vision that’s being supported by Paramount and Disney. Warner Bros. could learn a lesson by paying attention to the way that Marvel is doing it, and replicate it for their own movie universe.
But that doesn’t mean that Marvel hasn’t made creative mistakes. Iron Man 2 is the biggest one that comes to mind, and while it’s a serviceable superhero movie, it didn’t contain the same spark that made the first Iron Man so appealing. I think part of the problem was Marvel wanting to get the sequel made and in theaters in a two-year turnaround, and part of it may have been Jon Favreau being burnt out or having given most of what he wanted to contribute to Tony Stark’s universe in the first movie.
I think that we all can agree that Robert Downey, Jr. owns the Tony Stark role as much as Johnny Depp has with his Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates franchise. The longer that Downey can play that part, the more that Marvel stands to gain. I have my hopes that Shane Black will bring more edge to Iron Man 3 and give it a slight future-tech Tom Clancy-vibe with equal parts James Bond playboy-with-his-tech-toys.
As for Thor, Branagh did exactly what was required for him to do. As a film, Thor is about the same as Iron Man 2 for me. The Asgard stuff was good, and I also second what both Brant and Rob said about the way that the creative team made Thor and his universe make sense for a 21st-century audience. That said, the action in New Mexico was the weakest part of the movie. I think that they decided to play it safe here and wanted to keep that section of the movie grounded, but in the end, it doesn’t have any charm or feel of small-town America like Richard Donner’s Superman.
I also like to add my appreciation for Edward Norton’s Incredible Hulk. I liked the Ang Lee movie for what it was, but the kid inside me was all smiles when Eric Bana Hulk’ed out and went up against the tanks in the desert. Norton gave a good performance as Banner, and I would have loved to see him in The Avengers, but I understand why Marvel Studios said no way after the shenanigans he pulled during the press for Incredible Hulk. Business is business, and you’ve gotta play ball when a hundred million dollars is on someone else’s line.
As for the Captain America movie, Joe Johnson did as good as job with it as Favs did with the first Iron Man, if not better. It’s not a fantastic movie, but it’s a solid, entertaining superhero movie. Knowing how show biz works, Johnson and the producers should get a gold star for convincing Paramount for making a superhero movie in WWII and going with costume design from that era. Johnson was a great opening band for Whedon’s Avengers, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in Cap 2.
Where does Marvel go post-Avengers? The trick is to find the right approach for each Marvel superhero and their film. Blade is a great example of an R-rated, adult superhero world that can co-exist with Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Avengers. If handled right, Power Pack could be a great family-friendly, Pixar-like film. There are loads of possibilities; the trick is not just matching the right creative team with each Marvel hero or team, it’s also getting The Powers That Be to commit, sign the checks, and get the movies into production and not overload the audience with too many Marvel movies.
As for what Feige has mentioned as possible post-Avengers films, I’d love to see Doctor Strange done with equal parts creepy and superhero action. Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t really hold my interest that much. Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man, I’m all over – let’s get that sucker done. Runaways would be Marvel’s way to make a mutant movie outside of Fox’s control of the X-Men rights, and I’d love to see that one, too. I’d also really like to see a new Hulk movie that goes into the grey Hulk story. The revamped Inhumans and Eternals would also be cool.
And y’know what would really get my interest for elevating things past a dream team superhero movie like The Avengers? Not necessarily Avengers 2, but something like X-Men vs. Avengers. Get Fox and Disney to agree on that, and the concept alone is enough to make $300 mil box office. If you sold it to a guy like James Cameron and got him onboard somehow, then you’ve got the potential for something legendary. Of course, I’m just dreaming, but not so far back, so was seeing The Avengers on the movie screen.
PART TWO OF OUR AVENGERS ROUNDTABLE WILL APPEAR ON THE SITE LATER THIS WEEKEND
[Marc N. Kleinhenz has written for 18 sites, including IGN, Theme Park Insider, and Westeros. If you liked his ability to chair a roundtable, be sure to check out It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones, Vol. I, his recently-released ebook that contains a couple of Game of Thrones discussions with the likes of Time magazine’s James Poniewozik.]
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