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Franchise Fracas! – The Road to “The Avengers”

Okay, we all know Marvel’s The Avengers opens this weekend.  This is a unique type of movie.  It is a crossover of other Marvel Comics movie franchises.  However, unlike films such as Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Avengers was in the early planning stages before the films that feed into it were in production.  It was the endgame for every film preceding it.  As such, I thought it would be fun to look back on the films which lead up to Marvel’s The Avengers and to consider what makes these films tick.

It all began in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, a film based around B-level character.  Much to the surprise of comic book fanboys, the film was a massive success, largely due to Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark and the fine balance between comedy and seriousness that director Jon Favreau brought to the picture.  In some ways, it is a unique take on a superhero property as much of the film centered on Stark’s issues and Iron Man was secondary.  Granted, the last 20 minutes got stupid, but the top-notch action sequence made up for it.  This success laid the foundation to do an Avengers’ film, and, according to some reports, convinced Marvel Studios to film a quick Downey Jr. cameo in The Incredible Hulk released later that summer.

Unlike Iron Man, the reboot/sequel that was The Incredible Hulk was lackluster all around.  While it probably has the most interesting story of the pre-Avengers films, the execution is completely lacking.  Quite frankly, the film is boring largely due to the awful narrative pacing.  Audiences must have felt the same as the film underperformed.  Personally, I don’t think Hulk is that much of a relatable character.  Plus, the film suffers from “too much set-up for the sequel” and not enough “let’s make this story the best it can be”.  Edward Norton, who was deeply involved with the production, gives it his best, but it all came short.  With no sequel happening anytime soon, Norton was replaced with Mark Ruffalo for The Avengers.  I’m not anti-Ruffalo, but I am disappointed Norton won’t be back.  I generally don’t like recasting in a film series, and it unintentionally gives The Incredible Hulk another strike against it by making it feel like the odd man out.  Honestly though, who actually remembers this movie?

2009 saw no Marvel Studios films, but they were busy fast tracking their movies for the eventual crossover.  Obviously, they wanted everything to interlock smoothly.  This is evident in 2010’s release of Iron Man 2.  This film was a complete mess.  To be fair, the first half isn’t all that bad as it sets up some interesting dilemmas and challenges for Tony Stark.  However, the last half of the film turned into an unnecessary cameo train that screamed “Watch the Avengers!”  There was no reason for Nick Fury, Black Widow, or Agent Coulson to appear.  None.  They add nothing to the story and wouldn’t have been missed.  Additionally, Tony’s health problem was too easily solved by the “Big Coincidence”.  It was lazy.  And, it screams of studio interference.  If Marvel let Favreau do his thing, I suspect the movie would have been stronger.

2011 had the back-to-back releases of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.  I really enjoyed Thor.  It had its problems (such as superfluous characters and moments of stupidity), but it really brought back that the tone and fun of the first Iron Man with a fantasy edge.  Plus, I am known to be easier on things which have a higher concept.  Captain America, on the other hand, was awful.  You’d think I’d like it since I was a big Cap fan, but no.  It wasn’t a case of expectations either.  Cap lore was done remarkably well.  It was just a poor narrative with lots of questionable moments (did we really need a five minute scene of Tommy Lee Jones eating a steak?).  The narrative was completely forced as the characters did things for no other reason than to get to the next set piece.  You can get more of my thoughts here and here.

Overall, they are not bad movies and can be quite enjoyable.  How do you get a track record like that to the point where The Avengers (the sixth film in this mega franchise) is tracking phenomenally well for opening weekend.  Well, they are fun, for the most part.  The actors really throw themselves into their roles, and the filmmakers were really able to ground these fantastical characters into something that wouldn’t make you ashamed to go and see (yes, fanboys, I love comics too, but they are kinda stupid at face value).  Also, it should be noted that each film is largely the same and follows the same beats.  You have a character with a flaw holding them back, a self-important bad guy exploiting that flaw, and the hero overcoming it which leads into a non-stop extended action finale.  It has worked for this first wave.  But what then?

The big problem with these films is that the continuity is going to strangle them as more entries are made.  Marvel Studios is trying too hard to make everything fit.  It would seem to me to let the individual franchises exist as their own thing, but then get creative when making the crossover film.  Not the other way around.  Plus, after The Avengers, why would these superheroes ever need to work alone?  If Iron Man is having a problem with his new enemy, why not call Thor for help?  I suppose that is nitpicky, but it is worth considering.

Thor 2, Iron Man 3, and Captain America 2 are already in the cooker.  More, unannounced, films are apparently on their way as well.  I think it is likely an Avengers 2 will be coming (my prediction: 2016).  I really hope Marvel Studios really takes their time to develop quality films and not shove them out for the sake of shoving them out.  I also hope they have a more hands-off approach and let the directors do their thing.  I guess we’ll see.

Tell me, faithful followers, what do you think?  Drop us a comment below!

~N

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7 responses to “Franchise Fracas! – The Road to “The Avengers”

  1. CultureCast-Z May 3, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    I think my biggest problem with these Marvel movies is that, with the exception of the first Iron Man, they’re all kinda generic and soulless. I liked Cap better than you did and I liked Thor less than you did (and I hated Iron Man 2), but man were they just kinda empty, soulless blockbusters. My hopes for the Avengers are a bit higher, however. Btw, I don’t even rate The Incredible Hulk at all. I hated that movie.

    • CultureCast-N May 3, 2012 at 9:36 pm

      That is an interesting viewpoint, Zack. I think, after considering it, that really describes my problem with Cap. It probably has a lot to do that, by that point, Marvel Studios knew they were making The Avengers, so the films had more of that made-by-marketing feeling. The internet darlings over at RedLetterMedia once gave a really good description of these Marvel movies: tease trailers for the Avengers. In some ways, it is true.

      However, I disagree with the soulless viewpoint on Thor. I actually view it on the same level as the first Iron Man. In fact, in some ways, I found it to be a stronger movie than Iron Man. Honestly, I’m surprised myself that I enjoyed the movie as much as I did.

      I re-watched The Incredible Hulk this week. While still severely lacking, was better than I remembered it. That said, it seemed like half a movie as it really had no strong narrative through line and all the characters were simply reacting to each other for two hours.

      • CultureCast-Z May 3, 2012 at 10:26 pm

        I really feel like Incredible Hulk is too detached from the other Marvel films. Maybe because at the time they still weren’t sure if the whole Avengers thing was gonna fly or not, I don’t know… But it really doesn’t feel like a part of the same universe.

        I need to rewatch Thor. I think a part of my problem with Thor is that the outer space stuff was awesome and the earth stuff was just “fish out of water” comedy and drama that wasn’t done particularly well. I also never bought the connection between Portman and Hemsworth, but you know how I feel about shoe-horned in romances. Still though, those Asgard scenes were pretty awesome.

        I’m a bit disappointed that Loki is the villain in Avengers though. I never really liked Loki as a character, and he was kinda weak-sauce in Thor, too. That being said, Colm Feore was kinda weak-sauce as well. Have any of the Marvel-produced movies featured compelling villains at all? Let’s do a run down:

        Iron Man 1: Obadiah Stane… sorely underdeveloped and woefully miscast (I just can’t see Jeff Bridges as a villain)
        Incredible Hulk: Tim Roth was clearly in it for the pay check
        Iron Man 2: Whiplash should have been a bigger and badder villain, even though Rourke played him well… also, I love Sam Rockwell but his character wasn’t really compelling
        Thor: See above
        Captain America: I liked Weaving’s portrayal more than you, but I still think it could have been cranked up higher

        • CultureCast-N May 4, 2012 at 8:56 am

          Hulk: Totally agreed.

          I’ll admit the romance element in Thor was weak. Somehow, it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. I guess because Branagh sets up the Asgardian stuff in such Shakespearean terms, that a “one-day-romance” doesn’t feel to unusual.

          I also kinda enjoyed how Portman’s character was kinda ga-ga when around Thor at times. Sure, it was kinda silly, but it’s also kinda realistic. Plus, you almost *never* see that in a movie today. Usually, it’s the guy acting that way.

          You are right on the villains with them being a bit hit or miss.
          Iron Man: I liked Jeff Bridges until that last 20 minutes when he starts acting completely out of character by getting in the suit and destroying things for no real good reason. Seriously, why does he do any of that?!
          Hulk: Tim Roth did seem to sleepwalk through the role, as did William Hurt. I don’t know if that was due to the writing, direction, acting or all three.
          Iron Man 2: Sam Rockwell was so obnoxious in this movie as his schtick gets old really fast. Mickey Rourke was interesting, but his back story is never followed through.
          Thor: Personally, I feel Loki is the most compelling villain of these films thus far. Plus, Tom Hiddleston not only threw himself into the role, but he is totally awesome when it comes to fans. That bumps him up in my opinion.
          Captain America: Red Skull, I didn’t feel was menacing enough, and Weaving seemed bored as a result.

          • CultureCast-Z May 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm

            Hiddleston was great in Avengers. He’s possibly the best part (though that’s debatable based on how well they did justice to Hulk of all characters).

  2. Pingback: Marvel Movie Mayhem « A Film Log

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