logan j. fowler assembles the details on the biggest comic book crossover event in cinematic history…
In 2008, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) was greeted by a one eyed man clad in black. This stranger to Stark identifies himself as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of S.H.I.E.L.D (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division). “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers initiative,” he states. The screen fades to black, and the applause began.
This was the exact situation I viewed happening four years ago, when I just finished watching the awesome comic book film Iron Man along with some close friends. This was a huge cinematic Easter egg (it took place after the credits), an Easter egg among Easter Eggs. Why?
The Avengers were going to assemble.
The team known as The Avengers started in Marvel Comics in 1963. Marvel’s answer to the Justice League (DC Comics), the group was comprised of Iron Man, Ant-Man/Dr. Henry Pym, Wasp/Janet Van Dyne, Thor, and The Hulk/Bruce Banner. There have been subtle alterations for the group included in the film due out May 4th, but Bruce Banner, Thor, and Tony Stark are getting their introductions into the initiative just like they did in 1963. So who is rounding out the team?
Captain America, who had his origin story told last summer in film format with Chris Evans in the role, became a popsicle at the end of the movie, only to be thawed out, finding himself in a modern day New York, and encountered by Nick Fury, who tells the World War II hero he has been frozen for 70 years. Mr. Stars and Stripes didn’t join the Avengers in comic book form until issue #4, where he was unfrozen and recruited to the group.
Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, played by Scarlett Johannson in Iron Man 2, is one of the heroes featured in the Avengers who did not get their own solo film, rather playing secretary and secret overseer of Stark’s actions, as she is due to fill out a report on the billionaire playboy regarding his acceptance into The Avengers. Widow is a master assassin of sorts, highly trained in stealth and ass kicking, and well, she looks pretty fine in tight black leather. She is one of the Avengers who really doesn’t have a super power, but instead relies on her wits and strength. Romanoff took her place in The Avengers comics in the 1960s.
In the film adaptation of Thor, the Norse god is banished to Earth due to disobeying his father’s wishes and causing trouble for his realm. Upon hearing his hammer, Mjolnir, is stuck in a protruding bit of dirt and mud in a crater, he goes to retrieve it, only to face guards in the S.H.I.E.L.D camp. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, portraying the one mainstay in ALL the Marvel Studios movies, sans, The Incredible Hulk leading up to The Avengers) calls in a mystery character to take Thor out with a gun. Face not shown, we see the S.H.I.E.L.D. representative reach for a gun first, then a bow and arrow. When we finally see the mystery man, it is Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, who is pretty resilient with the weapon he chose after Coulson called him in for help. As Thor keeps taking down guards, Barton quips “You better call it Coulson, cause I’m starting to root for this guy,” foreshadowing the two joining forces in The Avengers. This is the only appearance of Hawkeye in the Marvel Studios movies, and he will a lot more to do come May. The character, despite his brief placement in the movies, is a fan favorite going in, due in part thanks to Jeremy Renner’s quickly rising stardom. In terms of his comic book counterpart, Barton joined The Avengers comics in 1965.
Rounding out the cast, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), adopted brother of Thor and maker of mischief, is set to be the main threat of the gang, assembling an army to bring the human race to its knees. Loki made his first appearance alongside Thor as the bad guy in the first issue of Avengers, and rumors report that he may have an army, but a bigger name baddie may show up in the film to aid him. We’ll see soon enough.
Nick Fury has shown up in three out of five Marvel Studios films-Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Captain America: The First Avenger. Having a cameo appearance in Iron Man, he had more of a role in Iron Man 2, and was there to greet the Captain upon his unfrozen state in The First Avenger. Nick Fury became the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1963 in the Marvel Comics line, but back then he was white and had hair. When the Ultimate line of Marvel Comics launched in 2000, Fury took on an image that looked EXACTLY like Samuel L. Jackson. Eight years later, Jackson fused his comic book image with the movie one, and became the head of the organization set to collect those who could fight the battles S.H.I.E.L.D. never could.
Colbie Smulders (How I Met your Mother) plays S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, and little is known about her character, as she has made no appearance in any of the Marvel films building up to The Avengers. She is one of the latest characters to enter the Marvel Comic Book Universe, as her introduction took place in 2010. While most of the actors in the film have reprised their roles, there has been one major change. In 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton was Bruce Banner, the Jekyll to Hulk’s Mr. Hyde. Due to some problems in ironing out the cast list for The Avengers, Norton had to step away from the project, and actor Mark Ruffalo (The Kids are All Right, Shutter Island) will take the role of the troubled scientist. Oddly enough, Marvel has sort of ignored their involvement in The Incredible Hulk, save for a cameo by Tony Stark in the film.
So what does The Avengers have going for it? A hell of a lot. It’s quite the ambitious project. There’s a superb cast involved, a “leading up” library full of damn fun comic book films, it has all the right people working on it or behind it, and that goes for the director too-Joss Whedon He has handled ensemble casts with the greatest of ease, due in part to his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (television, not the movie), and Firefly. He also directed Firefly’s follow-up in feature film form, Serenity, and he wrote the recent sleeper hit The Cabin in the Woods. He also penned comics based on his own properties, as well as those belonging to Marvel Comics.
The Avengers is a passion project of Marvel Studios, and it has delicately handled its characters for fear of other companies screwing them up. There has been little outcry from fans nitpicking anything from what they’ve seen or heard, and the movie is scoring a near 100% (counting 26 reviews) on rottentomatoes.com. So clearly it’s making its mark in the most positive way possible.
Am I excited?
Hell yes! My midnight ticket has been purchased, my geeky tees have been washed and prepped, and I’m ready to assemble like nobody’s business.
May 4th needs to get itself here now or else I’m gonna Hulk out.