With Iron Man 2 there was one sideeffect that couldn’t be ignored anymore: The upcoming Avengers movie (a team-up movie featureing various marvel heroes set to hit the screen in 2012 directed by Joss Whedon).
While fanboys around the globe geek out about said movie I am a bit concerned about this whole thing, but first let us analyse the three stages of Avengers annoyance:
- The easter-egg that gets nerds crazy but thankfully leaves the rest alone : There have been side references in comic book movies early on, often just some winks to the source material (Bob Kane drawing a phantom-picture of Batman in Tim Burton’s 89’s version) those things are nice if you know what you are looking for but don’t confuse people who are not into the comic lore. Iron Man 2 has one of these easter eggs when Stark needs Captain America’s Shield to abuse it for his particle accelerator. If you know what this Shield represents you find it funny that Stark is so careless, if you don’t know the Shield the situation itself is funny.
- The scene that has nothing to do with the movie and is there to get fanboys crazy : This scenes are there at the end of the film to remind us that there will be an Avengers movie. Mostly they have nothing to do with the plot except featuring a character from the main movie talking about something that has nothing to do with the main movie. The worst offender here is definately The Incredible Hulk where Tony Stark appears at the end to talk about how they are putting a team together. The scene doesn’t advance the plot, ends with Stark glancing awkwardly at General Ross and that’s it.
- If we have moved past pleasing hardcorefans for a few moments we get storylines shoven into the main movie that take up a significant amount of screentime in order to further promote a movie you might have heard of… this avengers movie.
After listing those 3 points I think it is superfluous to say that I am not a big fan of the Avengers concept even though I was pretty thrilled about this undertaking before watching The Incredible Hulk. So this argument will be heavily biased, nonetheless I am going to start listing the good things before getting dirty:
Respecting the Source:
A lot of problems that turn comic book movie adaptions into failures lie in producer not respecting the source material or screwing around with the basic story in order to make it “acceptable” for mainstream audiences. With Marvel building up the Avengers we can rest assured that this studio won’t make drastic changes to appeal to the masses but instead they have to focus on the individual characters. They know that without Thor and Captain America the Avengers will fail so they have to do their best to make both heroes appealing.
The feeling of an ongoing story:
Looking back at the first comic book movies they were mostly self contained stories and usually when a sequel was announced they just threw in a new villain and hoped to cash in on the previous success. With an Avengers concept there is an ongoing backstory and the sequel is now a new chapter in a big continuing story with many layers that is intertwined with all other movies.
Tackle big issues:
With the separate heroes already established the Avenger concept is a great idea to play with conflicting heromoralities. Now I admit that I am more of a DC guy than a Marvel guy so I am not aware how far the morality conflicts can go but I guess there is a great deal of conflict between Captain America and Iron Man that can be explored. Also Iron Man’s technological background standing against Thor’s mythological backstory can provide a huge storyline about one very fundamental human conflicts : Spirituality against Rationalism.
Offer shades of grey :
One of my favorite DC storyline is « Identity Crisis » in which a murder is taking place that shocks the entire superhero community. Through the course of the story we not only learn about the nature of secret identities and the dark deeds of our heroes but also about the conflicting moralities.
In a standalone movie we are used to our main hero eventually doing the right thing. He will suffer and make mistakes he might not even be the best role model (i.e. Batman’s actions in The Dark Knight) but at the end he will redeem himself and evolve in some way.
With a teamup movie this absolute is gone. Now we have superheroes representing different virtues of mankind and showing the conflicts when they face tough situations. Sure Superman’s ideals are noble and worth striving for, but Batman will stand next to Superman and keep reminding him that his worldview is a tad too naive… while Superman is at the end everything we should be, Batman is the rational voice, the one that tries to bridge those almost god-like ideals with our everyday life.
In the hands of a talented writer and director a Superhero teamup can be one of the most thoughtful and ambitious superhero movies we have ever seen.
Yet there is still the but… where all my fears arise:
It’s already a tough job for anyone to try and bring a superhero on screen let alone deliver an outstanding movie. The source though very rich can often be restricting, the fanbase downright bitchy about every little change (Oh no Heath Ledger will never be a good Joker! We want Venom in Spiderman 3!) and you might not be able to do what you want with the characters because of sequels and continuity (i.e. Gordon can only be fake-dead). If you can still manage to pull of a Spider-Man 2 or an Iron Man then congrats, but with an ongoing Avengers movie there is even more stuff to watch out and while the saying that restrictions can be more usefull for creativity than unlimited possibilities might be true to some extend I still don’t think that a director who tries to put a decent Superman adaption on screen should care about what Green Lantern is doing right now – leave that kind of thinking to the fans and deliver a solid Superman movie that stands on it’s own two feet.
It is also very sad to notice that in an interview after Iron Man John Faverau stated that he would like to have a 3 years gap between the two movies so he can have enough time to get a good movie going. Sadly Marvel forced him to get it down to 2 years and instead of a great movie that rivals the first one we got just an o.k. summerblockbuster.
Turning movies into commercials:
With Iron Man 2 the Avengers have gone from slightly irritating post credits scenes to something that shoves the Avengers story down our throats when everything we wanted to see was a good Iron Man story. When the movie could have time to develop relations between the people we care about (Stark, Pepper, maybe Rhodey or the villain) we are forced to watch Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson pop up and hint at the Avengers and constantly remind us that everything around us is somehow connected to a bigger movie.
Let’s just take apart those two characters and find their purpose for the film:
Nick Fury (the director of Shield played by Sam Jackson) appears and talks to Stark about his project. Now if you have no idea about the Marvel universe and not seen the postcredits scene you have no idea who this guy is. If you have seen the sequence after Iron Man and still have no idea about Marvel comics you are probably as confused unless you have a hardcore nerd by yourside who’s squirming his pants and explaining to you that the Avengers will happen in 2012. So apart from irritating us Jackson is here to give Stark a temporary plotdevice for his illness and handing him a second plotdevice to get rid of his illness over the course of the movie.
The second scene with Jackson is another talk about the Avengers which again has nothing to do with the main plot or the theme of Iron Man 2, therefore the scene becomes a waste of time that is only there as a commercial. And while this scene might be irritating and disconnected to the main plot the post-credits scene tops everything that has gone before it by showing us Thor’s hammer. While Incredible Hulk and Iron Man were at least featuring some elements from the same movie this scene is so randomly inserted and has absolutely no other purpose than to further exploit the anticipation of comic book fans.
Black Widow’s appearance is even more baffling since she does absolutely nothing and has no character whatsoever. It was funny that I read an interview with Scarlett Johansson where she talked about Black Widow as a character whose allegiance wasn’t clear, because in the movie everything she does is: provide eyecandy and being an agent for Nick Fury – not much conflict or uncertainty about her motives.
But we could argue that she was there to deactivate Rhodey while not deactivating the Drones so we can have the specialeffect fight at the end – wow so Black Widow is a conveniant eyecandy. It’s good we have screentime with her instead of developing an interesting relation between Stark and Pepper or show more of Mickey Rourke who is criminally underused in this movie already.
If all upcoming superheromovies will feature characters that are only there as advertisements for a future teamup movie then I sincerely hope that the Avengers will crash and we can return to separate thought out movies.
Going Phantom Menace instead of going Empire:
A special effect without a Story is a pretty boring things… were the words of George Lucas before he turned Yoda into a gummibear. This is exactly what can happen with the Avengers.
What is the reason the first Iron Man is so beloved : Yes special effects and building your own suit, but all this would be meaningless if it weren’t for Tony Stark’s transformation from an arrogant jerk to a guy who wants to make up for his past mistakes. The armor wouldn’t be as interesting if it weren’t for Downey’s phenomenal performance that makes time fly by while we are watching him perfecting his suit.
With Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk and Jacob knows what other superheroes you are inclined to think that the Avengers can only be good, but not only is overcrowding (translate: going Spiderman 3) a tricky stepstone but also a meaningful story has to be found. If the Avengers are just there to fight a biggerer and betterer villain than what’s the point ? After The Dark Knight and Iron Man I think we should know that comic book movies are not about villains of the week (or year). The sequel should not be about a villain that either randomly appears or was the result of a random accident in the previous movie (like they obviously set up in the Incredible Hulk). Good superhero stories deal with a theme that is underlined or manifested by the villain. Iron Man is not about Shellhead against Iron Monger but about Tony Stark dealing with responsibility. Spider-Man 2 is not about Doctor Octopus against Spider-Man but about how much a hero has to sacrifice to be selfless.
So going up against a random invasion will be as interesting as watching another Transformers movie. I have mentioned Identity Crisis before as my favourite Superhero teamup but I doubt that the Avengers film will go that direction. Identity Crisis isn’t even a holy grail for comic book nerds, it is a very love it or hate it relation, but at least it has ambition and a clever storyline. But adapting it onto the big screen would mean to adapt a movie without a final battle and one tiny action sequence in the first half… with a big budget and looking for a great way to cash in I seriously doubt the Avengers will go in a direction that radical, I doubt that even Christopher Nolan could get away with a purely existential Batman 3, there is just too much at stakes which again hinders creativity.
And if Marvel studios force the guy who turned a B-List superhero into 585,133,287 dollars to churn out a sequel as fast as possible hopes are getting low that they will take many creative risks when it comes to the Avengers.