Can the all-seeing Heimdall see The Invisible Woman? Can The Thing go flaccid? When Captain America experiences rapid muscle growth, do his privates? Absurd questions like that come up when you’re letting your geek mind drift off too far instead of finding the right introduction to your article debut. Hey, I’m Chris and this is my very first entry after eight years of message board activity. Still loving the site (shout-out to the B Action Movie guys for recommending the best movie book ever, Vern’s Seagalogy) and I’m really honored to contribute today. Please bear with me if my grammar makes you want me to kill myself by box jellyfish – English is not my primary language, not yet. But I’ll gladly sweat sweet Carl Weathers sweat (Rocky II era) to be as understandable as possible. Note: due to Thor’s recency, there are no direct Thor spoilers in here.
With an overseas gross of over 100 million dollars in its first week alone, Marvel’s newest theatrical comic book adaptation Thor happens to be another sure hit for their recently founded movie studio, aptly named Marvel Studios. Later this year, Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger will follow and try to ape Thor’s success (Matthew Vaughn’s upcoming X-Men: First Class is another Marvel property but not completely developed by Marvel Studios alone, so don’t expect to see Nick Fury enlist a bald James McAvoy; it’s not part of the shared cinematic universe, the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t either). It’s also the last Marvel comic book movie before the official assembling of The Avengers in 2012, which will put together several of the key characters and – which is being filmed right now. Now even if you’re not an avid comic book collector, you’ll already have noticed that the last four Marvel flicks have had something in common. They reference each other, share characters and items, and are generously filled with geek easter eggs, indicating what may be, and what may be next. Let’s take a look at all of that, beginning with the most obvious connective tissue, SHIELD.
In Iron Man, agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson appear to see if Tony Stark is ready to join the ranks of their global world police SHIELD. They want him in a unit of super heroes called The Avenger Initiative, but are skeptical as Tony continues to be a major douchebag. It’s only when Tony finds out about his heritage (his father co-founded SHIELD) that he takes responsibility and applies. He can then be seen in the post-credits scene of The Incredible Hulk, telling Thunderbolt Ross that he’s currently working on bringing together a team that might be able to stop the Hulk. It’s not really a spoiler that Thor meets the son of Coul and becomes a SHIELD member after his New Mexico stint. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury will next be seen drafting Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger, although it’s not known yet whether it happens in WW2 or in the present (there are speculations that Nick Fury might be way, way older than he appears to be). It is already fact that a young and SHIELD founding Tony Senior will turn up in Captain America and help scientists create the world’s first Super Soldier. In The Avengers, Fury and his team of agents will support the heroes in defending earth. Besides Fury and Coulson, additional famous SHIELD agents appear: Black Widow (specialty: speaking Latin and aggressively jumping in people’s faces with her crotch) in Iron Man 2, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) appears in Thor and Maria Hill (Canadian pop sensation Robin Sparkles) debuts in The Avengers. So far, all main comic characters had to do with SHIELD, and as Samuel L. Jackson has a contract over nine appearances, SHIELD will be around for a long time. Now SHIELD is the big web, but the ties and hints don’t end there. Let’s take a closer look at the single franchises and at the easter eggs:
IRON MAN 1+2
Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane is the main threat of the first movie, with the bald terrorist leader seemingly being just that, a random terrorist, but that guy hides something. Raza (who, by the way, has Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello as one of his soldiers) is an executive of The Ten Rings, a global terrorist organization lead by a man called The Mandarin. A man way more dangerous than a bald Bridges ever could be. In the comics, The Mandarin equals Tony in intelligence and owns ten supernatural alien rings (not previously owned by Abin Surr) which provide him with magical powers. He’s also a superhuman martial artist, able to penetrate Iron Man’s MARK armor with his bare fists. The Mandarin’s influence is also seen in the sequel, as he’s responsible for handing Whiplash money and documents to reach Tony Stark in Monaco. Hints to other foes are quite hidden: beside the fact that Stane originally had a vengeful son named Zeke (Stane Lives?), there are two quick billboards with easter eggs. One shows Roxxon, a rival company of Stark Industries, while another shows Fin Fang Foom, a fuming giant dragon. But there aren’t just winks at enemies of Iron Man. In the first movie, Captain America’s shield is seen lying around in the background and in the sequel he even boldly uses it to build his new arc reactor. During Tony’s later welcome in the SHIELD ware house, you can spot a map with different locations, one of them marking something in Africa. As director Jon Favreau confirmed, it marks the home town of T’Challa aka Black Panther, another Marvel hero. A video report in the scene shows the aftermath of the university fight scene in The Incredible Hulk, thus showing that Iron Man 2 ends during the midst of The Incredible Hulk.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK
Leterrier’s Hulk also has easter eggs, but none of them indicate new friends. There is a Tony Stark cameo in the post-credits scene, but aside from that (they cut out a rarely visible shadow-cameo of Captain America’s body in Antarctica) Hulk is only facing new villains. There are General Thunderbolt and Abomination, who both survive and may return in the future, but more importantly, there’s Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson). In the movie, Sterns gets Hulk’s mutated blood on an open head wound, which changes him into The Leader, one of Hulk’s biggest enemies from the comics. The Leader is extraordinarily intelligent and possesses telekinetic and telepathic powers. He was supposed to be the villain in The Incredible Hulk 2, which is on hold as of now, as the flick didn’t reach what Marvel expected it to (it didn’t even do half of what Iron Man made). The other foe is the psychiatrist friend of Liv Tyler’s Betty, Dr. Leonard Samson Skivorski. In the comics, Samson ends up envious of the Hulk and uses a similar experiment to become like him. Instead, he becomes a pseudo-Hulk who is only powerful as long as he has his long mane. You cut that and he breaks down, as in the biblical story of Samson and Delilah.
The concept of hinting at additional Marvel heroes and movies continues in Thor. Loki will be one of the most prominent villains of the shared universe, as he’s the main villain in Thor and The Avengers, and is contracted for another three appearances beyond that. A geek’s wet dream is Odin’s treasure chamber: it holds Dr. Strange’s Eye of Agamotto amulet, Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet, The Destroyer and of course, Laufey’s Casket of Ancient Winters, all of them being extremely powerful magic items. The post-credits scene shows another one, as someone tries to get the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube. It’s the central item in Captain America: The First Avenger and will also play a major role in The Avengers. A scientist named Selvig (Stellan Skarsgar) proves himself to be connective tissue too; he knows Bruce Banner (the script included another line that was omitted in the movie, but he originally named Dr. Hank Pym, Ant-Man), SHIELD and works with and for important characters (you’ll see that in Thor, stay for the credits). He’ll also be seen in The Avengers. The name of the original comic Thor first appears on a billboard: Journey Into Mystery. There’s a neat final easter egg as Thor briefly wears a jacket of one Donald Blake – in the comic, this is his secret identity, and the warrior Volstagg is played by Ray Stevenson, the same dude that played the last incarnation of Marvel’s Punisher.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
The First Avenger sort of works as a prequel to everything else, as it begins during WW2. A small Chris Evans gets transformed by Tony Stark’s father and a Super Soldier serum into a buff Captain America (Blonsky later uses an updated version of this and adds Hulk’s blood to become the Abomination). Cap, a friend named Bucky, a tough (and big bosomed) girl named Peggy and a team of brave soldiers called the Howling Commandos fight the Nazi general Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who tries to go all-out Wolfenstein and wants the Cosmic Cube to bring doom to the world. It also includes Toby Jones as Arnim Zola, a strange Dr. Mengele / Dr. Heiter type of doctor who in the comics doesn’t just get his mouth surgically sewn onto Captain America’s ass, but instead gets his head transferred into his belly. Not Kuato style, but Krang style (well, not exactly. He gets a lcd flatscreen instead of a head, but still, it’s inside his stomach for whatever reason). Cap will end up in the present in his first movie. Yet, the screenwriter already hinted at the possibility of enough room for further adventures set in WW2, just like Fast & Furious and Fast Five are set before Tokyo Drift (and look how that did?).
THE AVENGERS (sorry, MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS)
Not much is known about The Avengers that don’t involve Diana Rigg in leather, but it will most likely feature the Avengers battling the Hulk (with Iron Man donning an exo-frame, so-called Hulkbuster suit), then using a controlled Hulk to fight Loki. Loki is said to summon an alien goblin race named The Skrulls, having them invade earth. SHIELD will fight alongside the Avengers, with Nick Fury playing a major role this time around (I’ve heard he’s contractually guaranteed to get some badass fight sequences). We will very likely see the famous Helicarrier, a giant flying headquarter. That is pretty much all we know about Joss Whedon’s big one… as of now. And it will definitely have some kind of post-credits scene, very likely linking into Iron Man 3.
We already know that Iron Man 3 is set for 2013 and that there are plans for Thor 2, Captain America 2, a SHIELD movie and possible spin-offs for Nick Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye. We also know that there are no current plans to do another single Hulk movie or a second Avengers team-up. Let’s begin with Iron Man. Originally, the makers of Iron Man 2 planned to do the famous “Demon in the Bottle” story in which Tony breaks down and drowns himself in alcohol, but they shied away from that because they wanted to keep the AC/DC feel-good-atmosphere of the first movie. I’m pretty much sure though that we’ll see it in the third movie. First of all, it’s clear that The Avengers will not stay a team. I’m sure it’ll mostly have to do with Tony, maybe because of a hot-headed dispute with Thor. Then we’ve got another major factor: as a result of declining directing Iron Man 3, Jon Favreau will probably not return to play Tony’s driver Happy. They could use this, because in the comics, Pepper and Happy marry and leave him. This combined with fucking up the team could be enough to have Tony start drinking. Robert Downey Jr. has signed on for four flicks, so by doing Iron Man 3 he’d be finished. It’s possible that he won’t be interested in another one after that, therefore opening the road for a really dark and tragic ending. But then it’s going to be done by Shane Black, who’s just awesome himself and isn’t the biggest fan of gritty and dark. War Machine? I have a feeling we will see much more of Don Cheadle, as Black is just great with buddies. Thor was the best thing that could happen to Iron Man 3. As both of the flicks were based in science, it would have been too big a step to suddenly introduce a magician with alien rings. After Thor and Avengers, supernatural stuff is introduced and believable in Iron Man’s world, therefore I’m sure we’ll see The Mandarin and possibly Fin Fang Foom as the main villains in the third Iron Man. There won’t be another equally armored soldier like Iron Monger and Whiplash.
Thor 2. Thor will do great numbers this year, more so than Captain America, but it’ll probably end somewhere between Hulk (260) and Iron Man (590). A sequel wouldn’t be a sure thing, but if it came to be, it’d most likely again be partly set on earth, because that’s a big draw for people. And it’d most certainly keep Loki as the main villain, Natalie Portman in front of and Branagh behind the lense. As for the story, we’ll probably see Loki using the other magic items in Odin’s chamber, maybe building up to one of the biggest Marvel entitities, like Thanos.
Captain America 2. I’m pretty sure Cap will do Hulk numbers at best and therefore not get a sequel. It looks fun, but outside of the USA it will get major problems. As for Nick Fury and SHIELD? I think there are chances of a smaller Avengers like team-up. We’ll probably see Nick Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye together on a mission, maybe even with the Hulk included. This could lead to a return to the earlier movies. For example, the Hulk’s The Leader might team up with Iron Man’s Justin Hammer, or Loki might do something with Arnim Zola. Namor is just too big a risk. Too expensive, same goes for Fathom or Aquaman. That only works if James Cameron does it or if it’s a movie-inside-a-tv-series. Or both. We’ll get some smaller flicks instead. Another Punisher reboot. Iron Fist. Black Panther. A new Blade. Eventually a new Fantastic Four. Four will probably be the next 100 million + project, otherwise it’ll be Dr. Strange. Dr. Strange could also very easily be tested in other flicks, as his magical powers allow almost everything. He might help Cap in WW2 or visit the nine realms with Thor.
One thing will be very interesting to watch: how will The Avengers box office turn out? It looks like a mega event movie, but will it show in numbers? You could argue that the people who go to watch Thor are mostly the same who go and see Iron Man, therefore a team-up like that may not add up as Thor’s box office + Iron Man’s box office. That was already one of the main reasons we never saw a Stallone/Schwarzenegger or Seagal/Van Damme double, because team-ups like that simply don’t attract double the audience. They’re just more expensive. Another interesting thought: do the connections have any worth? Most people don’t see the post-credits scenes, anyway. Or is it something that grows overtime and finally does get it’s recognition in rentals? In the end, the shared cinematic universe is a pretty good concept for Marvel Studios. They can test or keep risky characters in the movies of more popular characters and use their stories to build a shared world. It’s just of high importance that any connection or easter egg is just an extra – it shouldn’t interfere with the basic story of a movie and it should always stay plausible. If Iron Man faces off against a giant dragon in Iron Man 3, there better be a good reason why the other heroes aren’t around to help him. All in all, I think we can be pretty satisfied with the four Marvel Cinematic Universe movies so far. It may get tiring to see SHIELD in every Marvel movie from now on, but then it’s Samuel L. Jackson with an eye-patch in 100 million dollar + superhero movies by the likes of Shane Black and Kenneth Branagh. It could be worse. It could be David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury in a less than 5 million dollar tv movie of the week. That was a reality once.