When I first saw The Avengers, it had already made millions of dollars. When I saw The Avengers a second time, it had just crossed the billion-dollar mark worldwide. The global tally had even beaten that of The Dark Knight, which — lest we forget — went on to become the #2 highest domestic grosser of all time until Avatar. This became the first film in history to make over $100 million domestic during its second week in theaters. Allegedly, the film has made so much money for Disney (who somehow wrangled the distribution rights away from Paramount, along with those of the upcoming Iron Man 3) that it completely wiped out all the red ink left over from John Carter.
So now the question on everyone’s mind is “Can it topple Avatar?” Personally, I think that it’s still a tough call, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Leaving aside the matter that The Avengers is far and away a better film than Avatar, there’s the matter of release dates to consider. Avatar had a late December release date, which meant that it had to contend with January and February releases. Remember, those two months are traditionally the studio dumping grounds. Compare that to The Avengers, which comes at the front end of 2012’s summer movie season.
Then again, it’s not like Avengers has much in the way of competition in the immediate future. Dark Shadows? Yeah, that film tried and bit the dust. Battleship? All signs point to that one flopping once it hits the States. Prometheus?
…Okay, so that gives Avengers the entire month of May to run uncontested. Even so, it’s worth remembering that there’s a reason why Avengers is making so much money: Everyone wants to go see it and see it again. Everyone. Somehow, the people at Marvel created a film that appeals equally to people of all ages and all demographics. It appeals to people who are die-hard geeks, to people who’ve never read a comic book, and to people who can’t normally be coaxed into a theater.
Somehow, I doubt that we’ll be able to say the same about Prometheus. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’ll be a very good movie, but I can’t imagine quite as many parents taking their kids to see it. I don’t think that laypeople will be quite as excited about it, especially since Fox has gone to such inexplicably great lengths in hiding the fact that it’s so obviously an Alien prequel. The point being that Avengers has a huge crossover charm that Prometheus just doesn’t. The Dark Knight Rises might have it, though. And no matter who loses the Avengers vs. Dark Knight box office battle, we all win. But I digress.
Bottom line: Prometheus will certainly slow Avengers, but that won’t be enough to stop it.
Looking to the future, what does this success mean for Marvel? Well, I’d hope that Marvel’s newly-found cash and credibility might be used to take a few creative risks, bringing some original properties to the screen and possibly making some movies that aren’t in the superhero genre. I expect they’ll get around to that just as soon as they finish their prototype of an actual arc reactor.
No, Marvel will still be busy making superhero films for the foreseeable future. Iron Man 3 is set to begin shooting in just a few days (with a stellar cast, I might add), the next Thor movie will begin production later this summer, and another Captain America film won’t be far behind. Marvel also has another two unannounced films in development, one of which is rumored to be the Ant-Man film that Edgar Wright has been tinkering with for the past several years. A sequel to The Avengers is of course a given — its development was formally announced a few days ago — though it won’t be for a while. Word has it that Marvel wants to build up to the second Avengers film in much the same way that they built up to the first.
Right now, Hulk remains a huge question mark. There’s currently no sign of another Hulk movie entering development, though that may change in short order. Hulk, after all, was arguably the breakout star (if you’ll pardon the term) of The Avengers, and he got several moments that were undeniably awesome. However, I think that part of the reason why Hulk worked so well in this film is because he was part of a team this time.
To paraphrase a few Joss Whedon interviews that I read, one of the reasons why the previous stand-alone Hulk movies failed is because Bruce Banner spent the entire running time doing everything he could to keep from getting angry. And we, the audience members, spent the entire running time waiting and clamoring for Bruce to get angry! Compare that to Bruce in a group setting, where he can serve as the elephant (again, pardon the term) in the room. He’s the guy that nobody wants to get upset, and everyone is damn well going to listen when he has something to say.
Additionally, Whedon and Ruffalo turned Dr. Banner into a character who’s much more at peace with who and what he is. From the start of the film to the last, Bruce is a guy who’s trying to help people and save lives, all while managing a little problem of his own. It makes the character much more heroic and likeable, but it doesn’t leave a lot of character development for a sequel. Banner spent so much of his past two films looking for a cure, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be continuing that search after the events of Avengers.
There’s also the matter of The Leader from The Incredible Hulk, not to mention Emil Blonsky. Any sequel will have to explain where those characters have been for the past several years, and getting that explanation across in a satisfactory manner will be no easy task (Side note: The short tie-in comic series, “The Avengers Prelude,” explains that Black Widow took The Leader into SHIELD custody shortly after his transformation).
Moving on, what does all of this success mean for Joss Whedon? Well, that question was answered by the man himself right here. I would only add that Whedon is now perfectly free to do whatever the hell he wants for the next two or three films and/or TV series at least, which can only be a good thing. Maybe he’ll have the good sense to stick with Disney and make his next series for ABC instead. Additionally, if this doesn’t mean an increase in DVD sales for Cabin in the Woods, I’ll be very disappointed. If this means a greenlight for any new material in the Serenity/Firefly universe, I may die of joy before getting to see the damned thing.
But is Whedon going to come back for Avengers 2? You might think that answer would be a given, but don’t be so sure. Of the four directors who launched Marvel’s standalone franchises — Jon Favreau, Louis Leterrier, Kenneth Branagh, and Joe Johnston — every single one has parted ways with the studio. And lest we forget, Terrence Howard and Edward Norton both had to be recast for reasons that (to my knowledge) were never disclosed. There’s also the matter of Mickey Rourke, who allegedly had a great deal of creative differences with Marvel over his role in Iron Man 2 (though to be fair, Rourke is famously quite difficult to work with). I won’t even get started on all the directors who came in to replace Kenneth Branagh only to be shown the door later.
It’s quite sad that in its brief history, Marvel Studios already has a reputation for ending relationships that might otherwise have been beneficial. That’s definitely something that they need to fix. On the flipside, if this means that directors like Shane Black and Alan Taylor are given the chance to prove themselves as skilled directors to a huge mainstream audience, then this may yield something positive yet. All of that said, Marvel absolutely must keep Whedon happy at all costs. Not only was Whedon such a huge part of why The Avengers rocked so hard, but seeing their leader scorned will only strengthen Whedon’s fanbase against Marvel. I was there for “Firefly” and “Dollhouse,” I know how this works.
So, let’s sum up. The filmmakers all get a free pass for the immediate future (including and especially Whedon), Marvel and Disney get a blockbuster franchise with all the big piles of money it comes with, and we moviegoers get an awesome movie to watch and to cherish forever. Everybody wins.
…Well, maybe the characters’ original creators and their estates don’t win, but that’s a discussion for another day.
As for the film itself, I don’t really have much to add after my second viewing. My first write-up was quite exhaustive, after all. Still, I did pick up on a couple of new things. Please don’t read any further unless you’ve already seen the movie (though statistically speaking, you have).
There were a lot of little things I picked up on the second time that made the film a lot better. I heard a lot more detail regarding the significance of the stolen iridium and the portal that collapsed at the start of the movie. I saw all the neat machinery in Hawkeye’s quiver, switching out the gadget-laden arrowheads. I could hear Dr. Selvig’s babbling to explain how the portal machine could be shorted (they’re both powered by the Tesseract).
However, I also picked up a couple of new nitpicks that bugged me. The big one was in Hawkeye’s initial attack on the Helicarrier, which was done by an aircraft. I don’t know why it took me two viewings to pick up on this, but why in Stan Lee’s name didn’t the Helicarrier crew see that coming?! They can remotely access every wireless communications system in the world, and yet they don’t have some kind of radar that could pick up an aircraft hovering fifty feet away? Bullshit!
Oh, and speaking of the Helicarrier, there was a very fancy effects scene to show that the Helicarrier can be made invisible. I won’t complain as to how, since this is a comic book universe and far crazier things have been built by way of “science.” So instead, I’ll just ask “WHY?” What purpose did that serve? Why is the Helicarrier perfectly visible every subsequent time we see it? Granted, that worthless story point only took up a few seconds of screen time, but leaving it out probably would’ve saved a lot of VFX dollars. Just saying.
Moving on, it occurred to me that there were a lot of people in the cast and crew that deserved a lot more credit than I gave them at first. Take Scarlett Johansson, for example. Say what you will about her as an actress, but she owns her role. Also, as much as I still think that Maria Hill was underused, Cobie Smulders still proves herself in this film to be a very capable new talent. I can’t wait to see more of her. Additionally, huge props are due to Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek, who did a phenomenal job of editing the film.
Then there’s Alan Silvestri.
Full disclosure: My choice to compose the film was Bear McCreary. Why? Well, firstly because he’s arguably the greatest composer writing music for TV right now and he’s way overdue for a breakout hit. Hell, Joss Whedon himself — an avowed fan of the Battlestar Galactica reboot — would probably back me up on that. Secondly, McCreary has already proven himself capable of writing a killer superhero theme. Thirdly, he’s known for working with exotic and unusual instruments, which might have served the film’s alien menace very well.
But most importantly, McCreary tends to put a great deal of importance on themes. Pretty much every character on a Bear McCreary project gets their own dedicated theme, each of which tends to evolve and weave through the narrative with the characters themselves. I continue to feel that every one of the Marvel movie A-listers need their own musical identity, with a theme every bit as powerful and recognizable as the one Captain America got. The Avengers seemed like the best possible time to establish and to reaffirm character themes for each Avenger.
And this is why I’m not making movies.
In his score, Alan Silvestri didn’t compose individual themes. He didn’t even re-use his iconic Captain America theme. Instead, he composed a single theme to represent the Avengers as a whole. As a result, the emphasis is precisely where it should be: On the group. The movie wasn’t just about making us cheer when the characters did something awesome — though there was plenty of that going around — it was about making us cheer when the characters put their differences aside to stand together. You know that shot of the Avengers facing outward in a circle, each one making an action pose as the camera pans around them? Just the sight of that alone is concentrated awesome, but Silvestri’s music elevates the shot to a whole ‘nother level. It is a thing of magnificence.
Finally, I’d like to address Coulson’s death. This has actually been a very controversial subject, and rightly so. If a recurring “good” character dies and nobody feels upset about it, somebody done fucked up. That said, some viewers have gone so far as to think that Coulson might not actually be dead. I totally disagree.
To start with, this is a Joss Whedon picture. Take it from a Browncoat, there’s no way Whedon killed this character off with the intention of bringing him back. Furthermore, the notion that Fury told such a flimsy lie just to boost morale is ludicrous for reasons that I hope should be obvious. But more than that, the franchise has outgrown Coulson. His entire purpose was to unify the Marvel Cinematic Universe and to bring these heroes together. Well, now they’re together. And now, the film has established Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and any number of other SHIELD agents who can now pick up where Coulson left off. That’s not to say he won’t be missed, just that he’s no longer needed.
And anyway, Coulson was never in the comics. That alone was a pretty big clue that he didn’t have long to live. Instead, Coulson proved to be so popular over the film franchise’s course that Marvel introduced him into their comics. He’s a Marvel character who started out in the movies and then went into the comics, instead of doing it the other way around. It’s something that I’d like to see a lot more of, possibly with an entire superhero franchise. But again, that’s just a pipe dream.
Side note: In the second viewing, I finally caught the bit about the cellist that Coulson was dating. In Portland, of all places!
Another side note: Clark Gregg is set to play a sizable role in Whedon’s upcoming Much Ado About Nothing, so I assume there was no bad blood in the decision to kill Coulson off.
To conclude, The Avengers is every bit as awesome the second time as it was the first time. Its success — hell, the fact that it got made to begin with — is a badge of honor for all involved. Yet my fellow geeks probably have greater reason to be proud than anyone else. We were the ones who knew how brilliant Joss Whedon was to begin with, and now we get to see him get money and mainstream clout beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. We get the satisfaction of knowing that without our support, this film would never have gotten made and it sure as hell wouldn’t have been the success it became. And now we get this fantastic theater experience, soon to be followed by an amazing Blu-Ray.
These are amazing times, my friends.