'Avengers' on the red carpet 0
How long has Marvel's The Avengers been in the works? How long ya got?
For the world at large, the recognition that a plan was afoot to put a bunch of A-list superheroes together in a "super-team" dates to spring 2008, and the release of Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr.
After a stream of thousands of names on the credits had rolled by, those who knew to stay were rewarded with an "Easter Egg" scene of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) encountering in his house one Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) from the intelligence group S.H.I.E.L.D.
"I want to talk to you about The Avengers initiative," he said.
Screen goes black.
Immediately the nerd world erupted with speculative thoughts of the original 1960s comic series -- which teamed the likes of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Hawkeye and Ant Man.
Expectations wouldn't be fulfilled for four years (minus Ant-Man, director Edgar Wright having been slow to deliver his movie about the tiny superhero who could command ants). But The Avengers (in theatres Friday) had been on the mind of current Marvel president Kevin Feige for years before that. It was already nearly fully-formed as an idea when Feige approached Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly) at the San Diego ComicCon in 2004.
And Feige admits, his Eureka! moment had come about four years earlier than that, when he looked at a new Marvel comic. It was a new incarnation of The Avengers in comic form called The Ultimates. And they updated the characters and made it a sort of retelling of its origins in the modern era.
"And Nick Fury, who up until that point had been this grizzled, white general from WWII, became in comic form, Sam Jackson. I mean (British artist) Bryan Hitch literally was looking at a picture of Sam Jackson -- when he drew Nick Fury (Jackson, who Feige describes as "the biggest comic book geek in the cast," bought some of the original art at the time). It occurred to us at Marvel that we had the rights to our own characters, and that we could actually do this."
Thus was born one of the bigger gambles in "tent-pole" movie history, a blockbuster that depended on the success of blockbusters that preceded it.
"The real answer is I've been a nerd my whole life, and have always wanted to see this movie made."
Says Robert Downey Jr.: "Going back to 2007, when we started Iron Man, Kevin said, 'Y'know, this is all going to lead to where we have all these franchises come together. We're going to do something unprecedented and we're going to make this Avengers movie.
"I remember I was nervous and doubtful about it. But by the time Chris (Hemsworth, aka Thor) and Chris (Evans, aka Captain America) had launched their individual franchises with success and charisma, I was like, 'Wow, this is really going to happen!' "
Joss Whedon showed up for his Avengers interview wearing a well-worn Buffy the Vampire Slayer hoodie. Whedon recently replied to the question, "Who would win in a fight, Buffy or Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers)." His elaborate answer, which described the entire fight, ended with Buffy winning. Is he carrying a torch for the vampire slayer a decade after the show's cancellation?
"The truth of the matter is I'm too cheap to buy new clothes," he says with a laugh. "I wish I were kidding."
Making The Avengers, he says, reminded him somewhat of making Serenity, his movie version of his short-lived TV series Firefly.
"Some people come in knowing everything and some people come in knowing nothing. When I watched Wall Street, I didn't know what they were talking about, but I was very compelled by it. If you feel there's a life behind the life, then (the backstory) is just candy."
He did learn a thing or two about making a $200 million-plus movie, with all the spectacle that entails.
"Sometimes I would try to obey the laws of physics and that would be the weakest footage. Finally I just had to accept that everytime a car is hit by anything, it blows up and rolls over. A hamster could do it."
The plot of The Avengers actually carries forward from the end of Thor, in which Thor's evil half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has his eye on a cube of unlimited power, which is in the custody of S.H.I.E.L.D. He's also been conspiring with a race of aliens called the Chitauri to hand over the humans in exchange for an alliance against Asgard (the home of Thor, Odin, et al).
"I don't know why the British are always super villains," Hiddleston says.
"I guess somehow we seem more deceitful. I didn't really know when I signed up to play Loki in Thor for Kenneth Branagh that they were going to make The Avengers and that Loki was going to be the central villain. I later found out that, in the first edition of the first Avengers comic, Loki is the villain. Historically, he's the reason they all get together."
There's been a lot of talk about the humour throughout the movie, including a one-sided fight between Loki and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) that verges on Bugs Bunny. Whedon describes The Avengers as combination of The Dirty Dozen and Ocean's Eleven in that regard.
"Ocean's Eleven is like The Dirty Dozen with nothing at stake. And we needed to have something at stake. The stakes needed to be enormous. At the same time we needed the humour. We needed the buddy fun of these disparate characters."
He continues the Ocean's Eleven analogy with reference to screen time. "We didn't want anyone to think they were the Elliott Gould of The Avengers. We wanted everyone to have the same amount of juice, we wanted everyone to have their Clooney moment."
Says Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), previously best known as the indie film poster boy for The Hurt Locker, "to me it's lighter fare. I've never done a movie my family could go see. They've been freaked out by everything I've done."
Not that the movie is entirely without a message.
Whedon admits that the friction between the boy scout-ish Captain America (Chris Evans) and the self-centred Iron Man/Tony Stark is partly ideological, a metaphor of two Americas.
"Captain America was my (moral) Ground Zero, someone who had been in WWII and saw people laying down their lives in the worst kind of circumstance. And the way it's kind of devolved from Steve to Tony is kind of fascinating. Obviously you're not going to stand around and speechify. But the idea of the soldier is very different from the idea of a superhero."
Whedon cracks code on ‘Avengers’
So, why did Marvel's The Avengers get off the ground, when DC Comics' Justice League of America project (Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern et. al) has been stalled for years? Joss Whedon has two words for DC.
"Call me," he says.
"Honestly I would just say it's enormously difficult to take disparate characters and make them work. And DC has a harder time of it. Their characters are from a bygone era where heroes were bigger. Marvel really cracked the code and said, 'Oh, they're just like us!' A dose of that sort of veracity that Marvel really started with Iron Man, I think you need to use that as your base."