An Avengers movie marathon was one of the first suggestions when FilmsFilmsFilms started the day-long movie events two and a half years ago. Thirteen marathons later and with Marvel just one more movie away from completing “phase two” of its cinema conquering grand plan, we finally strike the Avengers off the list.
There was some debate as to which character each member of FilmsFilmsFilms would come as; five identical Captain Americas would be embarrassing. But with only Thor conspicuous by his absence, it was a pretty solid line up; we even had a Hulk. There was also serious discussions over what films to include, with the entire “phase one” tranche of films totalling an backside numbing run time of twelve hours plus. The starting point was clear though, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man (2008).
Despite the new success of Hollywood comic movies thanks to the likes of X-Men (2000) and Spiderman (2002), Marvel Studios’ first solo cinematic outing was a throw of the dice. The first instalment of what Marvel hoped might be a multi-film story arc leading to the Avengers was a gamble, a hope that audiences outside of hardcore comic fans might want to learn more about Tony Stark and his flying metal suit. Marvel Studios utilised excellent source material for their grand plan, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s 2002 comic reboot series The Ultimates. It re-pitched the Avengers into a modern real-world setting and embraced a more adult theme. It also redrew some of the familiar Marvel faces, most noticeably Nick Fury as a Samuel L Jackson-alike (which the actor shrewdly used to bag the movie role, rather than sue Marvel for likeness infringements) and Tony Stark as a goateed playboy.
Iron Man Suit Mark 0.0000002
We settle into the first film in our marathon and note that there’s still nothing particularly special about the script Favreau had to work with Iron Man; what made the film such a great watch was Robert Downey Jnr. In retrospect, Marvel Studios probably owe Downey Jnr a large chunk of the credit for the success of the Avengers film franchise; if the actor hadn’t worked his magic on the script and created one of the finest blockbuster film characters of all time, Iron Man wouldn’t have been the success it was and there would have been a huge question mark over whether the rest of the series was worth bothering with.
That a failed Iron Man movie would have been followed up by Louis Leterrier’s damp squid The Incredible Hulk (2008) surely would have been the death knell for the Avengers series. The cinematic Hulk, much like his on-page counter part, has proven a difficult beast to wrangle. Ang Lee tried and failed with Hulk (2003) and Leterrier fared only slightly better. Perhaps it’s the nature of the character, the Hulk being the darkest of the Avengers line-up, The Incredible Hulk had a melancholy atmosphere with little if any humour to temper it. It was also painfully obvious that Edward Norton would rather have been anywhere else but in front of Leterrier’s camera. As such, we unanimously voted to veto The Incredible Hulk and hoped that it would be third time lucky for Mark Ruffalo and Marvel; Planet Hulk and World War Hulk please.
Edward Norton .... not welcome in these parts....
By order of release date, it was Downey Jnr who earned another pay day with Iron Man 2 (2010) following next in the “phase one” saga. But outside of some developments for the Iron Man suit and the welcome addition of Don Cheadle stepping into Rhodey’s shoes, it was a film that wasn’t required viewing for the overarching Avengers story. So we move straight on to Thor (2011) but not before stopping for a food and Avengers cocktail pitstop.
Following the surprise success of Downey Jnr and Favreau, fans were much more open minded when it came to Marvel Studio’s grand plan. Even so, the appointment of Shakespearean thesp extraordinaire Kenneth Branagh to the Thor director’s chair raised more than few eyebrows. Thor required outside of the box thinking though, marking as it did the toughest stage of Marvel’s cinematic multiverse, leaving Earth behind for the first time and moving into mystical space realms. Rather than tip-toe around the prospect Branagh, Marvel Studio’s steering hand Kevin Feige, and the Studio scriptwriters embraced it fully and realised Asgard as a big, bold, breathtaking place of wonder. Despite the epic facial hair, flowing capes and ye olde dialogue you never once question what you’re seeing and immediately accept it as canon. The casting gods smiled once again and Marvel secured another perfect player for the second major Avenger with Chris Hemsworth. The female FilmFilmFilm contingent swoon in unison while the male marathoners suck their guts in. Much more than pecs and abs, Hemsworth was a mini revelation as the Norse God of Thunder, funny, affecting, and more the equal of his Oscar winning father, Anthony Hopkins.
We have a Hulk!
And then there’s Tom Hiddleston. It was going to take a hell of a villain to match up to the combined might of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America, but in the Londoner they found one. Perhaps not appreciated as much as the headlining heroes, much of the success of “phase one” comes down to Hiddleston’s work. True to the God of Mischief’s reputation, you never know from one minute to the next what Loki’s aims and motivations are or where his loyalties lie. Hiddleston also had some pretty stuffy dialogue to wrestle with, but he turns every line into gold.
With Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) providing a wealth of additional clues as to what the bigger story is that’s being teased throughout Marvel’s live action outings, we all watch eagle-eyed for spoilers that we might have missed first time round. The best spot of the day is the Infinity Gauntlet, glanced early on in Thor by one sharp marathoner. If you don’t know what the Gauntlet is, give it a Google.
Avengers brewskis....not suitable for kids...
Full of “Hulk” cocktails and in great spirits we jump back in time for Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) next. Marvel Studio’s were on a roll by this stage but the Captain presented a conundrum of a new kind. Back when Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created the character, American sabre rattling was not just all the rage, it was positively essential to protect our freedom; it was 1941 and there were real heroes laying down their lives in Europe and the Far East. But today there’s a lot less enthusiasm for American foreign policy. A flag waving American patriot was going to be a tough sell outside of hardened right-wing America. Wisely, Johnston chose to focus on the Second World War and a time when the Captain could be a Stars and Stripes waving hero without getting audience member’s backs up. When it came time to defrost the Captain, the man-out-of-time angle could be worked just as it had in The Ultimates.
Captain America...shoes are for pussies...!
The female marathoners start swooning once again, but finally the lads have something to cheer about as well with Hayley Atwell rocking the victory rolls and red cocktail dress. Casting wise some of us recall the doubts we had over Chris Evans at the time. As the only decent thing in Fantastic Four (2005), to comic fans Evans was Johnny Storm / the Human Torch. All that was forgotten though within five minutes of Tommy Lee Jones and Tony Stark’s old-man Howard pumping Steve Rogers full of the world’s greatest steroids. Johnston’s film was another success and left fans counting down the days until the release of the Avengers movie.
No such wait faces us though, and three films in there’s not an ounce of fatigue amongst any of our marathoners. The Avengers Assemble (2012), to give the film its UK title, is the longest outing of the day but provides a fitting conclusion to “phase one”; it’s the most spectacular, the funniest, and the most touching of the Avengers saga to date. We lose Agent Coulson, the likeable everyman who surprised Marvel Studios by becoming a standout favourite character, and we get some of best lines in recent cinema, “You mewling quim!”, “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”. It took a sure hand to guide this many lead characters and actors, so Marvel called on man of the moment Joss Whedon. It was an excellent choice and Whedon delivered one of the greatest comicbook movies of all time. We watch the last post credits scene (honestly, is anyone surprised by these anymore?) and still have no idea what Shawarma is.
Black Widow, Peggy Carter and Spidergirl add some pretty to the group.
With only Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) left in “phase two” marathoners are already salivating over the thought of another Avengers marathon. The first one was a doddle thanks to some of the most easily watchable films of the last twenty years. And that was no mean feat for Marvel Studios; the dazzling sight of Iron Man roaring through skies or Hulk leaping from a building was always going to hold the attention, but kudos must go to cast and crew for making the scenes when the heroes weren’t suited and booted equally enthralling. And then there is the Marvel grand plan, the Thanos driven (possibly!) story that is sitting like a storm cloud over everything from Iron Man to Agents of SHIELD. With every new movie and television instalment, a handful of questions are answered only to be replaced by dozens more. It’s a tease of a story device that shows no sign of growing stale yet.