The Biggest Superhero Films That Didn't Happen, Part 2
Comic Books, Film
To the surprise of no-one, Marvel’s The Avengers wasn’t just a hit on its opening weekend, but a record-breaking one that made money for not just one studio, but three. If anyone knows anything about the movie industry, this means that we’re likely just minutes away from the announcement of a whole new wave of superhero movies, especially Marvel Comics-related ones. But what should studios be thinking about as they seek to capitalize on Avengers‘ success?
A Little Bit Of Patience Goes A Long Way
Despite not officially being a sequel, let’s be honest: Avengers is pretty much Marvel Movie #6 (or #5, depending on whether or not you want to count the Ed Norton Incredible Hulk). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think that drove a lot of the movie’s opening weekend success; as good as the movie is, the $200+ opening weekend is as much a result of the audience having been slowly primed for this movie by the teases in preceding Marvel movies as anything else. The first official trailer for the movie may have appeared at the end of last summer’s Captain America: The First Avenger, but unofficially, we’ve been waiting for this movie since Nick Fury showed up at the end of the first Iron Man. There’s always a temptation to lead with your big guns, but the way that Marvel has handled the Avengers franchise is a textbook lesson in how valuable the ability to wait – and to slowly reveal the big picture – can turn out to be.
Character Is Everything
After being essentially cyphers in their first appearances, Black Widow and Hawkeye come out of Avengers as fully-fledged characters, somewhat surprisingly (Or, as fully fledged as the other Avengers, at least). That’s something to thank Joss Whedon for, and it’s a large part of why Avengers works as well as it does: Ultimately, this is a film where the superheroes feel like characters as opposed to action-figure-ready stunt props in colorful outfits, and because of that, the entire thing works as something more than spectacle (The difference between this and, say, Transformers: Dark of The Moon is that, in this movie, you care about whether or not someone dies; in Moon, Shia could’ve been killed multiple times over, and I pretty much would’ve been over it by the time the next action set piece was ready). Sure, superhero stories are often insulted by comparing them to adolescent power fantasies, but the good ones have heart and characters that you can draw yourself onto. That said…
Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better, But It Helps
Avengers happily embraces the… what, cliches? expectations? of the summer blockbuster movie, offering up widescale carnage, seemingly invincible enemies and unbeatable odds at all the tight moments as well as the character stuff that makes the movie something you wouldn’t mind watching again. It’s that rare balance of the big and the small stuff – the way that you nostalgically remember classic movies like Star Wars or Raiders of The Lost Ark – that is so amazingly valuable. Animated movies tend to understand this mix and the need for both sides of the scale more than live action ones – Perhaps because so much time is spent perfecting the story at the start, and because it’s so “easy” to rework/reanimate if necessary? – so that it’s almost seemed as if live action movies have to tip one way or another for some reason. Avengers, however, refutes that idea and, in many ways, raises the bar for the writing of superhero movies from now on (which is to say: Green Lantern 2, you better raise your game if you happen).
Stick To Your Guns
The Hulk? The Hulk? After two failed attempts to get him to work in movies, suddenly people are loving the idea of a live-action Hulk project again, and it’s all because Marvel didn’t give up on the character. Sure, there’s definitely something to be said for knowing when to give up, but I can’t help but feel there’s also something weirdly admirable about keeping going back to the character with slightly different takes until it clicks because you’re just so convinced that it can work, somehow. Focus testing, shmocus testing.
Choose Your Weapons Carefully
Would an Avengers without Joss Whedon have been big? Of course, there’s absolutely no doubt (See that thing about priming audiences since Iron Man above). But would it have been this big? That’s tougher to predict, and it’s very tempting to say no – While it might’ve had a great opening, I doubt it would’ve had the word of mouth, positive reviews or “legs” that this movie has. The choice of Whedon as screenwriter and director seemed a little dubious at first; yes, he had credibility with the core fanbase and he knew the characters and material, but he also had the relative failures of Serenity (in box office terms) and Dollhouse (in creative terms) under his belt, so… who knew which way things would go? Well, Marvel’s bet was a good one, it turns out, and I’d argue it reflects well on the company that they made it as opposed to going with safer, more studio-friendly options. Going with the right person for the project on creative terms as opposed to business ones – Knowing the character being better than having made a massive action movie hit before – has long been a Marvel Studios trademark, but I’d argue that it has never proven so successful as it does with Avengers. If there’s one lesson that Hollywood learns from this movie’s success, here’s hoping it’s that one.