Six months to go still. Ugh. I’m not gonna make it, pretty sure I’m going to lose my mind between then and now. This is like waiting for Christmas morning to come but the sensation is going to last months instead of hours. I can already feel the itch beginning to get more and more powerful. Its happened; I’ve got Avenger fever.
Oh I got it bad. The flick is still about six months away, and that’s just guessing since the official site just says May 2012 still. The fever got me good this last weekend; sent me to the solace of my Blu-ray player to watch some of my favorite movies and it wasn’t long before I realized I was (perhaps unconsciously) systematically watching the films that would eventually lead up to next summer’s comic book nerd ultimate achievement. It got me thinking and reflecting on the long road we’ve taken from way back in 2008 to now. What follows is the thoughts, the sights on the road to Avengers, and an order that seems to set up a flowing narrative that will lead right into the big one.
Iron Man (2008) – Oh man this movie. The quintessential popcorn flick and the perfect launching point for the full foray into Marvel movies. I’m a bit of a fan of this movie (saw the thing six times in the theaters in just the opening week or so – now THERE is a story you’ll have to hear some day) and to this day I can watch it beginning to end and not find a single part where its “safe” to take a bathroom break. This flick was magic as it happened and still holds up as one of the best comic book movies ever made. Robert Downey Jr was one of the first on a long list of casting choices I scoffed at the first time and was eventually totally blown away with how good it turned out (some of the others being Heath Ledger as the Joker, Ed Norton as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, and Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America). This was also where it all started, where we got the first hints at a larger universe; from the inclusion of SHIELD, the quick glimpse of a familiar round patriotic shield, and the arrival of Nick Fury after the credits to tease with an “Avengers Initiative”.
The Incredible Hulk (2008) – The bad taste the first Hulk flick left in my mouth scared me away from this one. I never took the chance to see it in theaters and I missed out. This is one great comic book movie! It feels, from beginning to end, like a direct translation of a Hulk graphic novel. There’s the history (the first movie still technically happened, but we can pretend it was just a bad dream okay?) that already feels established, the central Hulk theme of a desperate man trying to control the savage power inside him and unable to be a part of the rest of the world because of the dangers he might pose, and of course the scenes of Hulk doing what he does best: smash! I enjoy this film more each time I watch it; Ed Norton is great as Banner (yes I’m still really bummed he won’t be in Avengers) and I just hope that Mark Ruffalo does the part equal justice when the time comes. This is the first time that the feeling of a cohesive Marvel continuity is felt; the military hunting the Hulk uses Stark technology, Doc Samson (a staple Hulk character from the comics) shows up, a government sponsored super soldier program from World War II is mentioned, and of course at the end of the flick Tony Stark himself shows up to hint once more at a group forming for something bigger to come.
Iron Man 2 (2010) – I loved the first one, I was really excited for the second one, but … something was off. I can’t describe it exactly but something here just didn’t inspire the same feelings. The film is still good, still fun to watch, but it isn’t the truly entertaining experience the first one was. That being said the film is really more of a tool to set up the contemporary world that Avengers will take place in. SHIELD is an ever-present force in the film thanks to Agent Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow – also appearing in Avengers) being by Stark’s side, allusions to Stark’s father being part of the program that started SHIELD and helped develop the weapons that beat the Nazi’s in WWII (including the super soldier serum), the return of Cap’s shield, a mysterious New Mexico “situation” that comes up, and the final glimpse of Thor’s hammer all drive home that not only have these films been a success so far but this whole mad project, that the Avengers, is really happening.
Thor (2011) – Of all of the Avengers lead in movies this is the one I was probably the most worried about. Afterall this is really just a remake of Masters of the Universe set. Imagine my surprise when they pulled it off. Not only was this film good but it made Thor, Asgard, and the entire mythos tied into this section of Marvel comics seem legit and completely relatable. Hell my only complaint walking out of the movie theater was it wasn’t long enough, I wanted more (like Thor busting some more skulls with his awesome Thor powers on Earth and kind of giving all us humans a quick “wtf was that” moment). I still can’t find any solid complaints about this one and I think I’m going to stop trying. SHIELD is here in force even more so than in Iron Man 2 (THIS was the “New Mexico situation” spoken of in Iron Man 2 – MIND GO A’SPLODE!), we get to see Agent Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye – ALSO APPEARING IN AVENGERS!) in action, Coulson talks about Stark like any of us might talk about an annoying customer we’ve had to deal with repeatedly, and Nick Fury shows up once more (cosmic cube in hand) to tease us with possible villain and motive for the big one to come.
Captain America (2011) – Finally the last stop on the long road that points to the sign that reads: “Next Exit The Avengers”. We couldn’t ask for a better final stop. Our own King talked about why this flick is so good but let me reiterate: this is the best comic book movie ever made so far. Everything about this movie seems like it leaps off the pages of my favorite comic and onto the screen. The way Steve Rogers is just a genuinely good guy (such a rarity these days when most heroes are deeply disturbed borderline psychopaths – yes I’m looking at you Batman) makes the first act of the film feel so natural and is important for us to really fall in love with Cap later on. Once the serum does its magic and makes scrawny into brawny we already know this guy won’t be the usual soldier, he’s going to be something special. Turning Hydra into a genuine threat (seriously these guys used to be the equivalent of hired goons in the comic book world once upon a time) was a stroke of genius, and making the incredible Hugo Weaving their leader was the icing on a cake made out of awesome and happiness. The Red Skull being believable as simply Schmidt until the big reveal is just as important as Roger’s transformation is; both of these characters need to be rooted in our minds as essential good and evil before they can become the embodiments of each in the third act. As a fan of the character (my love of Cap is rivaled only by my love of that other super hero who I’m considering a separation from) I went into this one ready to scrutinize every scene, but after act one I gave up because I knew they’d done it right. As the final launching point before the big one this film sets things up well, it shows us the power of the cosmic cube first hand so we know it is a viable threat, Cap is given every reason to trust Tony Stark in the future because of his relationship with Howard Stark during the war, and a strong hero with a screen presence enough to be the defacto leader of Downey Jr’s Iron Man and Hemsworth’s Thor is an important goal they achieved with Evan’s Captain America. Bringing Steve Rogers into the modern-day in the final moments leaves us ready to see how this man out of time deals with our world being so different from the one he left. Nods to Marvel history with the Howling Commandos, Cap’s sidekick Bucky, and the evolution of his first shield to the round one everyone eventually becomes familiar with make even the most cynical comic book fan grin ear to ear. Then there’s the final teaser after the credits. Some assembly required indeed.
Still six months to go, and I’ve run out of featurettes and extras on most of the disks for these movies. My need to get a good helping of Avengers is beginning to slowly overtake me. I blame Arkham City for feeding my comic nerd hunger, and for causing my hunger to flare up more powerful than ever before. Oh, and if Chris Evans doesn’t yell “Avengers Assemble” at some point in this flick I swear I’m going to find Joss Whedon and beat him to death with a model of Serenity.