There’s no doubt that, when The Avengers hits theaters this May, it’s going to be a huge blockbuster. After all, it’s the culmination of four years of moviemaking, all of which have been mere preludes to it. This is the grand slam, the big climax, the moment everyone’s been waiting for.
But what’s this? There are still Marvel movies set for release after The Avengers. Iron Man 3, Thor 2, and a few other follow-ups. These films are a great reminder that, no matter what happens in The Avengers, our favorite heroes will be back on the silver screen in no time. And yet…
Is this a good idea? After all, we’ve been building to this film for years now. Is there a point in continuing on afterwards? Could The Avengers actually hurt Marvel movies in the long run, or will it launch the franchise into an even better next phase?
When I’m talking about “Marvel movies” in this article, I’m talking specifically about the Avengers series. That’s Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and
#5. IT WILL DISTINGUISH THEM FROM THE CURRENT CROP OF GRITTY SUPERHERO MOVIES.
In a recent trailer for The Avengers, Samuel L. Jackson dramatically intones that he “still believes in heroes.” But for the past decade, it seems, superhero movies have been all about bringing things down to Earth, grounding their heroes in reality, and overall making things “darker and grittier,” as the saying goes.
The tone of The Avengers seems to go against that entirely, instead opting
for a colorful, fun popcorn movie without all the serious inclinations and the deep thematic material. And let’s face it, Marvel movies have never not been like this. They’ve all been pretty silly, embracing their comic books roots and focusing more on entertainment than symbolism and social commentary. Iron Man, arguably the darkest film on the list, is also by far the most fun. When people look back on this era, the Avengers films will stand out as a series that strove for fun over intellectualism, and it appears that The Avengers is the final word on the tone of these films.
#5.) IT WILL MAKE THEM AN OUTLIER TO AN AUDIENCE WITH CHANGED TASTES.
Unfortunately, there’s a reason that so many “dark and gritty” superhero movies are out there. First, they’re often quite good, and second, that’s what audiences want. The Dark Knight is one of the highest-grossing films of all time. No Marvel movie even comes close. The fact is that modern audiences don’t live in a comic book world. Our world is dark and gritty. Right now, that’s what people want reflected in their media. John Carter, an unapologetically explosive sci-fi action film, bombed at the box office. Meanwhile, Chronicle, a smart, but very, very dark teen superhero film was a huge success. That’s what audiences like to see nowadays. Is it the smartest idea for The Avengers to back future Marvel movies into an unsuccessful corner? I mean, obviously those films could go in any direction that they want, but I’d imagine that executives would want to see consistency amongst these pictures.
#4. IT WILL BE THE SETUP FOR EVEN BIGGER STAKES IN FUTURE FILMS.
Being the climax of an entire series, The Avengers is bound to have even bigger stakes than any of its predecessors combined. And once audiences understand just how dangerous this universe is, there’s the possibility for all sorts of cool stuff in future films, without it feeling like too much of a leap. The next block of Avengers films will be even bigger and even better than the ones that came before, because how can they not be?
#4. IT WILL MAKE THE STAKES INEVITABLY LOWER.
Once the Avengers take down whatever the threat is in this new film, what’s left to do? Anything that the next wave of films comes up with will be met with a collective yawn from audiences. “That wasn’t so exciting. If Thor could beat Loki and that entire alien army, it was obvious that he could beat that new villain.” Or, alternatively, the stakes in Thor 2 or Iron Man 3 are bigger than the stakes in The Avengers, and those films make no sense as a consequence. “Wait, that villain was way more powerful than Loki, but Iron Man took him down single-handed? It took an entire team to get someone less powerful than that last time around!”
#3. IT WILL CREATE A MODERN CINEMATIC UNIVERSE THAT HAS NO EQUAL.
The Avengers series is an experiment that is truly original. I can’t think of something that’s ever been like it before. The Avengers movies will stand the test of time because of, well, how amazing it is that they even exist, and The Avengers will be remembered as the film that tied it all together. It’s not a series where you have to watch them each one by one. It’s rare that people just randomly decide to watch a film from the middle of a series. But with the Avengers films, it’s a fascinating combination of anthology and franchise. Each film stands on its own, but they all ultimately work as a cohesive whole (kind of like the titular team itself). And hell, now that they’ve teamed up, this could continue indefinitely. They can make sequels for a few years, introduce some new heroes in stand-alone movies, and then do Avengers 2 with all of them. After a while, they can phase out their older characters to make room for newer ones, with the team being drastically changed with each successive Avengers title. This can go on for a long time, creating an unparalleled titan of cinema.
#3. IT WILL FORCE UNHEEDED INTERACTION WITH OTHER AVENGERS.
But once you’ve established that all of these heroes are working on the same planet, it creates some plot holes. “Why doesn’t Tony just call Captain America? He could solve this problem easily!” “Ugh, if Thor had just called Nick Fury, this whole mess would have been over before it started. There wouldn’t have even been a movie, practically!” The Avengers really has to be about how these bizarre individuals come together and learn that they function best as a team. But once you’ve told that story, how do you continue to make stand-alone films? Will each one have some plot convenience about how the hero can’t contact the Avengers for some stupid reason? That’s going to get tiring quickly for audiences, and it’s going to make Avengers 2 feel even more ridiculous. “Oh, now they call for their friends! But they couldn’t do that last time they were in trouble?”
#2. IT WILL FORCE SOME RADICAL CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT FOR ITS HEROES.
The Avengers films have been pretty good up until now about giving their characters reasonable and realistic arcs. Tony changes over the course of Iron Man, Thor changes by the end of Thor, and so on. What’s even better is that none of these characters have lost their distinctive personalities (well, except for Captain America, who didn’t really have one in his movie. Hopefully Joss Whedon remembered to write one for him). In The Avengers, the incredible changes in these characters lives as it relates to the Avengers Initiative are going to force them to develop even more. And it’s not just Whedon’s talent with writing, either. It doesn’t take a great writer to get these characters to change after meeting each other. If there’s one thing that every Avenger has in common, it’s that they’re all solitary, stoic people. They “don’t play well with others,” as Tony remarks in the new Avengers trailer. Once The Avengers is over, and these characters return to their own franchises, they’re going to be totally different people. Maybe you don’t need the rest of the Avengers in a story for them to have an impact on it.
#2. IT WILL SET CHARACTERS ON PATHS THAT MIGHT NOT BE BEST FOR THEM.
But what the hell does Whedon know? He didn’t create these characters for the screen. He has, in his hands, tremendous power, power that stretches across multiple film franchises. What if he has Captain America say or do something that ruins the potential for a future story? What if he changes their characters in such a way that future decisions they make don’t make sense? The Avengers could derail these characters completely while making itself an interesting movie.
#1. IT WILL SET A QUALITY PRECEDENT FOR ALL FUTURE MARVEL MOVIES.
Alright, I’ll just say it. Given the talent level of everybody working on this thing, I’ve no doubt that The Avengers is going to be good (or enjoyable, at the very least). And since this is the Big One, all future films with these characters are going to have to live up to it, especially if they opt to go the “lower stakes” route outlined above. You don’t want people walking out of Captain America 2 saying, “Yeah, it was pretty good, but of course nothing touches Avengers.” It will strong-arm the next phase of Avengers films into actually trying to be good (crazy concept, I know). If they aren’t, hey, that’s life. But because of the influence of The Avengers, I think there’s a good chance they they will be.
#1. IT WILL SET A QUALITY PRECEDENT FOR ALL FUTURE MARVEL MOVIES.
But is that even a good thing? Well, first of all, if The Avengers turns out to be terrible, that might be a bit demoralizing for future Marvel movies. They might actually try less just out of exhaustion. And even if it is great, do we really want to compare every subsequent movie to it? I don’t think we’ll have a choice in the matter. It’ll always be nagging at us, every time we watch a new Marvel movie. This isn’t as cool as you know it could be. You’ve seen better. What happens to a fanbase when their expectations are so well met that everything that comes after is inevitably disappointing? Only time will tell. The Avengers hits theaters on May 4th, and the next wave of Avengers titles starts in 2013 with Iron Man 3. Let’s hope they don’t screw it up.