Op/Ed: How to Assemble the Big-Screen AVENGERS

Op/Ed: Assembling the Movie AVENGERS

So Joss Whedon’s big-screen opus The Avengers began principal filming this week. Because of what unexpectedly became my professional life for the last 14 years (immersed in the comic book world since 1997), I have to admit the reality of big-screen comic book films don’t quite have the same luster they once, or might have otherwise had. Forced into press screenings of Jonah Hex and any Punisher movie will do that to a person, but The Avengers is a little bit different, and still a little bit special for me.

My first comics


Mind you, the 10 year-old me would’ve celebrated the occasion as a combination of Christmas morning, Halloween night, and the last day of school on a birthday cake high. A Marvel Triple Action reprint of an early issue of the The Avengers is my very first mid-'70s comic book memory, and the Avengers franchise has been a personal favorite since.

One of the most profoundly bitter moments of my young life occurred sometime later in the 70’s when I discovered a TV listing in the NY Daily News for “The Avengers” on WWOR Chanel 9. Imagine my soul-crushing disappointment after days of breathless anticipation tuning in and finding some English dude in a bowler hat and an I-was-yet-too-young-to-appreciate Emma Peel … in black & white, no less.

I don’t remember when I learned the truth about Santa Claus — not my age nor the specific circumstances — but that one still stings to this day.

But I digress…

All systems seem to be a go for Marvel and Disney on what’s undoubtedly a risky billions-of-dollars proposition. Last year’s Iron Man 2 was a bit lackluster for sure, but that’s nothing some well-timed 2012 cable replays of the original Iron Man can’t help mitigate. Thor is getting absolutely stellar advance reviews in the lead-up to next week’s North American debut and the buzz on July’s Captain America seems solid enough.

But I’ll leave the commercial risk-reward assessments of the enterprise to other writers, today we’re just going to take a speculative look into the story of The Avengers and potentially how Whedon and the Marvel Entertainment Powers-That-Be plan to pull off an unprecedented assemblage of tent-pole properties that both makes sense to the masses and scratches the itch of the long-time hardcores like me.

I have this theory... and no, it does not involve the now popular and heavily rumored inclusion of the shape-shifting alien race the Skrulls, who are more of a Fantastic Four-centric threat anyway. I’m going out on a limb and calling an intentional misinformation campaign on the Skrulls.

I could dissect my Skrull skepticism in finer detail, but for now I’ll leave it at this — introducing an invading alien chameleon race into what’s already a hire-wire act of combining gods, monsters, machines and two-fisted “street” heroes while keeping it grounded on some human level in 120 minutes seems ridiculously ambitious, even in the relative sphere of the already ridiculously ambitious.

Too much, too eclectic, too soon… at least for my tastes.

Another formative

comic memory

No, my theory (and rest assured it’s only that, no “spoiler warnings” here) combines aspects of the original 1960s formation of the Avengers and some other classic Avengers elements, with some touches of The Ultimates, along with three “clues” Marvel itself has intentionally put out there, tied together with a liberal dose of some fill-in-the-blanks of my own invention.

The first clue, of course, was the post-credit teaser from 2008’s Incredible Hulk, where Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark finds a defeated General Ross (William Hurt) alone in a bar, seemingly offering the Avengers aid in helping him solve his Hulk problem.

If we assume these teasers will present a true franchise through-line and won’t be retroactively invalidated or disregarded, this scene seems to occur in movie continuity time after our second clue — one of the final scenes of last year’s Iron Man 2, in which Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury essentially rejects Stark for inclusion in the “Avengers Initiative”, but asks him to participate as a consultant.

The third clue actually comes from a slightly more disparate source – the Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes animated TV series.

There is little doubt Marvel Entertainment has coordinated the make-up of the animated show on some level with their plans for the big-screen adventure, and it’s the cartoon introduction of Ultron and how they went about it that has piqued my interest.

So if you’re still with me, here goes…

Picking up on the ends of Iron Man 2 and the Incredible Hulk (in that order) an Avengers Initiative special ops team that includes Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and perhaps led by Captain America (Chris Evans) is sent on a mission to bring in the national security threat of a still-on-the-run Hulk.

Of course these more-Earthbound heroes are no physical match for the Hulk, they’re simply field leadership support for … wait for it … yes, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Ultron drone robot or robots, based partly of course on Stark technology, his contribution to the Initiative.

Ultron in

"Earth's Mightiest Heroes"

While Ultron (or the Ultrons) along with this smaller-scale Avengers squad are successful in apprehending the Hulk in a first act set action sequence, through machinations of a revenge-seeking Loki (Tom Huddleston, confirmed just today as appearing in the film) Ultron gains his evil sentience and going all Skynet on the planet’s ass, begins to enact a plan to eradicate and/or enslave all human life on Earth.

This grave threat along with Loki’s involvement compels both Iron Man and Thor to join the ranks of the Avengers, and they’re joined by the Hulk, who Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and S.H.I.E.L.D. have together figured out how to keep in some degree in Banner’s control during the 2nd act.

The 3rd act then serves as the first true official “Avengers Assemble” of Iron Man, Thor, Cap and the Hulk (along with as many B-Avengers and character Easter eggs Marvel sees fit to invite to the party) as they go toe-to-toe with Ultron and perhaps his robotic minions in one big massive blowout-to-end-all-blowouts on the streets of New York City.

So for Act 1 you got an action sequence that re-introduces the Hulk to big screen after a four-year lay-off but that doesn’t blow its… well, you know… too soon. Act 2 begins with the introduction of the Big Bad/overarching threat, along with a lot of character introductions and some familiar shared history exposition about secret solider serums, living in the shadow of your father, and technology gone wrong. Then Act 3 is the final team-up five years in the making … or 40 or 50 for life-longers like me.

Least that’s how I’d do it, anyway.

But then, maybe I'm a Skrull...

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