If it's somehow escaped your notice, "The Avengers" is in theaters today. One of the biggest gambles in blockbuster history, it looks to have paid off; the reviews have been hugely positive (read one of ours here), it's already closing on $300 million from the international box office, and stands to break records over this weekend in the U.S. as well.
The media presence has been almost inescapable. With a huge cast, and the verbose Joss Whedon at the helm, there've been more interviews with those involved than you could possibly keep up with. To help you catch up, we've assembled a collection of highlights of what's been revealed about "The Avengers" in recent months and weeks. Some minor spoilers may lie ahead, so if you haven't seen the film yet, keep it bookmarked and check back after the movie.
Whedon Had Pitched Versions Of "Iron Man" and "Batman" Before "The Avengers"
Although this is writer/director Joss Whedon's first superhero movie, he's always been close to the genre. "Buffy" was essentially a superhero, he's written for "X-Men" comics, and he was famously hired to make a big-screen version of "Wonder Woman" for Joel Silver, which never happened. In fact, when Marvel were first thinking about "Iron Man," Whedon was, according to GQ, asked to pitch for that job too. But the one that breaks his heart is Batman, which he took a stab at for Warners before Christopher Nolan got involved. Whedon explains his favorite scene in the film: "He's like this tiny 12-year-old who's about to get the shit kicked out of him. And then it cuts to Wayne Manor, and Alfred is running like something terrible has happened, and he finds Bruce, and he's back from the fight, and he's completely fine. And Bruce is like, 'I stopped them. I can stop them.' That was the moment for me. When he goes 'Oh, wait a minute; I can actually do something about this.' The moment he gets that purpose, instead of just sort of being overwhelmed by the grief of his parents' death." Warners, sadly, were unresponsive. "The executive was looking at me like I was Agent Smith made of numbers," Whedon says. "He wasn't seeing me at all. And I was driving back to work, and I was like, 'Why did I do that? Why did I get so invested in that Batman story? How much more evidence do I need that the machine doesn't care about my vision?" The same day, his TV show "Firefly" was canceled…
Whedon Wasn't Sure About Directing "The Avengers"
The "Buffy" mastermind had been burned by his experiences on "Firefly" and "Dollhouse," and was increasingly moving towards making things for the web, like his successful musical "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog." As he told Wired, "I was determined to do my own thing, with the caveat that should the perfect job be dropped in my lap, I might consider it.” When he was asked to meet with Kevin Feige in 2010, he was only thinking about giving notes on Zak Penn's script, and agreed to write a five-page memo of story ideas. He soon got hooked. "In the process of writing it, I got that bug. I realized, oh, yeah, this would be so much fun." He jokes, "I was young. So young.”
Black Widow Nearly Didn't Make The Cut
Once officially hired, the writer/director didn't have completely free rein, however. Aside from obviously including the main heroes, Wired says that, "Whedon would have just 92 days to shoot, and the postproduction schedule was going to be brutally tight. The company told him the villain had to be the evil god Loki, from Thor. Execs said the movie had to have a big fight among the Avengers. They wanted a set piece in the middle that tore the team apart somehow." Whedon was actually delighted: "I was like, great, you just gave me your three acts,” Whedon says. “Now all I have to do is justify getting to those places and beyond them.” It wasn't smooth sailing, though. The magazine also says that Marvel rejected Whedon's early drafts, and at one point they thought that Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow shouldn't come back, stopped only by Whedon telling them that without her, the film would feel "like a gay cruise."
Robert Downey Jr. Initially Pushed To Be The Pivotal Character, But Accepted It Needed To Be More Of An Ensemble Piece
Many feared that, given that Robert Downey Jr.'s become a megastar in recent years, the film would turn out to be "Iron Man 3: The Avengers," rather than a bona-fide team movie. And indeed, a recent issue of Total Film relates that the star pushed to be the lead at first, the telling Whedon that "I need to be in the opening sequence. Tony needs to drive this thing." But after trying it, Whedon realized that it was the wrong approach. "There was too much Iron Man early on," he says. "And although he's riveting and terrific, they were about to make 'Iron Man 3' afterwards. Stark needs to be the rock star and he's very important in this film, but I structured so much around him that it overbalanced it."
One Of The Biggest Challenges Was Coming Up With A Global Scope Without Leaving The Country
"The Avengers" is big, both in scope and budget, but to make it for a manageable amount, Marvel were set on a fast shoot that took advantage of tax breaks in Cleveland. Whedon tells Movies.com that balancing the two was one of his biggest challenges. "At the end of the day, with 'The Avengers,' you need that kind of world scope. You need the world organization, and you really want to feel the multiculturalism of where they might all be and not feel like, 'I'm in Arkansas, [and now] I'm in a slightly different part of Arkansas.' It needs to breathe like that. It’s not a James Bond film where the establishing shots could be in the opening credits billed establishing shots by because they’re so important. I'm not actually even a fan of establishing shots. I just like to be somewhere and get into the story," he explained. "But we knew we needed as much scope as we could possibly get — it had to feel enormous. And sometimes we worried if we had enough, but when we watched the final thing we were like, 'it seems we’ve got something there.' But it’s tough also because the other thing about a James Bond movie is that if he’s in Siena, they’re going to Siena. If we’re in Siena, we’re going to Cleveland and having great production designers and great set dressers and some imagination. It’s easy to make it work, but there is also a challenge to that to find the scope when in fact you’re having to build it."
Whedon Has A Secret To Adapting A Comic Book Into A Movie
Echoing our piece on the faithfulness of adaptations, Whedon tells Badass Digest that being faithful to the letter is less important when adapting a comic book than staying true to the source material. "It's capturing the essence of the comic and being true to what's wonderful about it, while remembering that it's a movie and not a comic. I think 'Spider-Man,' the first one particularly, really captured [the spirit of the comic]. They figured out the formula of oh, tell the story that they told in the comic. It was compelling, that's why it's iconic, but at the same time they did certain things that only a movie can do [but] were in the vein of the comic. I think you see things like 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,' where they just threw out the comic, or 'Watchmen,' where they do it frame for frame, and neither of them work. You have to give the spirit of the thing and then step away from that, and create something cinematic and new.
The Core Of The Film Was In The Dysfunction Of The Group
How do you unite four heroes (plus stragglers) who've each led their own blockbuster movie? Whedon's answer to Wired was that you don't, something he thinks was the very core of the movie. "They don’t belong together. They all belong alone. The more they’re alone, the less useful they are. And there are a lot of elements of that that got thrown out at script stage, in editing stage. A lot of slightly darker things. But the one thing that did stay in there was the assertion that there are people who can’t be controlled, and we need as a human race to deal with it. We need something to stand up for us. We either need to fight them or we need to make them fight for us. And it doesn’t matter if they’re just kind of skillful or they’re the fricking Hulk. What matters is they’re all people, and they’re all dysfunctional on some level no matter how cool they are. And the dysfunction comes from their inability to work in a group."
It's Closer To A War Movie Than A Superhero Film
For all the superhero flicks that have led up to it, Whedon soon found in the writing process that those wouldn't be the major influences. "The first movie I referenced when Marvel asked me what I'd do if they gave me the script was 'The Dirty Dozen.' People forget, but that movie is an hour-and-a-half of training and 20 minutes of Nazi fighting. It helped me to say, you can have time to let these people get to know each other: their conflict can be as interesting as their conflict with the villain…," he told Total Film. And it went further after he watched Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down: "That's when I realized we needed a war movie. With this many heroes the only way you can really earn them — earn the idea that they are heroes — is that you put them through a meat grinder."
Whedon Didn't Worry About Imitating His Predecessors Too Slavishly
One of the more interesting things about the Marvel movies so far is the way each have had their own visual palettes. Whedon studied them, but had no desire to imitate them. He tells Movies.com: "Visually, I wasn’t going to look to these movies for my cues, except in as much as Iron Man tells me that because he’s the sort of the daddy of all of them that we need to be grounded in the real world to an extent. But then a beautiful Joe Johnston frame is not to be sneezed at and the sort of grandeur of Thor, that’s got to be worked in there too, but I'm not going to go and try and figure out how to ape those guys. I have my own way of shooting. Luckily it kind of contains all those elements. It’s supposed to be sort of naturalistically florid, and so I just felt comfortable with the way I shoot and the way I plan to shoot for 3D as the way to unite all the different styles without just trying to copy them."
Chris Evans Felt Like A Kid On Set
It's not just the audience who'll feel like children again during "The Avengers" — the cast had the same feeling making it. Chris Evans told Empire: "The first time I came on set and saw other people in costume, it was a night-time scene in the woods and it involved myself, Chris Hemsworth and Downey Jr. I had just seen 'Thor' maybe two nights before, so I got on set and I saw Hemsworth in the cape and immediately thought, 'God, there's Thor, I'm looking at Thor' and then I saw Downey Jr in the suit. It's amazing. The kid in me would say, 'I didn't get to act with Robert Downey Jr. I got to act with Iron Man.' I 'd never had that before, where I had seen actors in a film that I was not a part of and then come to work and help them to extend that character's life. It's like being a little kid."
The Biggest Problem On Set? The Cast Got Along Too Well
When Whedon got involved he must have been worried that wrestling with star egos would be half the job. In fact, it turned out that having the actors in the same room was an issue, but not for the reasons you might expect. "When I had everybody on screen," he told Empire, "you really saw an uglier side of all of these guys, because they would not stop chatting. Giggle giggle giggle, chat chat chat. Literally the only time I raised my voice when we were filming was because these guys would not shut up and we had to roll. Don't get me wrong — you would see them standing next to each going 'Is his costume cooler? Are his muscles bigger?' But every single one of them was rooting for the other."
Whedon Had To Strip Himself Out Of The Film
Being such a recognizable writer, some were concerned that Whedon's voice would overwhelm the finished product. Among them, Whedon, who realized after shooting his upcoming version of "Much Ado About Nothing" that he needed to strip back his own idiosyncrasies from the original three-hour cut. He told Wired, "I care about these people, about the fact that they’re isolated,” he says. “But I’m also telling Marvel’s story. 'Much Ado' allowed me to realize that taking away some of the Joss is going to make this a better Avengers movie.” Ultimately, he realized it was better to show than to tell: "You don’t have to say what you’re trying to say. You can just do it, and then people will feel it. The more I hone this and just focus on the Avengers as they relate to one another, the better it works. That’s painful, but it’s a reality.”
There Aren't Any Easter Eggs To Be Found Hinting At Future Movies
Leading up to "The Avengers," Marvel have played the long game, dropping hints to S.H.I.E.L.D and the Cosmic Cube and many other things from "Iron Man" to "Captain America." But Marvel head Kevin Feige told Badass Digest that you shouldn't expect similar nods here. "I find that they're distracting. Joss finds that they're distracting. Frankly we want Avengers to work as its own movie, as a part one. If you keep saying 'Oh look, it's Janet Van Dyne!' everything collapses. I took out some Easter Eggs in 'Thor' because they were getting too [involved]." That being said, there are nods to earlier films, says Feige, "When Tony Stark throws up the screens after Coulson gives him [the dossiers on the other Avengers], those are Easter Eggs for people who haven't seen the other movies. They're clips of Thor and The Incredible Hulk and Captain America on those screens. Those are the Easter Eggs." And fans will notice set-up for a potential sequel mid-way through the credits…
Harry Dean Stanton Plays A Crucial Role In The Film
There's one cameo that will particularly delight cinephiles (although the brief appearance by Polish director, and co-writer of Roman Polanski's "Knife On The Water," Jerzy Skolimowski, is also fun): that of 85-year-old character actor veteran Harry Dean Stanton. Whedon tells Badass Digest that few actors could have pulled off the needs of that cameo: "I needed to get Banner from the horror of what he had done and almost killing Scarlett — or Natasha, I should say — in to, you know, a place where he was prepared to go back into that [Hulk] state. He needs somebody who will just accept him. I sort of got [Stanton] stuck in my head and I was like who is more accepting than Harry Dean Stanton? And, so I got to write this weird little scene — which when I wrote it was not little, it was about 12 pages long. I was like oh, this is great, Banner falls into a Coen Brothers movie! The fact that they even let me keep that concept and that we actually landed Harry Dean to play it was very exciting."
Scarlett Johansson Would Like To Do A Bourne-Style Black Widow Movie, Has Talked To Kevin Feige & Marvel About The Possibility
While pretty much everyone in the cast has earned praise along with the film, Scarlett Johansson impressed fans as Black Widow, particularly as her brief turn in "Iron Man 2" was not nearly as memorable. But as an integral player in "The Avengers" the actress and character steps it up, and ScarJo is already toying with the idea of a standalone movie. "I personally think there's an awesome Black Widow movie in there that is like a kind of Bourne type of film, that would take the whole comic book genre in a completely different direction," she told ScreenRant. I've spoken to Marvel about it and Kevin Feige and there's so much story there to draw from, I think it would be totally awesome."
To Relax, Whedon Murders Homeless People
Well, at least according to his Q&A in The Guardian, anyway…
"The Avengers" is in theaters today.