For the last 365 days or so, you may have heard your compatriots express immense anticipation about this so-called Revengers movie, which may (or may not!) star Iron Man, Batman, the Lone Ranger, and Balki From Perfect Strangers. You want to join in on the fun, but you wouldn't know Captain America from Captain Caveman.
Relax, endearingly perplexed moviegoer! The Avengers isn't that hard to figure out! It's just your run-of-the-mill ensemble flick about a vitamin-enhanced World War II soldier, a viking space god, a tycoon in a flying exoskeleton, an indestructible irradiated man-child, a Judo master in a catsuit, and some guy who's really, really good with a bow and arrow. Furthermore, it's all mired in five decades of comic book lore! Easy peasy!
Let's kick things off by establishing that The Avengers stars characters from Marvel Comics' comic books. The adventures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Shaquille O'Neal are published by DC Comics, so they do not appear in The Avengers.
Similarly, other Marvel Comics characters like Wolverine and Spider-Man are not in The Avengers, even though they are Avengers in the comic books. (TWIST: Almost everybody in Marvel Comics is an Avenger at some point!) Finally, Tintin is not an Avenger; he is Belgian.
Who are the Avengers? They've been Marvel Comics' go-to team of superheroes since 1963. (The X-Men are understandably too moody.) Here's a Cliffs Notes roll call:
Captain America (played by Chris Evans): Steve Rogers, a shield-wielding soldier from World War II who gained his powers from a patriotic steroid that resulted in zero testicular shrinkage. Has been frozen in Arctic ice since the 1940s, after he stopped a Nazi off-shoot organization named HYDRA from destroying the Allies with a mystical artifact called the Cosmic Cube. Weaknesses: Modernity, women in slacks.
Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.): Tony Stark, a rakish technosuit-wearing billionaire genius who now uses his filthy, arms-dealing lucre for justice. Weaknesses: Arrogance and/or being too awesome.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth): Trans-dimensional Nordic god from Asgard. Way more complex than the prior two guys. Weaknesses: All of the weaknesses of Marc Singer in Beastmaster 2: The Portal of Time. (Second Beastmaster 2 reference in 24 hours! New record!)
Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner): Clint Barton, a government enforcer who works for S.H.I.E.L.D. a.k.a. the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division a.k.a. the espionage/defense folks who rope the Avengers together. A normal guy, but he just so happens to be the world's best archer. Weaknesses: May not be the world's best archer.
Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson): Natasha Romanova, a secret agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. Excels at Judo, leatherwear. Is an ex-Soviet spy in the comic books, so they really should have cast Helen Mirren here. Weaknesses: Dubious posture.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson): The head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers Initiative. For the comic book The Ultimates — more on that in a moment — artist Bryan Hitch modeled Nick Fury on Jackson, who was cast as Nick Fury years later. Art mirrors life, which mirrors art.
Starting with 2008's Iron Man, Fury starred in a series of post-credit scenes in Marvel films that were written to set up The Avengers. Weaknesses: Samuel L. Jackson has no known weaknesses, save sharks.
Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders): In the comics, she's a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with good intentions, but often comes at loggerheads with Nick Fury, Steve Rogers, and Tony Stark. She hangs out on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s own flying battleship, the Helicarrier. (Yes, S.H.I.E.L.D. owns a flying battleship. Your tax dollars at work!) Weaknesses: Propensity to annoy characters everybody likes, despite her profound competence.
Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg): A S.H.I.E.L.D. agent invented for the movies. (In fact, he made his first appearance in the comic books yesterday. Seriously!) Unimpressed by all of these flamboyant superheroes, Coulson is the everyman on the ground the audience can relate to. Weaknesses: Doodlysquat powers.
Loki (Tom Hiddleston): Thor's nefarious adopted brother. Perhaps the central antagonist in The Avengers, which isn't really a surprise if you watched the preview. Enjoys mind control, illusion magic, pointy helmets. Weaknesses: Somewhat of a temperamental weenie.
At this point, dear reader, you may furiously wondering:
Why the heck is The Avengers such a big deal? They've been making comic book movies for decades! I mean, I've seen Howard The Duck. That's a Marvel Comics movie. And that had duck breasts! Will The Avengers have mallard boobs? Avian mammaries are my sole criterion for a watchable film.
Ahem, The Avengers may not deliver on that front. But hey, Marvel managed to weave through the labyrinth of Hollywood red tape and corral the actors of Captain America, the Iron Man films, and Thor into a single movie directed by Joss Whedon, the guy who created the television shows Firefly and and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The movie also draws from The Incredible Hulk, but former Hulk Ed Norton stayed at home. (Also, everyone is ignoring that Ang Lee's Hulk movie ever existed.) In short, The Avengers was a somewhat insane logistical feat, the likes Tinseltown has never seen before.
And for those of you looking to get a quick and dirty comic book education on The Avengers, you should couple A.) the very first issue of The Avengers by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby from 1963 with B.) Volume 1 of The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch from 2002.
The former is a one-issue story that lays the template for the movie — i.e., a disparate group of superheroes band together to battle Loki.
Plus, there are some hilarious 1960s scenes of the Hulk dressing up like a robot clown, and the Avengers extolling the benefits of dumping nuclear waste in the ocean. (NOTE: Some people are vocally boycotting The Avengers because Jack Kirby has historically received a raw deal.)
The Ultimates was a re-imagining of the Avengers' origins in modern times. This series sloughed off decades of continuity and reduced the Avengers mythos to the barest of bones for a wider audience. The Marvel films have drawn heavily from The Ultimates' story beats. This 13-issue miniseries has been collected in both a single omnibus and two smaller books: Super-Human and Homeland Security. Loki, Maria Hill, and Agent Coulson aren't in this one, but the rest of the gang listed above makes an appearance.
So there you go, befuddled audience member. Hopefully that helped demystify matters. And if you're still scratching your head, simply remember — Superman is not in this movie.
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