If you’ve seen any of Marvel’s big screen productions since Iron Man, then you may have picked up on the numerous teasers and Easter eggs laid throughout the movie, its sequel and The Incredible Hulk for the upcoming mega-crossover/team spinoff The Avengers.
Of course, not everyone’s familiar with the Avengers. Currently featured in The Super Hero Squad Show, an eponymous ongoing series and a host of spinoffbooks, the Avengers are Marvel’s premier super-team, comparable to DC’s Justice League, and they’ve been around since 1963. They’ve hosted just about every A- and B-list hero in the Marvel Universe, which makes it a bit difficult to predict the direction of the film. Nevertheless, based on the information we have so far, from Marvel’s comics, the movies and sporadically-leaked hints, I’m giving it a shot.
What we know: Picking through the slew of rumors, there are actually quite a few confirmations to be found. Writer-director Joss Whedon (of Buffy, Angel and Firefly fame) will be helming the project, tweaking Zak Penn’s preexisting script. The film is set for a May 4, 2012 release. Based on what we’ve seen in Iron Man 2, it looks like the team, which generally consists of around seven members, will operate under S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel’s omnipresent international espionage organization. We’ve already got much of the cast confirmed.
What we don’t know: We don’t know the full roster of the team, and, consequently, we also don’t know the full cast yet. The somewhat alarming potential for Robert Downey, Jr. not reprising his role as Iron Man continues to loom menacingly over the film. The slant and tone of the film are also a bit hazy at this point, but Joss Whedon directing leads me to think the trend of self-aware, gently self-mocking commentary will continue.
The Likely Roster:
Captain America (Confirmed) — For better or for worse, Chris Evans is Captain America. Though I remain skeptical of his ability to pull off the charismatic leader role of Steve Rogers, time will tell. His performance as the Human Torch, however, was less than astonishing.
Iron Man/War Machine (Ambiguous) — The ending of Iron Man 2 calls into question whether Don Cheadle, Robert Downey, Jr. or someone else entirely will be appearing as the Armored Avenger. Though his “consultant” role almost guarantees Tony Stark’s appearance, we have yet to see if he’ll be in costume or not. Strange choice, Marvel.
Thor (confirmed) — Chris Hemsworth is definitely joining the team as the Norse God of Thunder. We’ll get a much better idea of the movie version of the character in his solo film next summer, but in the comics, he’s traditionally been portrayed as, well…stiff. As such, I can’t help but wonder if he’ll get the comic-relief-y “Gimli treatment.”
Hawkeye (almost certain) — Given Whedon’s penchant for casting already-used actors, Nathan Fillion seems an obvious choice to play the wryly humorous archer. Personally, I feel he’s the character Whedon will do best with, and Fillion’s seasoned, tough-guy role in Firefly feels much like Clint Barton already, making him a strong candidate.
Black Widow (basically confirmed) — Scarlett Johansson’s character, traditionally an ex-KGB spy working for “the good guys,” will almost surely be included, hopefully illuminating more of the movie version’s cloudy background.
Nick Fury (confirmed) — Nick Fury, the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., will surely be making a prominent appearance, followed by a spinoff movie of his own. Since Samuel Jackson’s playing the one-eyed agent, I’m not complaining.
Hulk — A brief Iron Man cameo at the end of The Incredible Hulk aroused questions of Norton reprising his role. The tone seemed ambiguous, though, and the character could be an adversary as easily, if not more, than he could be a hero. Regardless, Norton reports nothing substantial.
Ant-Man/Yellowjacket and Wasp — The often-coupled Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne tend to round out the Avengers roster in the comics. A bit cheesy, the former grows while the latter shrinks. I feel they lack mainstream appeal, but I could see someone like Ryan Gosling, or, if all goes ill, David Borneanz playing Hank, while Sarah Michelle Gellar or Alyson Hanigan could play Janet.
Vision — An android with a convoluted past, Vision probably wouldn’t have much place on the team, since, unless we’re talking about transformers, I feel like most of America has a one-robot-character limit for a given film. Though his stiffness offers comedic value, Thor has that covered and Iron Man’s the resident robot-thing.
Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver — The reformed children of mutant terrorist Magneto, this brother-sister pair is generally marked by massive amounts of emotional baggage. Factoring in Scarlet Witch’s vaguely magical powers and Quicksilver’s whiny disposition, this duo seems like a no-go.
Spider-Man, Deadpool and the X-Men — I hope Marvel knows better than to bring all these franchises together, at least this soon, just for the sake of keeping audiences sane. As Avengers will already bring together pieces of at least four other movies, it seems unlikely.
Black Panther — Ruler of the futuristic African utopia Wakanda, the character just seems too damn racist to make it into the film. Though a less WASP-y roster would certainly be nice, I feel this character’s too saturated in commentary, making him self-defeating as far as diversity goes.
Mrs. Marvel — Armed with energy powers and a military background, and enamored with Wonder Man for some reason, Carol Danvers’ promotion-oriented title alone puts her out of the running, at least for a costumed role. Boo-hoo.
Jarvis — The Avengers’ witty butler and something of a fan-favorite, the character looks to be out, since he’s already been lovingly reimagined as Tony Stark’s friendly garage-operating robot arm. Oh well.
On the whole: Marvel’s really playing with fire on this one. Merging this many separate movies into a single franchise is almost unprecedented, and Joss Whedon’s writing is very hit-or-miss for people. Though I don’t really see Marvel’s movie universe turning into the Buffyverse, the maintenance of IM2’s self-satirizing tone seems assured.. Though I respect Joss Whedon, his intentionally campy stylistic flares are best-suited to his loyal cult following. As such, how short a leash Marvel keeps him on regarding casting, writing and directing will likely make the difference between the film being astoundingly fun or misdirected and mediocre.