A decade ago a team of superheroes changed the way the movie industry worked. On April 11, 2012 had its premiere “avengers”, a film with which Marvel Studios concluded the first phase of its years-long plan to create the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), now the biggest moneymaker in the film industry.
The film, which premiered in Peru on April 26 of the same year, went on to collect an exorbitant US$1.5 billion at the box office, an amount that still leaves it in the Top 10 of the most successful films in history and a enormous reward for a project that required effort, planning and risk over the years.
Plans to make an “Avengers” movie date back to 2003, when the renewed craze for superhero movies began after the success of films like “X-Men” (2000) and “Spider-Man” (2002).
At that time Marvel Studios, not yet a subsidiary of Disney, had made an alliance with Paramount Studios to produce and distribute films based on some of its best-known heroes, with the ultimate goal of to have a big crossover where the characters would team up to fight a powerful comic book-style foe.
The plans of Marvel Studios were completed with the release of “Iron Man” in 2008, a film directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr., which turned out to be a success at the box office and with critics. It was followed by “The Incredible Hulk” (2008), “Iron Man 2″ (2010), “Thor” (2011) and “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011), films that demonstrated the strength of the Marvel brand and, amid winks and interconnected references, they planted the seeds of the interconnected universe that blossomed into “The Avengers.”
Responsibility for maintaining a cohesive universe fell to Zack Penn, “The Incredible Hulk” screenwriter who was also tasked with writing “The Avengers” in July 2007 and maintaining continuity between the films. “My job is to go from movie to movie and make sure we finally mimic the structure of the comic, where all the tapes are connected.”, explained Penn in 2009.
Enter Joss Whedon
With everything ready to launch “The Avengers”, Marvel Studios turned to the task of finding a director. Initially it was planned that it would be Jon Favreau, director of “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2”, who would head the project, but compensation problems as well as creative differences finally made this director give up (although he maintained a role as executive producer of tape).
In place of Favreau, Marvel Studios chose Joss Whedon in April 2010. The decision came as a bit of a surprise, as even though Whedon was a well-known television writer and producer, his only experience directing movies was 2005’s “Serenity.” , a film that was far from breaking box office records. But Whedon offered something that a project like “The Avengers” needed, which wasHe had the ability to handle a cast full of disparate characters, as he had shown in his “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Firefly” series.
After taking control of “The Avengers” project, Whedon decided to scrap Zack Penn’s script entirely. “I only read it once and haven’t seen it since. I thought ‘no, there’s nothing there’. There were no connections between the characters”, stated the director. “There was a sentence in the stage directions that said, apropos of nothing, ‘And then everyone walks towards the camera in slow motion because you have to have that.’ Well no: that has to be earned”.
Despite being a project that had been years in the making, Whedon was given ample creative freedom for the film, including choosing his villain. As Kevin Feige himself stated: “I wanted to get cosmic and I did it with ‘Thor’”, the producer told Slashfilm. “I told him that we wanted (the antagonists) to be aliens, for a portal to open in New York and aliens to come out because the cosmic cube opened a portal. Who they were, what they were and how they acted, that was all Joss and he is a huge fan of Thanos.”
This fondness for the villain, and not a plan already resolved by Marvel Studios, led Whedon to include him in the post-credits scene of the film, almost by chance establishing the premise of the entire first saga of the MCU.
In the end, Whedon went through several sketches before arriving at the final script that we know of. According to what they have revealed, previous versions of the film counted on the participation of The Wasp if they did not manage to get the return of Scarlett Johansson. Another version had Loki as an additional villain, the character of Ezekiel Stane, son of the antagonist of the first “Iron Man” Obadiah Stane.
Assembling the Avengers
A film does not exist without its stars and as the script was refined, the actors who would star in the film also had to be chosen. Choosing artists like Robert Rowney Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth was relatively easy, as these were the protagonists of the previous MCU films. Similarly, it was the incorporation of Samuel L. Jackson as the leader of SHIELD, Nick Fury, since the actor had signed a contract with Marvel Studios to appear in at least nine films. Scarlett Johansson was also brought into the film as part of the deal that led to her appearing as Black Widow in “Iron Man 2.”
Of the new actors, Jeremy Renner was cast as Hawkeye over rivals like Jensen Ackles, thanks in part to the profile gained from starring in the Oscar-winning film “The Hurt Locker” in 2008.
Where the producers did run into trouble was casting the actor for the character of Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Edward Norton had starred in the movie based on this superhero in 2008, but creative differences between the actor and Marvel Studios soured the relationship between the twoan incident that ended with the production house publicly ‘firing’ the actor in July 2010.
“We have made the decision not to bring Ed Norton back to play the lead role of Bruce Banner in ‘The Avengers.’ Our decision is not based on monetary factors, but on the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of the other cast members.”, indicated the statement.
Instead, Marvel cast Mark Ruffallo, an actor then best known for his roles in romantic comedies like “Just Like Heaven” (2005) and “Zodiac” (2007), who soon endeared himself to the public.
Recording and release
“The Avengers” began filming on April 25, 2011 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where most of the filming work took place. Other filming locations included Cleveland, Ohio, where the production moved for a month in August 2011 to film the climactic Battle of New York and scenes in Stuttgart, Germany.
Meanwhile, the real ‘Big Apple’ was only filmed for two days, with most of the work concentrating on Central Park and Park Avenue, as well as aerial shots to use as store shots.
The film had its premiere on April 11, 2012 at the historic El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, almost a month before its official arrival in theaters in the United States on May 4. Peru and other countries in the region were able to enjoy the film more than a week earlier, arriving in theaters on April 26 to the delight of the audience.
A curious fact is that there is a big difference between the version that was screened on April 11 and the one that arrived in theaters, since the first does not contain the scene of the Avengers eating shawarma after the final battle.
Initially an improvised line by Robert Downey Jr. during the film’s climax, Whedon and Marvel Studios executives saw the potential to turn it into a post-credits scene and close the film with that contrast between the mundane and the exceptional that characterizes the MCU so much.
The shot was taken in one day on April 12, 2012 in Los Angeles, filmed at the Elat Burger/Shalom Grill restaurant on West Pico Boulevard located just three blocks from the hotel where the cast was meeting as part of their promotional work. It should be noted that the reason why Chris Evans can be seen hiding half of his face during the entire scene is that at the time the actor had to use a chin prosthesis to cover the bushy beard he was sporting in preparation for filming the sci-fi movie “Snowpiercer” by Bong Joon-ho.
Upon its release “The Avengers” exceeded all expectations of Marvel Studios, breaking box office records and becoming one of the highest grossing movies of all time. But, more important than that, showed that the concept of the cinematographic universe was an effective way to generate multimillion-dollar sumsleading to other studios wanting to copy the format with varying degrees of success and forever changing the history of cinema.