Marvel’s The Avengers (classified under the name Marvel Avengers Assemble in the United Kingdom and Ireland), or simply The Avengers, is a 2012 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the sixth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Written and directed by Joss Whedon, the film features an ensemble cast including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner as the Avengers, alongside Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, and Samuel L. Jackson. In the film, Nick Fury and the spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Thor, Natasha Romanoff, and Clint Barton to form a team capable of stopping Thor’s brother Loki from subjugating Earth.
The film’s development began when Marvel Studios received a loan from Merrill Lynch in April 2005. After the success of the film Iron Man in May 2008, Marvel announced that The Avengers would be released in July 2011 and would bring together Stark (Downey), Rogers (Evans), Banner (at the time Edward Norton), and Thor (Hemsworth) from Marvel’s previous films. With the signing of Johansson as Romanoff in March 2009, Renner as Barton in June 2010, and Ruffalo replacing Norton as Banner in July 2010, the film was pushed back for a 2012 release. Whedon was brought on board in April 2010 and rewrote the original screenplay by Zak Penn. Production began in April 2011 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, before moving to Cleveland, Ohio in August and New York City in September. The film has more than 2,200 visual effects shots.
The Avengers premiered at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles on April 11, 2012, and was released in the United States on May 4, as the final film in Phase One of the MCU. The film received praise for Whedon’s direction and screenplay, visual effects, action sequences, acting, and musical score. The film grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide, setting numerous box office records and becoming the third-highest-grossing film of all time at the time of its release and the highest-grossing film of 2012, as well as the first Marvel production to generate $1 billion in ticket sales. In 2017, The Avengers was featured as one of the 100 greatest films of all time in an Empire magazine poll. It received a nomination for Best Visual Effects at the 85th Academy Awards, among numerous other accolades. Three sequels have been released: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019).
Ideas for a film based on the Avengers began in 2003, with Avi Arad, the CEO of Marvel Studios, first announcing plans to develop the film in April 2005, after Marvel Enterprises declared independence by allying with Merrill Lynch to produce a slate of films that would be distributed by Paramount Pictures. Marvel discussed their plans in a brief presentation to Wall Street analysts; the studio’s intention was to release individual films for the main characters—to establish their identities and familiarize audiences with them—before merging the characters together in a crossover film. Screenwriter Zak Penn, who wrote The Incredible Hulk, became attached to the film in 2006, and was hired by Marvel Studios to write the film in June 2007. In the wake of the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike, Marvel negotiated with the Writers Guild of America to ensure that it could create films based on its comic book counterparts, including Captain America, Ant-Man and The Avengers. After the successful release of Iron Man (2008) in May, the company set a July 2011 release date for The Avengers. In September 2008, Marvel Studios reached an agreement with Paramount—an extension of a previous partnership—which gave the company distribution rights for five future Marvel films.
Casting began in October 2008 with Downey’s signing. Though Don Cheadle was also reported to be reprising his Iron Man 2 role of War Machine for The Avengers, he later stated that he did not think the character would appear in the film. At the same time, two major prospects occurred for Marvel: Jon Favreau was brought in as an executive producer for the film, and the company signed a long-term lease with Raleigh Studios to produce three other big-budget films—Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)—at their Manhattan Beach, California complex. In February 2009, Samuel L. Jackson signed a nine-picture deal with Marvel Entertainment to play Nick Fury in Iron Man 2 and other films. In September 2009, Edward Norton, who played Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk stated that he was open to returning in the film. The next month, executive producer Jon Favreau stated that he would not direct the film, but would “definitely have input and a say”. Favreau also expressed concerns, stating, “It’s going to be hard, because I was so involved in creating the world of Iron Man, and Iron Man is very much a tech-based hero, and then with Avengers you’re going to be introducing some supernatural aspects because of Thor [Mixing] the two of those works very well in the comic books, but it’s going to take a lot of thoughtfulness to make that all work and not blow the reality that we’ve created”. In March 2009, actress Scarlett Johansson replaced Emily Blunt in portraying Natasha Romanoff in Iron Man 2, a deal that subsequently attached her to The Avengers. The following day, Marvel announced that the film’s release date had been pushed back to May 4, 2012, almost a full year later. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston joined the film’s cast in June, returning as Thor and Loki, respectively.
In July 2009, Penn talked about the crossover process, stating, “My job is to kind of shuttle between the different movies and make sure that finally we’re mimicking that comic book structure where all of these movies are connected. . . There’s just a board that tracks ‘Here’s where everything that happens in this movie overlaps with that movie’. . . I’m pushing them to do as many animatics as possible to animate the movie, to draw boards so that we’re all working off the same visual ideas. But the exigencies of production take first priority”. At first, Penn tried to reduce Thor’s role in the script because he had doubts about the character’s ability to succeed on film. He changed his mind once Hemsworth was cast as Thor. The film had always intended to use Loki as its villain, but Penn noted that early discussion had considered using Red Skull.
In January 2010, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige was asked if it would be difficult to meld the fantasy of Thor with the high-tech science fiction in Iron Man and The Avengers. “No,” he said, “because we’re doing the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee/Walt Simonson/J. Michael Straczynski Thor. We’re not doing the blow-the-dust-off-of-the-old-Norse-book-in-your-library Thor. And in the Thor of the Marvel Universe, there’s a race called the Asgardians. And we’re linked through this Tree of Life that we’re unaware of. It’s real science, but we don’t know about it yet. The ‘Thor’ movie is about teaching people that”. In March, it was reported that Penn had completed the first draft of the script, and that Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada and Avengers comic-book writer Brian Michael Bendis had received copies. Also in March, Chris Evans accepted an offer to play Captain America in three films including The Avengers.
- Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man:
A self-described genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist with an electromechanical suit of armor of his own invention. Downey was cast as part of his four-picture deal with Marvel Studios, which included Iron Man 2 (2010) and The Avengers. He said he initially pushed Whedon to make Stark the lead: “Well, I said, ‘I need to be in the opening sequence. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but Tony needs to drive this thing.’ He was like, ‘Okay, let’s try that.’ We tried it and it didn’t work, because this is a different sort of thing, the story and the idea and the theme is the theme, and everybody is just an arm of the octopus.” About the character’s evolution from previous films, Downey said, “In Iron Man, which was an origin story, he was his own epiphany and redemption of sorts. Iron Man 2 is all about not being an island, dealing with legacy issues and making space for others. . . In The Avengers, he’s throwing it down with the others”. Downey earned $50 million from the film, “once box-office bonuses and backend compensation [were] factored in”.
- Chris Evans as Steve Rogers / Captain America:
A World War II veteran who was enhanced to the peak of human physicality by an experimental serum and frozen in suspended animation before waking up in the modern world. Evans was cast as part of a deal to star in three Marvel films, in addition to The Avengers. Evans said that Steve Rogers is much darker in The Avengers: “It’s just about him trying to come to terms with the modern world. You’ve got to imagine, it’s enough of a shock to accept the fact that you’re in a completely different time, but everybody you know is dead. Everybody you cared about. . . He was a soldier, obviously, everybody he went to battle with, all of his brothers in arms, they’re all dead. He’s just lonely. I think in the beginning it’s a fish-out-of-water scene, and it’s tough. It’s a tough pill for him to swallow. Then comes trying to find a balance with the modern world.” Regarding the dynamic between Rogers and Tony Stark, Evans said, “I think there’s certainly a dichotomy—this kind of friction between myself and Tony Stark, they’re polar opposites. One guy is flash and spotlight and smooth, and the other guy is selfless and in the shadows and kind of quiet and they have to get along. They explore that, and it’s pretty fun.” Evans earned $2–3 million for the film.
- Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner / Hulk:
A genius scientist who, because of exposure to gamma radiation, transforms into a monster when enraged or agitated. Ruffalo, who was considered to play Banner in The Incredible Hulk (2008) before Edward Norton took the role, was cast after negotiations between Marvel and Norton broke down. About replacing Norton, Ruffalo said, “I’m a friend of Ed’s, and yeah, that wasn’t a great way for all that to go down. But the way I see it is that Ed has bequeathed this part to me. I look at it as my generation’s Hamlet.” About the character, he said, “He’s a guy struggling with two sides of himself—the dark and the light—and everything he does in his life is filtered through issues of control. I grew up on the Bill Bixby TV series, which I thought was a really nuanced and real human way to look at the Hulk. I like that the part has those qualities”. Regarding the Hulk’s place on the team, Ruffalo said, “He’s like the teammate none of them are sure they want on their team. He’s a loose cannon. It’s like, ‘Just throw a grenade in the middle of the group and let’s hope it turns out well!” This is the first production in which the actor playing Banner also plays the Hulk. Ruffalo told New York magazine, “I’m really excited. No one’s ever played the Hulk exactly; they’ve always done CGI. They’re going to do the Avatar stop-action, stop-motion capture. So I’ll actually play the Hulk. That’ll be fun”. The 3D model used to create the Hulk’s body was modeled after Long Island bodybuilder and male stripper Steve Romm, while the Hulk’s face was modeled after Ruffalo. To create the Hulk’s voice, Ruffalo’s voice was blended with those of Lou Ferrigno and others; however, the Hulk’s only speaking line (“Puny god.”) was provided solely by Ruffalo. Ruffalo earned $2–3 million for the film.
- Chris Hemsworth as Thor:
The crown prince of Asgard, based on the Norse mythological deity of the same name. Hemsworth was cast as part of a multiple movie deal. He had previously worked with Joss Whedon on The Cabin in the Woods (2011). Hemsworth said that he was able to maintain the strength he built up for Thor (2011) by increasing his food intake, consisting of chicken breasts, fish, steak, and eggs every day. When asked exactly how much, Hemsworth said, “My body weight in protein pretty much!” He remarked that Thor’s motivation “is much more of a personal one, in the sense that it’s his brother that is stirring things up. Whereas everyone else, it’s some bad guy who they’ve gotta take down. It’s a different approach for me, or for Thor. He’s constantly having to battle the greater good and what he should do vs. it’s his little brother there. . . I’ve been frustrated with my brothers at times, or family, but I’m the only one who is allowed to be angry at them. There’s a bit of that.” Hemsworth earned $2–3 million for the film.
- Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow:
A highly trained spy working for S.H.I.E.L.D. About the character and her relationship with Hawkeye, Johansson said, “Our characters have a long history. They’ve fought together for a long time in a lot of battles in many different countries. We’re the two members of this avenging group who are skilled warriors – we have no superpowers. Black Widow is definitely one of the team, though. She’s not in the cast simply to be a romantic foil or eye candy. She’s there to fight, so I never felt like I was the only girl. We all have our various skills and it feels equal”. Regarding her training, Johansson said, “Even though Iron Man 2 was ‘one-for-them,’ I’d never done anything like that before. I’d never been physically driven in something, or a part of something so big. For The Avengers, I’ve spent so many months training with our stunt team, and fighting all the other actors, it’s crazy. I do nothing but fight—all the time.” Johansson earned $4–6 million for the film.
- Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton / Hawkeye:
A master archer working as an agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. Renner said it was a very physical role and that he trained physically and practiced archery as much as possible in preparation. About the role, Renner said, “When I saw Iron Man, I thought that was a really kick-ass approach to superheroes. Then they told me about this Hawkeye character, and I liked how he wasn’t really a superhero; he’s just a guy with a high skill set. I could connect to that.” Regarding Hawkeye’s sniper mentality, Renner said, “It’s a lonely game. He’s an outcast. His only connection is to Scarlett’s character, Natasha. It’s like a left hand/right hand thing. They coexist, and you need them both, especially when it comes to a physical mission.” Renner said Hawkeye is not insecure about his humanity. “Quite the opposite, he’s the only one who can really take down the Hulk with his [tranquilizer-tipped] arrows. He knows his limitations. But when it comes down to it, there has to be a sense of confidence in any superhero.” Renner earned $2–3 million for the film.
- Tom Hiddleston as Loki:
Thor’s adoptive brother and nemesis, based on the Norse mythological deity of the same name. About his character’s evolution from the film Thor, Hiddleston said, “I think the Loki we see in The Avengers is further advanced. You have to ask yourself the question: How pleasant an experience is it disappearing into a wormhole that has been created by some kind of super nuclear explosion of his own making? So I think by the time Loki shows up in The Avengers, he’s seen a few things.” About Loki’s motivations, Hiddleston said, “At the beginning of The Avengers, he comes to Earth to subjugate it and his idea is to rule the human race as their king. And like all the delusional autocrats of human history, he thinks this is a great idea because if everyone is busy worshipping him, there will be no wars so he will create some kind of world peace by ruling them as a tyrant. But he is also kind of deluded in the fact that he thinks unlimited power will give him self-respect, so I haven’t let go of the fact that he is still motivated by this terrible jealousy and kind of spiritual desolation.”
- Stellan Skarsgård as Erik Selvig:
An astrophysicist and friend of Thor under Loki’s control who is studying the Tesseract’s power. Regarding Loki’s control over Selvig, Skarsgård said, “Well with the scene we did in Thor, it was like Loki, one way or the other, entered Erik’s mind. And in Avengers, you will see more clarity in how Loki is using Erik’s mind.” About his role, he said, “[My character] is of importance but the size of the role is not big.”
- Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury:
The director of S.H.I.E.L.D. who was revealed in previous films to be coordinating the “Avengers Initiative”. Jackson was brought to the project with a deal containing an option to play the character in up to nine Marvel films. Jackson said he does more in The Avengers than in any of the previous films: “You don’t have to wait until the end of the movie to see me”. About the role, Jackson said, “It’s always good to play somebody [who] is a positive in society as opposed to somebody who is a negative. . . I tried to make him as honest to the story and as honest to what real-life would seem.” Jackson compared the character to Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown, calling him “a nice guy to hang out with. You just don’t want to cross him”. Jackson earned $4–6 million for the film.
May 4, 2012
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