Build It Up And Disintegrate
In 2012, when the event movie for Marvel Cinematic Universe, ‘The Avengers’ came to the screens, it was carrying the burden of millions of comic book fans across the world, who had waited literally decades to see an ensemble superhero movie. It is to be noted that the first plans of introducing an all superhero movie did the rounds of studios like DC Comics, Warner Bros and even Sony, as early as 1982. Although the idea was hushed down, mostly because of budget issues and ‘lack of interest’ as Sony representatives told the press, before the release of their original ‘SpiderMan’ movie back in 2002.
Interestingly, only 20th Century Fox believed in the ensemble superhero game, as it placed its bets on the ‘X-Men’ trilogy which became detrimental in quality and acclaim with each movie in the series. And so, the comic book geek army would’ve to wait till someone got it right. They found their messiah in Kevin Feige, an avid comic book fan himself, to bring the world’s mightiest heroes together.
‘The Avengers’ followed a simple but truly effective storyline template. Since, all the heroes in it, except The Hulk, had been introduced in the movies preceding it, (courtesy Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: First Avenger), Joss Whedon stuck to showing what these characters were up to in the present situation, in order to introduce them. The leverage of jumping right into the ‘save the world’ scenario was established without losing any valuable screen time. Even the ‘instrument of world dominance’ had been introduced in Captain America: First Avenger in the form of the glowing square power source, the Tesseract (housing Space stone of the six Infinity Stones).
The fact that Hulk as a stand-alone movie had tanked was still a haunting point for Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige. To counter this, they went with Mark Ruffalo who represented a geekier version of Bruce Banner, with his underconfident aura, nerdy confusion and a specific quick way of dialogue delivery. A true fleshed out Bruce Banner became a character that served as a joy to see unravel on the screen, adding one more entertainment strand for the fans watching ‘The Avengers’. While on the topic of entertainment, Joss Whedon ensured that the first one hour of the movie was dedicated to purely establishing the friction between our superheroes, and an eventual camaraderie (affected by the death of Agent Phil Coulson).
When you see the structure of ‘The Avengers’ as a keen observer you might notice that the whole movie can be divided into five parts. Introduce the heroes, Introduce the antagonist, Introduce the objective, Bring a flip point, and the eventual CGI heavy final battle. This is a structure which is as basic at it gets and has been milked to the core by Kevin Feige in not just this Avengers part, but across every sequel, from ‘The Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ ‘Captain America: Civil War (a semi Avengers movie)’ and ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. It is no one’s guess that the same structure will be affected in the upcoming ‘Avengers: End Game’ as well.
‘The Avengers’ also has one more trend which is always recurring. The movies in the series always stick to only one antagonist. A single antagonist which the whole bunch of superheroes need to fight and save the world from. Kevin Feige is someone who believes in keeping the premise crystal clear. There are no morally ambiguous heroes in these movies, there is no extreme pathos or character flaws which seek redemption. They are superheroes in the truest form of the word. Yes, occasionally they do have their moments of contemplation and self-doubt. But they are straightforward when it comes to saving the day. And so as the template goes, the Avengers fight out the Thanos funded Chitauri army, uproot Loki and his devious plan to open multi-dimensional portals through the tesseract, and emerge victorious after forty minutes of multiple hero actions set pieces.
‘The Avengers’ boasted of some of the most imaginative and exciting action set pieces in the history of movie making, perhaps even to the extent of redefining the term itself. Be it the initial superhero friction aboard an invisible Helicarrier, or fighting and claiming Loki or the eventual Chitauri army. All this resulted, with added witty dialogues, cool visuals, and a rousing score by Alan Silvestri, in making the film one of the most entertaining movies ever made. It had something for every hardcore comic book fan.
‘The Avengers’ raked in more than 1.50 billion dollars in worldwide collections, only the second film to come into the billion dollar clubs, close on the heels of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, which raked in roughly 1.10 billion dollars in 2008. Kevin Fiege had won his first battle, one which he had strategized intricately from six years earlier.
The Age Of Ultron And Civil War
Once the Marvel Cinematic Universe was recognized as one of the most profitable franchises in the world, behind only to Disney-Lucas’s Star Wars and Warner Bros Harry Potter franchise. The next target for Kevin Feige was to structure the next step up. Being the simple strategist that he was, he once again turned to rely on the three superheroes who had made things work for them from the start.
One year after Avengers, Marvel brought out ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Thor: The Dark World’ to cash in on the momentum established earlier. He had by then understood that Iron Man/Tony Stark and Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of the role was his biggest strength. And it delivered. ‘Iron Man 3’ became the first stand-alone superhero movie within MCU to hit the number of 1.09 billion dollars over its run worldwide. And as it was, the writing team behind ‘Iron Man 3’, this time including Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), stuck to one of the most interesting story-arches of Human Genesis and Mandarin from the comics. And the result was for everyone to see and celebrate.
It also served as a smart way of bringing the whole arch of Tony Stark/Iron Man to an end, at least as far as the standalone ventures were concerned. On the other hand, however, ‘ Thor: The Dark World’ fell flat. The movie, as critics cited, at the time of its release lacked the heart and soul of what made Thor a likeable character in the first place. However, the movie did serve as a vehicle to introduce to the viewers the second infinity stone, in the form of Ether, The Reality Stone. It seemed like Kevin Fiege had finally taken a wrong step forward.
However, he quickly jumped back into the driver’s seat for MCU, when he brought in two exciting directors to helm the Captain America arches. In time to come, these two directors would become the biggest assets that MCU could boast of. Anthony & Joe Russo (You, Me and Dupree), would take the character of Captain America and throw him into a world of political espionages, double-crossing spies, organizational backstabbing and more. The Russo brothers treated Captain America as more of a spy film, much like the James Bond and Mission Impossible franchise and brought something new and contemporary to the table.
An age-old morally upright superhero facing a modern world of global socio-political warfare was praised as the most nuanced film ever made in MCU for a long time. The Russo brothers packed not just a solid story, but, backed themselves up to come-up with truly imaginative fight sequences, including loads of hand to hand combats and old school fighting techniques. They finally figured out how the Captain’s Shield could be used to the best effect, including flipping, rebounding and darting across a platform in a floating gravity-defying manner. All these factors made Captain America an equally layered character who represented an opposing ethos of Iron Man, which in turn became an idea which would be explored to the hilt by the Russo Brothers in the third part of Captain America -The Civil War.
Apart from these, Kevin Feige felt the need to introduce a band of space drifters before plunging towards the second part of the Avengers. The film, Guardians of the Galaxy, based on the comics of the same name, was penned and directed by James Gunn. The flair and whacky comedy that the writing team brought to the table was unheard of before. Again Marvel stuck to the comics and cast Chris Pratt in the titular role of Peter Quill/Star-Lord. The film also worked because of its stellar voice acting provided for Raccoon (by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (provided by Vin Diesel). The movie struck a chord with its retro soundtracks and absurdist comedy and became a 750 million dollar success.
Kevin Feige then flexed his muscles to bring out the second instalment of Avengers- ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’. Although it couldn’t reach the rave reviews that the earlier part had managed, it still went onto rake in 1.07 billion dollars at the worldwide box office. The movie also introduced the characters of Wanda/Scarlett Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen), Pietro (played by Aaron-Taylor Johnson) and Vision (played by Paul Bettany), who became essential additions to the Avengers team.
Post this film, Kevin Feige was initially sceptical to make Captain America: Civil War, as the comic book storyline for the same would want him to end the character of Captain America. His apprehensions led to many online petitions to keep the character alive. One more apprehension that Kevin Feige faced was to pit Iron Man against Captain America without losing the moral essence of these characters. It was something that the fans were long hoping for, but it would also mean that if either of the characters stood to be disliked for some reason, it would derail the entire MCU.
Over 2014, Kevin Feige and the Russo Brothers went through different ways of adapting the famous storyline to the movie. The lack of risk-taking abilities that Kevin Feige had shown over the decade was put to test with this movie. In a strange turn of events, a moment of reckoning came to the MCU head from the least expected of places. DC Extended Universe. Over at DCEU, an overall plan to bring in Justice League to the screens was already underway. Man Of Steel, starring Henry Cavil as Superman had made 800 million at the box office. But what excited almost every comic book buff across the world was an announcement that Zack Snyder made in San Diego Comic-Con convention in 2004.
It was a simple logo reveal of a movie announcement, called Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. The movie planned to pit the Son of Krypton and the Caped Crusader against each other on screen, for the first in history. This made Kevin Feige take a call instantly, and he called in Robert Downey Jr to star as a major role in Captain America: Civil War. But, that was not enough juice for the promotion. This is where Kevin Feige stuck to his comic book geekiness and brought in new characters within this movie, which in spirit became another Avengers movie.
Kevin Feige struck a deal with Sony’s head Amy Pascal to ensure that the Civil War movie materialised, irrespective of anything. He brought in a character which he knew would change the game for them, literally. SpiderMan. Tom Holland was cast as the motor mouthed web-slinger and was a given a cameo in the now famous ‘Airport Fight Sequence’ between two sets of Avengers. The movie also saw the introduction of one more character, who in time would change how people perceived superhero films forever. The character was T’Challa aka Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman). The storyline also conveniently kept out the characters of Hulk and Thor from the original Avengers team. Civil War by Russo Brothers became an incredible movie for more reasons than one and raked in near to a billion dollars worldwide.
Kevin Feige then eyed the biggest movie event of our times. A movie which would be the first superhero movie to ever touch a mark of 2 billion dollars at the box-office and would become the fourth highest grossing movie of all time. ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ would need another two years of time, but the plan was to clamp in the biggest ensemble of superheroes ever, to a count of roughly 32. And that would require MCU to do something they had never done before. Move away from what the fans wanted…..
(To Be Continued)