Ever since “Iron Man” was first released to surprise both critics and audiences, there has been a buzzing of what was eventually to come. Fans squealed with joy when it was revealed that “Iron Man” was to become the first in a series of films leading up to “The Avengers”. Unfortunately, a mediocre follow up with ” Iron Man 2″ and a less than amazing performance from ” Thor ” , ” Captain America: The First Avenger”, and ” The Incredible Hulk” puts heavy pressure on Walt Disney Pictures to produce a solid hit in the wake of the ” John Carter” disaster. Early reviews and numbers are in from overseas and the film is getting rave reviews and cleaning up at the box office. Will the same happen here in the U.S?
“Iron Man” was a fantastic film. It surprised a lot of people both financially and critically and it helped catapult Robert Downey Jr. back into an A-list actor. After spending much of the 90’s in and out of rehab and jail, it was a huge pick-me-up for the former 80’s star. Then came “The Incredible Hulk” and while it was quite a departure from Ang Lee’s vision in “Hulk”, it still failed to deliver a memorable Hulk experience. Sure, it was fun to see Hulk go mano y mano with The Abomination, but lackluster performances from Liv Tyler and Edward Norton made the film boring and unremarkable.
In 2010 ” Iron Man 2″ was released after a bit of casting controversy. Don Cheadle was unexpectedly recast as Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, taking over for Terrence Howard. Cheadle was praised for his take on the character but, ultimately, it felt as if Howard had more control and a better understanding of what his character was and would become in the political, military struggle for Tony Stark’s creation. The movie did well financially raking in over $600 million dollars worldwide, but as a sequel, it was a disappointment. It was good but not great. It failed to capture the awe and wonder the original did and felt more like an average super hero movie instead of the sequel to “Iron Man”.
2011 presented both” Thor” and” Captain America: The First Avenger” as the window to “The Avengers” begin to shrink. “Thor”, bless its little heart, was a really interesting concept of Gods waging a war that spreads to Earth, but was so terrible it is hard to describe where to begin. Let’s start with Chris Hemsworth, a tall, built, blonde hunk of man-flesh. Banished to Earth for not playing nice with others, Thor spends half the movie in a neutered state trying to get his hammer back with the help of easy-on-the-eyes Natalie Portman. Unfortunately, she doesn’t bring much else to the role. It was a disappointment considering her Oscar winning performance in “Black Swan” was so well received. Then there is Loki, (Tom Hiddleston) who is so obviously the villain of the piece before he is even revealed to be the villain. Now, seeing this movie in a spoiler free state and knowing little to nothing about the characters from the comic, it is still obvious that Loki will be the bad guy-no shocker there. With ho-hum support from the usually on-the-spot Ray Stevenson, the movie plays out with the chemistry of a car crash.
“Captain America” was a little better. It is not a boring movie and Chris Evans does an excellent job of portraying overzealous Steve Rogers. He loves his country and would do anything to prove that, even as a scrawny push over. He becomes a super solider and a symbol of America’s patriotism during World War II. Hugo Weaving plays the megalomaniacal Red Skull with passion and grace. The main fault of “Captain America” is it’s setting, or rather its poor execution of it. Time and time again have period pieces from this era transported us to a different place, a different time in America’s history. But it just doesn’t come off as convincing this time around. The story could have taken place on a different planet and the feeling would have still come across the same.
Which brings us to now: 2012. Five films and four years have gone by, and only one of them has been positively fantastic. “The Avengers” has one gem in its pocket: Joss Whedon. Proven time and time again that he can direct large casts and ensembles, Whedon both writes and directs this film and hopefully his hoards of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fans will show up in droves to support his vision. If it weren’t for Whedon’s involvement, “The Avengers” would probably end up on the “wait until DVD” list. As it is, his imagination, style, and creativity, a quality missing from all the Avenger characters’ films thus far, might just save this movie from being one of the most hyped up and expensive failures of all time.