Monday, March 26, 2012

Mousey Movies - The Avengers Primer

With John Carter behind us we move onto Disney’s guaranteed blockbuster, The Avengers.  Disney you say, why yes, yes it is.  Though we find Marvel characters and rides in Universal Studios Orlando, Disney owns the Marvel universe.  If you question whether or not the Avengers or Marvel is part of the Disney family, prepare yourself for an Avengers monorail wrap much like we saw with Tron Legacy.  Disney may not be able to host Iron Man or Captain America meet and greets in the parks due to the Universal contract, but the Marvel presence is soon to be evident in our favorite vacation spots.  Bob Iger at the 2012 Annual Meeting stated that there are plans to introduce Marvel characters into the theme parks.    
Captain America is Ready to Meet You, But Not at Walt Disney World!

As a kid who grew up reading The X-Men, The Amazing Spiderman, and the occasional Avengers I have been excited about what I have informally referred to as the “Avengers Project” for over five years.  And after Disney bought Marvel after the project kicked off, my interest went straight through the roof. 
Development of The Avengers actually started in 2005, years before Disney purchased Marvel Comics.  So in many ways, Disney inherited a string of blockbusters.  The concept was to release several Marvel hero movies and then have then all wrap together into one movie that included the stars of the previous films.  The connective tissue was a initially minor character, Nick Fury.  Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson in the Avenger movies, is the longtime director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (The Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division) a government agency working to ensure the overall security of the United States.  S.H.I.E.L.D. would appear first in 2008’s Iron Man in Agent Coulson, brilliantly played by Clark Gregg, but Fury would not appear until a short interaction with Tony Stark after the credits!  Though the role of Nick Fury was expanded in some future offerings, especially Iron Man 2, Fury has largely been a secondary plot point which guided viewers forward to this year’s The Avengers.  The following are quick summaries of the movies to date leading to The Avengers including which major characters key to the plot of The Avengers are introduced, as we know it to date:

Iron Man (2008) 
·        The audience is introduced to billionaire playboy and arms manufacturer Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr.  Kidnapped in a foreign land the genius Stark develops the Iron Man suit of armor.  Stark struggles with balancing his own personal failings with becoming a public superhero and fights to save his technology and company from falling into the hands of his business partner and mentor turned bad.
·         S.H.I.E.L.D. comes out of the shadows to discuss with Tony the implications of his technically advanced suit of armor.  Agent Phil Coulson is charged with investigating the Iron Man technology.  The unintimating Coulson proves to be more than a man in a suit but an ally in Stark’s struggle to control his invention.
·         Nick Fury after the credits visits Stark on a recruiting visit to work with S.H.I.E.L.D.  

·         In this semi-sequel to the 2003 Hulk, Doctor Bruce Banner, played by Edward Norton, struggles with overcoming the Gamma radiation poisoning that turns the bookish scientist into the mindless and destructive Hulk.  Norton taking over the role from Eric Bana, plays a more cerebral Banner and is a character more familiar to fans of the 1970’s Bill Bixby The Incredible Hulk, than a smash everything brute. 
·         A cameo from Tony Stark after the credits notes that a team is being put together. 
·         Honestly this is the one Avengers movie that I have never watched more than once.  So I think many forgot its role in moving forward the Avengers story. 
·         Norton is replaced as Bruce Banner/Hulk by Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers.  In my opinion, Ruffalo’s appearance appears to be in the brainy Banner mold, not the hunkish and rock hard action hero.  
Iron Man 2 (2010)
·         Iron Man 2 was released after the Disney acquisition of Marvel and was promoted heavily by the Walt Disney Company as seen by the merchandise found in places like the Disney Store. 
·         Tony Stark returns and seriously loses his mojo as he faces death due to a heart defect.  He is also confronted by business rivals and a new villain that insists that Stark’s business and personal life should be his own.
·         Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, with the aid of Agent Coulson put Stark on a path to hopefully restore Tony’s groove.  Fury does question if Stark is able to cooperate with others and be material for the team he is assembling. 
·         Another S.H.I.E.L.D. agent The Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson is introduced.  The Black Widow is a martial arts and espionage expert assigned by Fury to keep a watchful eye on Stark and will return as a member of the Avengers.
·         Coulson is called away to a situation in New Mexico.  After the credits, Coulson calls back to report he has found something.  This scene leads us into the next Avengers themed movie. 
·         Many prefer the first Iron Man movie to the sequel but as a Disney fan this is my favorite due to its Mouseyness.  The parallels between Howard Stark, Tony’s father, and Walt Disney are impossible to miss. 

Thor (2011)
·         This film introduces another member of the Avengers team in the Norse god Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth.  Thor due to a poor decision making is thrown out of his home of Asgard by his father Odin.  Thor must find himself and his power again during a busy weekend in New Mexico.  As he finds himself, he struggles for control of Asgard and with his brother Loki, brilliantly portrayed by Tom Hiddleston. 
·         A post credits scene with Nick Fury hints that Loki will return.  The trailers for The Avengers confirm that Loki returns as a major villain.
·         It is revealed that the item Agent Coulson has found in New Mexico is Thor’s mystical hammer Mjolnir.  S.H.I.E.L.D. has a major presence in the story, guarding and investigating Mjolnir. 
·         Another Avenger is briefly introduced.  As Thor attempts to steal back Mjolnir from S.H.I.E.L.D. he is under the watchful eye of Clint Barton or Hawkeye played by Oscar nominated actor Jeremy Renner.  Hawkeye is a sharp shooter whose weapon of choice is a bow and arrow.    
·         Captain America: The First Avenger is the last piece of The Avengers puzzle at it introduces World War II era hero Captain America played by Chris Evans.  Lightweight Steve Rogers fails in his attempts to be inducted into the Army to fight the Axis powers.  Noticed by a government scientist he is selected for a program that gives him superhuman strength.  Under the name Captain America he fights a faction of Nazi scientific elite called HYDRA under the command of the Red Skull. 
·         The ending of the movie, sorry for any possible spoilers, transitions to the modern day as Nick Fury introduces an unaged Steve Rogers to the modern world.  After the credits, Fury returns to ask Rogers about joining a team he is putting together.  
Setup your Netflix queue or visit your local Redbox because you have your homework to finish before May 4thThe Avengers, unlike one of my favorites of this year John Carter is sure to be a hit for Disney.  And as a Disney fan we are sure to be seeing much more from the Avengers team and these individual superheroes to come.  Follow-up movies from Marvel Studios have already been announced including an Iron Man 3, Thor 2, and Nick Fury.   Superheroes are going to be supported by the House of Mouse for years to come! 

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