“Because if we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we’ll avenge it!”
What Marvel’s The Avengers Means to Us
This still is and will always be my favorite Avengers movie. None of the main six have ever been my favorite but that mostly has to do with the fact that I have always been more of an X-Men fan. But as far as I am concerned, what Marvel’s the Avengers (and Phase 1 of the MCU in general) was able to accomplish was nothing shy of a cinematic achievement — not a masterpiece, per se — but an achievement. It quite literally pulled from the pages of a comic book and clapped it across the big screen in ways that previous comic book movies could only dream of prior to the MCU’s existence. The way it was able to establish many different characters in their own movies and then have those characters come together in one giant climatic conclusion — and have that movie become the third highest-grossing film ever at that time. This is what I mean when I say achievement. Walking out of the movie theater, I couldn’t help but think: “This is going to change everything” … and that’s exactly what it did.
I was never a huge fan of comic books, but I fell in love with the first Iron Man movie. To be fair, I’d watch Robert Downey Jr. read instructions for putting an IKEA bookshelf together and be happy. Still, my husband had to coax me into watching The Avengers the first time because I just didn’t see myself caring that much about the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and the rest. Don’t tell my husband, but he was right to insist that I’d like it. And if I could watch The Avengers again for the first time, I’d do it — in fact, I’d do it over and over again. It’s fun. The dialogue is spectacular. It tugs at your heartstrings (“His name was Phil” gets me every time). And the final battle is epic in ways that I cannot properly express. It also has some of my absolute favorite moments ever to be viewed on a screen. Black Widow casually taking a phone call while being interrogated. Hawkeye shooting a Chitauri behind him … without looking. Tom Hiddleston in all his Loki glory in every scene he’s in. And if you haven’t rewatched The Hulk smashing Loki back and forth over his head like a toddler with a ragdoll at least 735 times, then I really don’t know what you’re doing with your life. It is a moment of pure cinema gold that brings me joy every time I think of it. Even as I type this, I’m chuckling to myself. I can take or leave many of the other MCU films, but this one will always be on my favorites list.
Assembling the Avengers
A lot has been said over the years about how Robert Downey Jr. singlehandedly launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his portrayal of Tony Stark / Iron Man. If that first film had failed, the MCU would have been over before it had even started. Like many, Iron Man was my entry into the MCU, but I first saw it a couple of years after it had reignited Downey’s career. This allowed me to go from Iron Man straight into Iron Man 2. I then circled back and watched The Incredible Hulk (which is not as bad as everyone thinks it is). I’m pretty sure I never watched Thor before Marvel’s The Avengers, but I was a fan of Captain America: The First Avenger (I even got my grandma to watch it). Needless to say, I was fully invested in these characters and was ready to see them get thrown together in the 2012 blockbuster film.
Say what you will about Joss Whedon today, but he was instrumental in making sure The Avengers didn’t flop at the box office. Does the movie look like it was shot for television? Maybe. Is the writing phenomenal? Yes. Are the stakes there? Yes (R.I.P. Coulson). Does this film finally use the Hulk properly? YES! There is so much going for this film from successfully blending together all these heroes and their backstories to making us actually care about a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Phil. I do wish Hawkeye would have received more screen time, but I’ll give Whedon a pass since he gave him quite a prominent role in Age of Ultron (which is also not as bad as people say it is.)
What If… The Avengers Didn’t Blow Up the Box Office?
While Iron Man‘s success ensured that Phase 1 of the MCU would be completed, there was a giant question mark after Marvel’s The Avengers. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige had a lot riding on the 2012 film. It’s not hard to recall the long lines and packed theaters for the opening weekends of recent MCU titles like Avengers: Infinity War and Spider-Man: No Way Home, but back in May 2012, I remember showing up at my local theater like 15 minutes before the movie started and there not being any lineup outside (I do remember Shrek 2‘s line being down the block). The MCU may have had some early success with Iron Man, but it wasn’t yet the behemoth that The Avengers would turn it into.
So what if The Avengers had underperformed? And by “underperformed,” I mean that it only made $600 million instead of $1.5 billion. Would anything have changed? Iron Man 3 would have still happened because that franchise was hot. Thor: The Dark World might have already been in production, so it was probably safe. But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC? Doubtful. Guardians of the Galaxy? I’d give it better odds than The Winter Soldier. I do think it might have led Marvel to experiment more with its formula, allowing even Edgar Wright’s vision for Ant-Man to make it to the big screen. The connective tissue that fans have grown to both love and hate within the MCU might have been downplayed, allowing these subfranchises to tell stories that were not dependent on seeing every other film in the MCU. Of course, this is just pure speculation on my part. Maybe nothing would have changed. Maybe nothing short of The Avengers absolutely bombing at the box office could have stopped Phase 2 from happening the way it did. It’s crazy to think that Thanos courting Death in this film’s post-credits scene ultimately paved the way for what we now refer to as The Infinity Saga. It’s wild.
“That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.”
Impact on the Film Industry: The MCU Effect
Do you remember The Dark Knight trilogy? What about Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy? How about those two G.I. Joe films that had Channing Tatum? Baby Yoda is cute, but remember when Star Wars was known more for its films?
Where am I going with this? Well, Marvel’s The Avengers didn’t just turn superhero films into the next big thing, it made shared universes all the rage. A film doesn’t earn $1.5 billion at the box office without Hollywood taking notice. Suddenly, every studio thought that the key to reaping box office profits was a shared universe. Unfortunately, a lot of studio execs don’t have the patience Feige has. Warner Bros. quickly retconned Man of Steel as the first entry in the DC Extended Universe and shoehorned all the Justice League members into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (talk about overload). Hasbro tried to make a shared universe with G.I. Joe, Micronauts, Visionaries, M.A.S.K., and Rom, but it never made it farther than a writers’ room. And don’t even get me started on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 setting up about a million different spinoffs.
As audiences, we’re still feeling The Avengers‘ impact in 2023. No one wants to make a “trilogy” anymore, they want to make a “shared universe.” Studios want to create something that they can milk for 2+ decades. However, as we’re beginning to see with the MCU itself, it’s hard to maintain quality when you’re constantly churning out 3-4 new projects a year. I just want studios to realize that there is still a demand for standalone blockbusters or a well-planned trilogy that doesn’t tease multiple spinoffs. I love the MCU — it’s still one of a kind — I just hate the effect its had on Hollywood.
Are you a fan of Marvel’s The Avengers? Do you have a fun fact, piece of trivia, or analysis about the 2012 film? Share it in the comments!