Almost any moviegoer these days knows about the massive Marvel Studios project, The Avengers. Most probably know about Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, who have all had their own independent blockbusters. The Avengers franchise is the third highest grossing series in film history, behind only the James Bond and Harry Potter franchises. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood play characters in the series, and these roles have only made even bigger names out of them. Robert Downey Jr. is synonymous now with Iron Man, as are Chris Hemsworth with Thor, and Chris Evans with Captain America. These are some of the most engaging superhero movies ever made; watching them is unlike watching any other series. What about this series’ structure has made this so?
The Avengers project started in 2008 with the release of The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man. Not many people remember The Incredible Hulk because it was a critical flop, it did not earn any sequels, and the title character has since been recast. After Hulk’s false start, Iron Man was the true beginning of the series. The film was a smash, largely due to Robert Downey Jr.’s charismatic performance. It is a near-unanimous opinion that the Iron Man films would not be of nearly the same caliber if somebody else were to play the lead.
In 2010, we saw Iron Man 2, the movie that really began to build the premise for the 2012 release of The Avengers (the film that ultimately brought each lead hero together), as it introduced Nick Fury and Scarlet Widow, characters from other realms of the Marvel universe. In 2011, we were introduced to Thor, in (of course) Thor, and Captain America in The First Avenger. It became clearer with each passing film that these stories were not intended as standalone pieces, but that they were going to be part of something even larger.
The series has proved captivating to millions of people worldwide. People are constantly wondering what is going to happen in the next movie, who is going to be the next villain, which celebrity is going to play which legendary character, and how the next movie going to fit into the overarching Avengers plot. By interweaving each Avengers-related release, Marvel has constructed a franchise where each piece heightens and complicates the other. Walking into the theater, even for a run-of-the-mill, single-superhero affair, audiences are delighted to wonder which other Avenger will make a surprise appearance.
A series constructed in this way is compelling for so many reasons. These films are made so that audiences wait after the credits to watch a short bonus clip, foreshadowing the next movie in the series. Sometimes these short clips can be comedic, and other times, they show us some major event that is going to happen in the next installment. If you go see any of these movies, you absolutely must keep watching throughout the credits. Some major elements to the overall story are introduced in these clips.
Another compelling layer to the series’ construction is the novelty found in viewing the post-Avengers films in order of their release, regardless of which superhero is the lead. This might sound weird for some of you. One might expect to be able to catch up on the Avengers series on a hero-by-hero basis, but a scene at the end of Iron Man 2 that introduced Thor to the rest of the Avengers universe changed the rules. Now, each of the subsequent movies reaches across its individual brand and builds on the other, often teasing the story for the sequel to The Avengers (the film). To further complicate matters, each of the new films includes a new leap forward in the Avengers storyline, rendering the solo-hero films integral to fans of the super-group film. You have to see every piece of the puzzle; you will be lost otherwise.
Because of the Avengers series’ interweaving aspects, and the way they are epitomized in the supergroup blockbuster, The Avengers, this series makes for an awesome movie marathon. As it continues, I suspect that The Avengers will become the highest grossing movie series in history, eventually beating out the Harry Potter movies (sorry fans). The interconnectivity in this project was and is an ingenious marketing plan: audiences are always going to want more. The form of the series invites audiences to binge-watch it, much like a Netflix series. Get your popcorn ready and get comfortable in front of your TV or computer; you are going to be awake for a while.
by Matthew Picus '16