It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since The Avengers (2012) hit theaters worldwide, forever changing the superhero landscape, and cementing Joss Whedon as Marvel’s shepherd for the near future.
What better way to celebrate the anniversary – and prepare yourself for Marvel Phase 2 – than to watch the movie over again. We’d be willing to bet that much of the behind-the-scenes planning and Avengers trivia still goes unnoticed by even the most devoted of fans. But fear not: we’re here to help.
Easter Eggs, trivia, or useless facts to enrich your viewing experience: here are 25 Things You Didn’t Know About The Avengers.
After Loki arrives on the scene and the task of introducing ‘the good guys’ begins, it is Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) who kicks things off. The scene was actually a particular treat for Whedon, who had studied the Russian language and literature in college, finally getting to put them to use.
Whilst filming the scene (which despite its order in the film, took place quite late in the shoot) executive producer Jeremy Latcham noted to Whedon that the scene was the only one which appears in the film exactly as it was written in the director’s first draft of the script.
Perhaps that’s not entirely surprising, given Whedon’s flare for heroines (most notably in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Whedon himself confessed that the Widow introduction is essentially “my career in microcosm,” featuring a ‘helpless female’ tied to a chair, who turns out to be much stronger than the men around her.
Once Widow decides to put an end to the interrogation, she attacks her would-be captors while still tied to the chair. The ensuing fight scene kicks off the film (literally) with some of the most memorable choreography – credited largely to Johansson’s stunt double and industry veteran, Heidi Moneymaker.
Besides offering a memorable fight, the ensuing battle finally gave Whedon the chance to film a stunt he had written almost a decade prior. Specifically, having the bound woman flip end-over-end onto her assailant, taking him out of the fight and shattering the chair in the process.
Unfortunately, Charlie’s Angels (2000) featured the stunt first – with Drew Barrymore in the role – but it’s a safe bet more people have seen Moneymaker’s version at this point.
In one of the first scenes filmed during production, the introduction of Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) has the mad scientist explaining to Natasha Romanoff that despite his wishes to keep from unleashing his alter-ego, he warns: “I don’t every time get what I want.”
The line had been written long before the time came to shoot, but when Joss Whedon noticed that the set decorators had included a crib (splattered with green paint) among the objects found in the improvised Calcutta setting, he realized the words would carry far more weight if Banner touched it as he uttered the line.
Ruffalo agreed, and the shot made it into the final cut of the film. It’s an easy moment to miss, but for those paying close attention, the shot offers one of the only glimpses into the life Bruce Banner might have led.
It’s the kind of transition that makes great directors recline with a sense of accomplishment, and makes producers give wry smiles to all involved: Following the introduction of Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Colonel Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) asks the war hero for his thoughts on the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube’s power. Rogers’ response: “you should have left it at the bottom of the ocean.”
Immediately cut to Iron Man where? The bottom of the ocean. Following the previous segue of Fury remarking to his superiors that “the world needs soldiers” followed by Captain America’s introduction, one might think that Whedon had the film plotted out perfectly beat-by-beat.
In reality, it was Marvel head Kevin Feige who recommended that Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) be the last character introduced. As a result, the juxtaposition of the line and scenery was nothing more than a happy accident. Still, coincidence? We think fate was at work.
It may come as somewhat of a surprise – given how memorable the scene turned out to be – but Joss Whedon’s original script didn’t feature Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) at all. It was only Robert Downey, Jr.’s insistence that had Pepper included to give Tony some depth (he would later go on to insist on Pepper sharing a larger part of Iron Man 3 as well).
Whedon didn’t object, claiming that the addition of Potts gave him the chance to “write three minutes of The Thin Man,” referring to the quick-and-witty 1934 film starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. The film was infamous for the banter between its leading couple, and is even set to be remade with Johnny Depp in the main role.
The remake has since run into delays, but don’t expect Depp to discuss it with Whedon any time soon; it was The Avengers‘ mammoth box office that limited Depp’s last remake, Dark Shadows, to a disappointing domestic gross.
Any comic book fan knows that The Avengers owes much of its story and characters to the works of comic book writer and artist Jim Starlin. As the mind behind Thanos and many of the cosmic story lines that will be driving Marvel’s Phase 2 and beyond, Starlin fans only have more to look forward to.
But in The Avengers‘ audio commentary, it is this shot – referred to as simply ‘the staircase’ – that Whedon points out as encapsulating the spirit of Starlin’s work. Pointing to Starlin’s arc beginning with “The Avengers Annual” #7 and continuing the return of Adam Warlock.
So despite the fact that Starlin wasn’t properly credited by Marvel, it’s nice to know his fingerprints (and starscapes) are all over the finished film. Even if Starlin has confessed that from his earliest stages, Thanos was a bit of a DC Comics rip-off.
It’s a tiny line that passes by many audiences: after Agent Phil Coulson’s fanboy crush on Captain America is teased through the film’s first act, the topic of his Captain America trading cards comes up. The punchline of the gag is Coulson’s description of the cards as “a vintage set. It took me a couple of years to collect them all. Near mint, slight foxing around the edges, but…”
The line got a chuckle from audiences, but for comic book collectors and aficionados it helped characterize Coulson as one of their own. Referring to the slight browning around old books or comics, “foxing” is too obscure a reference for Whedon to believe it would remain in the final draft, being more an ‘inside baseball’ term than essential dialogue.
Yet, the line survived, and Coulson made an entire world of comic book nerds squeal with delight.
If there’s one thing you can say about Thor, the god of thunder (Chris Hemsworth), it’s that he sure knows how to make an entrance. A sudden storm rises, lightning strikes, and in he comes with hammer in hand, to ruin the party and collect his mischievous brother. Of course, how he actually got there is a complete mystery the film never addresses.
As anyone who saw Thor (2011) knows, the Asgardians’ ability to travel to Earth ended with the Bifrost. So even if there are other means of travel (the Tesseract seen transporting Thor and Loki home at the film’s conclusion) that doesn’t explain how Thor knew exactly where the Loki-occupied Quinjet was at that moment.
Whedon conceded that these questions go unanswered for the sake of plot advancement, but was surprised at how few people stopped and questioned his arrival. As the final member of the group, it seems everyone was too happy to have the Avengers assembled, to care.
Another ‘blink and you miss it’ Easter-egg can be found when Thor retrieves his brother and begins his mountaintop interrogation. The two ravens startled from their perch by the approaching Asgardians (and later seen circling back) may seem like everyday birds, but fans of Norse mythology know Huginn and Muninn when they see them..
To the Norse, the ravens serve Odin, traveling throughout the world to gather information and reporting it back. The Norse were more than fond of this particular bird, with some scholars arguing that the release of the ravens could also mean Odin himself embodied them on their journey, seeing what they saw and hearing through their ears.
In Marvel comics, the brothers Hugin and Munin act as messengers and assistants, and even show up perched on the throne of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) in the coronation scene of Thor. Even if the ‘all-father’ couldn’t be present to witness this argument between his sons, he was at least represented.
We don’t know what it is about yanking Norse gods out of frame that director Joss Whedon finds so irresistible, but clearly all present agreed that the gag was not only funny enough for one or two inclusions, but three. First, Thor is knocked out of frame by an attacking Iron Man, then by a seemingly friendly Hulk (possibly the biggest laugh of the film), with Loki finally getting in on the action as Hulk turns him from proud villain to rag-doll.
If we had been told before seeing the film that three of the most crowd-pleasing moments would have come from Thor and Loki slapstick, we would have thought the worst. But even with a heavy plot line and the death of one of Marvel’s most beloved characters, Whedon made the slapstick work.
Not every viewer will agree that they were all a success, but we can’t ignore the obvious: people really, really like to see gods made the butt of a joke.
Another one of The Avengers‘ biggest laughs came not from a reference to a comic book, but a video game. But as well-executed as the shot was in paying-off Tony Stark’s set-up (“that man is playing ‘Galaga!’ Thought we wouldn’t notice…but we did”), the reveal wasn’t actually planned.
Stark’s line was written into the script to stand on its own; only when Whedon was viewing the supplemental footage of the day’s shoot did this “shady-looking” extra give the idea of the minimized ‘Galaga’ session.
Lest anyone assume that we’re lying, and the inclusion of the game is a sign of Whedon’s hardcore gaming roots, our brethren at Game Rant would be furious if we didn’t point out a few problems. First, that the sound effects heard when the game is maximized are from the game, but don’t match what’s being shown on screen; also, the game’s publisher, NAMCO, is incorrectly cited as ‘NAMECO’ in the film’s credits.
Remembered as one of the standout scenes for both the movie and Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Widow,’ Loki’s interrogation reaches its climax as Loki delivers a gut-wrenching monologue, verbally assaulting Widow as his looming reflection grows larger and larger. That kind of cinematic flair may usually be blocked out and painstakingly crafted for some, but for Whedon, it was a side effect of production design.
The massive transparent cell built to contain the Hulk was visually impressive, but posed some unique challenges. Besides playing havoc with acoustics, having Widow sit so close to the glass meant that the only way to film her side of the conversation was to shoot from inside the cell itself.
As a result, Loki’s reflection was unavoidable, giving Whedon the idea of using it for added gravity, resulting in his favorite shot of the film.
Nobody is going to claim that the story of The Avengers is above criticism over apparent plot holes (Whedon’s response to every Chitauri dropping dead once the base ship is destroyed: “I’m not proud of it”) but we’ve had enough of one commonly-cited ‘goof’ in particular. It surrounds Dr. Bruce Banner’s arrival in New York City, just as he is needed most. The question: how did he know exactly where to go?
Banner’s motorcycle arrival may occur without much fanfare (intentionally), but how he knew where to head is quite clearly stated in the course of the film. Immediately before Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) launches his attack on the SHIELD helicarrier, Banner and Stark’s program tracks down the location of the Tesseract.
After his rampage, Banner knows exactly where to head: Stark Tower.
By the time audiences got their first look at Dr. Bruce Banner transforming into the Hulk, there’s a good chance that they were too engrossed in the tearing seams and grunting to notice the different approach Whedon took to the scene. Instead of following the other Hulk films – bringing in a pack of bullies to torment Banner and get the audience cheering when he unleashed his anger – The Avengers‘ first “Hulk-out” takes place against a character the audience loves.
Part of the brand new Hulk crafted by Whedon and Ruffalo was getting to the reality of the character outside of heroic action; in Whedon’s words: Hulk isn’t a hero’s story, it’s a werewolf story. It’s no coincidence that his first prey isn’t just an ally, but the physically weakest of the group.
The Hulk eventually gets to play the hero, but from his first appearance, this incarnation was the opposite of what previous films had assumed viewers wanted to see.
As it turns out, outfitting a make-believe military base is fairly expensive. Since there is no official United States military component featured in the film, Marvel was unable to use actual fighter planes or helicopters during filming. Instead, the filmmakers had to rely on digital planes, and whatever affordable props they could find.
During the hangar fight sequence between Thor and Hulk, one particularly powerful hammer-strike sends the green monster stumbling backwards, crippling a fighter plane used to break his fall. If the plane looks familiar, it should: it’s the same one used in James Cameron’s True Lies (1994).
We could make a crack about the same plane being piloted and destroyed by hulking masses of heavily-accented muscle; instead, we’ll cite this symbol of Cameron’s influence on Whedon as fortuitous, since the purchase of the plane was due solely to its price tag – “we got that one for cheap.”
There are more than a few iconic shots in The Avengers that seem torn right out of the comic books, and this play of depth, angle, light, and the stoic looks on both Cap and Iron Man’s faces – having just learned of Phil Coulson’s death – is one of the most memorable.
When the shot was constructed during filming, Whedon excitedly claimed that the shot was one of his favorites. Drew Godard, co-writer and director of The Cabin in the Woods (2011) happened to be visiting the set, and replied to Whedon: “that’s because it looks like Bryan Hitch drew it.”
As co-creator of “The Ultimates,” both Mark Millar and Hitch’s influences can be seen in Marvel’s live-action films. As the man responsible for updating Hawkeye’s look and Captain America’s costume (among other things), Hitch’s fingerprints are all over Marve’s Phase 1 movies. But as Whedon agreed, “nothing looks more like ‘The Ultimates’ than that one shot.”
The pivotal turning point of the entire film – the gathering of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Steve Rogers, and Tony Stark in the wake of Coulson’s death – is one of the most somber comic book movies have ever produced. Despite it being essentially a monologue, the weight of the scene could be seen in all three present.
To ensure that the scene was going to play as iconically as it had to, Whedon actually hummed/sang a musical score while the establishing shots were being filmed. The same method was used in the closing shot of the helicarrier’s bridge, but for this scene, the musical choice was Rachel Portman’s “Final Salute” from the soundtrack to Hart’s War (2002).
Unfortunately, none of Whedon’s dulcet tones made it into the film, but Downey, Jr. and Evans keeping straight faces throughout is testament to their skill.
When Fury tosses the still-unsigned collector cards pulled from Coulson’s jacket (locker), the image of Steve Rogers’ WWII-era USO costume is given top billing. Not hard to understand, since the blood-tinged photo of a young, innocent, and naive Rogers helps set the tone for the scene of disillusionment and the death of a fan-favorite character.
But a closer look at the other cards in the deck shows just a small glimpse of Captain America mid-punch. The card is actually a recreation of the cover to “Captain America” #1, featuring Cap delivering a knockout blow to Adolf Hitler.
It’s a quick Easter egg that even die-hard fans might miss, but a nice hint that the rich history of Captain America’s legend isn’t forgotten in the live-action universe.
One of the greatest misconceptions about 3D filmmaking is that the added depth or veracity can only add impact or spectacle to action scenes; exchanges between actors is about words and performance, not the dimensions. But after the emotional scene between Hawkeye and Black Widow following the Helicarrier attack, Whedon would disagree.
Although the scene is mainly exposition concerning the pair’s history, the director was surprised to find how much the 3D post-conversion actually added to Renner’s performance in particular, bringing some of his subtleties to the forefront.
From the sweat to the welled-up moisture in the eyes, the scene sports some of the 3D that Whedon was most surprised by, lending credence to those who claim 3D is more than just a fad, and that it can actually add depth to something besides alien chase sequences.
One of the larger changes to the film from start of production to finish was the role played by S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), the right-hand woman to Nick Fury. With seven films in Smulders’ contract, and the tension between Hill and Fury in the comic books, it was presumed that the pair would butt heads, or even part ways.
An alternate opening sequence confirmed that Hill had doubts about Fury’s leadership – and the Avengers Initiative as a whole – and nowhere does Fury cross ethical boundaries more than with Coulson’s cards, leading Hill to outright question his twisting of the facts.
But when the move is shown to have worked, Whedon claims that is the exact moment she becomes Fury’s “absolute right arm,” and a different character from the one who questioned his plan. In other words, with Whedon writing Avengers 2, don’t count on that loyalty faltering.
The Staredown. The exchange between Tony Stark and Loki over their respective armies is that fans will never forget (and one that made cutting a trailer an easy task), but the true battle of words and charisma begins before Stark even removes his armor. It actually begins with a heavy landing atop Stark Tower, and a staring contest that would put Clint Eastwood to shame.
The callback to old westerns wasn’t lost on Whedon, who at one point actually scored the scene to Ennio Morricone’s “Once Upon a Time in The West” theme.
The score was ultimately replaced by that of Alan Silvestri, but there’s no arguing that the old west strategy worked; focusing solely on Stark’s face, without so much as a glimpse of “the car wash” (the name bestowed upon Stark’s de-suiting procedure by the crew) to break the standoff.
“There’s one other person you pissed off…and his name was Phil.” Tony delivers the crowd-pleasing line moments after his stunning mid-air suit-up, mentioning Coulson for the first time since his death and proving that despite the eccentric billionaire’s glib demeanor, it was a friend he lost when Loki attacked.
Surprisingly, the line didn’t exist until the last three weeks of shooting. Beyond delivering one of the better one-liners in Marvel’s first wave of superhero films, the line also pays off Tony’s earlier claim that Coulson’s first name was “Agent,” proving once and for all that Tony does, indeed, have a heart. Even if Loki couldn’t find it.
Tony Stark loves an expansive wardrobe. With Iron Man 3 alone, there are rumored Iron Man suits, confirmed spacefaring suits, and even suits for heavy lifting. But with so many outfits to choose from, Joss Whedon and the effects team decided there was still room for improvement.
Nobody can forget the jaw-dropping mid-air assembling of the Mark VII armor, keeping much of the paint scheme and pieces intact, but swapping the triangular chest piece for a more nostalgic circular one. But the most important change is one audiences may not even have noticed at first: a ‘thruster backpack.’
For as cool as the Iron Man armor was, the need for Tony to stabilize himself with palm thrusters meant the more ‘comic book’ poses weren’t possible. Whedon, being the die-hard comic fan, made sure to change that. Time will tell if the change is widely adopted, or was a one-time feature.
Ah yes, the shawarma. While we know the now-infamous scene was actually conceived long after principal photography wrapped, that doesn’t mean the Arab meat dish is confined to the film’s credits. In fact, eagle-eyed audiences can see the set-up for the post-fight delicacy long before the Avengers have won the day.
Once Tony gets through doing his best impression of Biblical prophet Jonah – dispatching an alien ‘Jumbo’ from the inside – he makes a crash landing directly in front of – Shawarma Palace.
We’d like to think that Jarvis made sure to catalogue the restaurant’s proximity for later, leaving Tony to fend for himself in the heat of battle.
While the average movie fan may associate everything that appears on screen with the director’s vision for the film, the role of the production designer can’t be understated; they’re the one that actually makes what everyone is looking at.
And in case anyone didn’t recognize how strong a role comic books and epic scale played a part in James Chinlund’s Avengers production design, the film’s last shot of the helicarrier bridge makes it clear.
The large table at the rear of the bridge, the elegant recessed banks of computer terminals, and the narrow walkway to Fury’s observation window all form a massive eagle, the logo of S.H.I.E.L.D.
An inspired design, and only visible in its entirety in a single shot.
Like any epic blockbuster, the tale of getting the story onto the screen is often full of as many heroes, courageous acts, and ingenuity than what audiences witness. For The Avengers, that was certainly the case – along with a bit of luck, of course.
Which of these tidbits and interesting facts did you notice during the film? Did most of them slip by only to stand out on repeat viewing? Leave us your own reactions and easter eggs we might have missed in the comments.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.