The Avengers is officially a record-shattering box office success - a film revered by millions of fans that even managed to impress a lot of those 'snobby critics' out there. Here at Screen Rant we gave the film a 4.5 out of 5 star review, and filled over an hour and a half of our Avengers Podcast Special with glowing praise for writer/director Joss Whedon's blockbuster Marvel superhero team-up. No doubt about it: Avengers is a monumental success on many levels.
However, it's important to remember the road that led to The Avengers as Marvel Studios enters the next phase of its shared movie universe, in the build up to The Avengers 2. A few years ago, we posed the question of whether the road to Avengers was being paved at the expense of the solo character films. Now that Avengers is here, we once again have to ask ourselves: was the big payoff worth the comprises in storytelling it took to get there?
To be clear: we're not going to debate the quality of The Avengers. Us giving the film a good review obviously says that we thought Joss Whedon and company did a good job. What we will do here is look back at Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America, and identify which elements of those films were crucial to the story of The Avengers, and if each solo film was well-served by its inclusion in (and obligations to) a larger cinematic universe.
Click on each of the titles below to jump to the discussion of that film:
Avengers Contributions: Iron Man origin / Arc reactor creation / S.H.I.E.L.D. Introduction / Avengers Initiative
Iron Man was the film that started it all. By earning a worldwide total of $585 million, it proved that even second-tier Marvel superheroes (i.e., not Spider-Man or Wolverine) had legitimate box office appeal. Iron Man also proved that Marvel Studios was indeed the best place for these heroes to be adapted for the big screen - in full accordance with their source material origins and mythos - instead of being tinkered with and altered, as some third-party studios had done (see: Fox's (mis-)handling of the X-Men movie franchise).
Of course, being released so early in the game - when Marvel's plan to build a cinematic universe was largely still a gamble married to a pipe dream - Iron Man was free from some of the pressures that its followers (including its own sequel) would inevitably face. After all, the most direct connections between IM and The Avengers are S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and the brief post-credits "button scene," which revealed Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury - more of a fun nod to fans than the obligatory weaving of a larger mythos.
In the end, Iron Man was mostly left free to tell its own story: How an arrogant arms dealer is nearly destroyed by his own hubris, and must learn to use his talents for a greater good. As a standalone narrative it's complete and well-developed - even though it didn't even have a fully-formed script as it entered production. Thanks to star Robert Downey Jr.'s charisma and his ability to successfully collaborate with director Jon Favreau, Iron Man was more than just a solid story: It was a fun introduction to the Marvel Movie Universe.
Verdict: Since it didn't have a lot of Avengers obligations to fulfill, Iron Man was able to stand strong on its own mechanical legs.