Even as close as a few weeks prior to the theatrical release of The Avengers, it was unclear what villains may appear in the film to antagonize Earth's Mightiest. We knew rather early that Tom Hiddleston would be suiting up as Loki once again after bringing the character to life in Thor the year prior, but rumors offered varied possibilities for who his "army" could be in the film and what other villains could make surprise appearances.
One of those rumors - thanks to merchandising - was that of the Red Skull, and it seemed plausible that Marvel may have wanted to bring back Hugo Weaving to play the unique looking character even for a brief scene in the film. Like Loki, Red Skull is one of the more prominent villains of Marvel Comics and certainly of the Marvel cinematic universe to date. As it turns out, that was actually a consideration early on in development.
At Comic-Con 2012, writer Zak Penn co-hosted a panel to talk about his upcoming comic series Hero Worship (co-written by Scott Murphy) and during the presentation, he touched upon his work on writing the earlier drafts of The Avengers and the differences between writing comics and screenplays.
"As a writer, you have so little control over the product that gets up on screen. What you see in this comic book is what we wanted to put there -- in a comic book, you can actually blame us for everything that's in it. That's our fault"
Penn is likely deflecting some blame and referencing the less-positively-received comic book related film works - he wrote X-Men 2, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Incredible Hulk and we know two of those didn't have the smoothest productions. As for The Avengers, long before Marvel Studios was formed as a fully functional self-financed studio, Marvel President of Production Kevin Feige signed Penn to begin working on a script for The Avengers movie as far back as 2003, years before Iron Man even got the greenlight.
"At the time, there was no Marvel Studios, so it was kind of like a pipe dream. My job was to keep revising the draft… for about four or five years, that's what I did. The story was basically the same, but it kept shifting. Then, once Joss (Whedon) came in, he took over from there."
It's been clear that Marvel has always had plans - or at least well thought-out ideas - of how they could tell an interconnected stories over multiple projects, spanning several years into the future. Over year ago, we heard they had planned up to 2017, and that's really been the only way to secure talent with multi-picture contracts to have characters showing up in each others' films. The cameos in each movie, Loki continuing is villainous path from Thor to The Avengers and the Avengers team-up itself are all examples of Marvel planning ahead with 'big picture' mindset.
And while Loki was always going to be the featured baddie for The Avengers, Penn admits that there was "some discussion" of including the Red Skull. For all we know, that could have been something director Joss Whedon changed when he was brought in for The Avengers. He completely rewrote The Avengers script, helped with the story of Captain America: The First Avenger, and shot the post-credits scene himself for Thor. Penn does say that if he knew he could have used Thanos in his script, he would have loved to have explored that option as well.
Including Loki and his extraterrestrial army allowed Marvel to take their brand name characters and use them to launch the franchise into the cosmic side of the Marvel Comics universe, and it worked. Had they gone with Red Skull instead (assuming they wouldn't use both in one movie), it'd be a tough sell trying to introduce Guardians of the Galaxy years later - something we knew they were keen on and can do now.
With Captain America: The Winter Soldier including flashbacks, could we see the return of the Red Skull despite Hugo Weaving's desire to focus less on blockbuster-type films? Could he show up in The Avengers 2?
The Avengers was directed by Joss Whedon and stars Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow and Paul Bettany.
Iron Man 3 releases May 3, 2013, Thor: The Dark World on November 8, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, 2014 and Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.
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