Crafting For Greatness
So what makes Marvel’s Avengers different from all of these previous mash-ups? A few things, actually. By all accounts, Kevin Feige and his team laid out a vision for how every Marvel movie would dovetail into the others, each introducing characters and elements that come into play in the others, all building toward Avengers.
No writer, director or studio exec had incorporated this level of planning into how his or her franchise would unfold and interlock, not even George Lucas for his Star Wars movies.
In addition to somehow skirting all the reasons why such an endeavor could not be possible under contemporary Hollywood business and creative constraints, Marvel Studios also played the technology and digital distribution cards like no other in history.
Armed with the knowledge that their superheroes are the closest things we have to a godlike pantheon, Marvel worked triple-time over the several years to dust off these characters and reintroduce them to the world. Animated series, chapter books, action figures, video games, Blu-rays loaded with crash courses in Avengers lore, even a million-dollar Facebook game that mixed X-Men and Spider-Man into the four-color stew. We were set up like ten-pins and Avengers, as recounted by the cleverly chosen Joss “Homer” Whedon, could only bowl us over.
Here’s both the takeaway and the challenge studios face in the wake of Avengers: a well-known and coherent story world is a rare and precious thing, and there is great power in a grand unifying narrative.
The threads that tie 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise together are loose at best, with various filmmakers fraying even those with different, often contradictory takes on the material. Warner Bros. approach to the DC heroes has been almost entirely auteur-driven, with Batman, Superman and Green Lantern existing in entirely different universes. It will be some years before any of those characters can meet on the big screen, even if the studio wanted them to.
We experience a certain kind of exhilaration when our gods unite toward a common purpose. That’s why we have All-Star baseball games, and why we’ll forever remember how Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and a host of others joined forces to sing “We Are the World” for starving people in Africa. They are our champions, and their adventures together forge national, and now global narratives.
To repeat the success of The Avengers, however, studios will need visionaries up to the cause, new kinds of storytellers as savvy with how narrative unfolds across multiple media platforms (and in their ability to use marketing and licensing campaigns to build equity in lesser known characters), as they are with how to turn a good scene. Super nerds, thy time has come!