Release Year: 2011
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Director: Joss Whedon
Writer: Joss Whedon and Zak Penn
We know you love superhero films, in much the same way we know you're a red-blooded human who also enjoys the finer things in life like Saturday afternoons in May, cuddling pug puppies, and the flavor explosion that only a Cola-and-cherry-swirl Slurpee can offer.
So we kind of assume you'll love The Avengers, because the experience of watching this movie is kind of like cuddling a pug puppy on a Saturday afternoon in May while drinking a Cola-and-cherry-swirl slushie.
Because instead of one superhero, you get seven of 'em.
And those seven literally changed the way Hollywood makes movies, turning the superhero genre into the single most popular kind of filmmaking for a decade and making Marvel Comics—the guys who once presented us with David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury—the hottest movie property in the history of everything.
The Avengers isn't the first superhero movie to come down the pike. In fact, superhero movies (and Marvel movies in particular) had enjoyed quite a little Renaissance since the dawn of the 21st century, when Bryan Singer's X-Men films, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films, and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy turned superheroes into massive box office success.
Marvel Studios had their own chip in the game, not only with Spidey and the X-Men (whose movie rights had been sold), but with a whole passel of figures more popular with comic book insiders than mainstream audiences: people like Iron Man, Captain America, The Black Widow, and Thor. They figured they could cash in on the trend with their own superheroes. And, when 2008's massive hit Iron Man moved to the only-slightly-less-massive hits of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, they were primed to mix it up with the other superhero franchises out there.
Only they weren't satisfied with that.
Instead, they followed up with a massive effort that brought all three of their first superheroes together—plus the Incredible Hulk, who'd struggled for box office love through a couple of movies, and a trio of other spandex-clad do-gooders—to try to really move things to a higher level.
Drawing from the pages of the original comic books, The Avengers set a septet of Marvel's mightiest defenders of truth and justice against the evil god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his invading army of screechy aliens. The good guys squabble with each other for quite a bit—super powers come with super egos, it seems, and to quote Iron Man, "it takes us a while to get any traction"—but in the end, they come together just in time to shut down an alien invasion over the skies of Manhattan.
That proved an irresistible box office combo for casual fans and hard-core comic geeks alike. With so many heroes on the screen, you could pick your favorite, and with director Joss Whedon keeping all those balls in the air, all of them were going to get a chance to strut their stuff.
A sequel followed two years later—not quite as groundbreaking, but hey, it had killbots—and as we write this, there are plans to make two more Marvel Cinematic Universe movies per year more or less in perpetuity.
What's amazing is just how hard it is to pull all of that off, and just how successful the results were. In some ways, The Avengers was like any other big summer blockbuster, but it did some things differently, and in the process gave us a whole lot more than cool superheroes kicking alien butt. It made cinematic history.
Forgive us for being corny for a hot second…but the reason you should care about The Avengers is togetherness.
The Avengers is about not one, not two, but seven superheroes fighting together to save the world. The fight isn't exactly groundbreaking, but the sheer number of characters definitely is. And it's that aspect of the film—not the kick-butt special effects, not Thor's silky locks, not Nick Fury's effortless cool—that's the most interesting.
Because it brings a lucky number of good guys together, we can read The Avengers as a moral tale about safety in numbers. And not just any campfire-side story served with a side of kumbaya—but a tale of networking.
This is a movie that came out in 2012, which is both the year that the earth didn't end (thanks for nothing, Mayan calendar) and a year that was dubbed "International Year of Cooperatives" by the United Nations. Now the UN was talking about worker's cooperatives, but the same ideology applies to a band of superheroes: united we stand, divided we fall.
The spirit of togetherness was in the air when The Avengers hit theaters, which was part of the reason it was such a massive success—the early 2010s saw the mainstreaming of ideas like the "sharing economy," "peer to peer," and "collaborative consumption." Everyone was onboard with the idea of banding together to get things done.
The lone caped crusader was out; dream teams were in.
If The Avengers has a moral (besides "don't be an evil Asgardian dictator," or maybe "always be angry"), it's that one man can't do it alone. Even if you're a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, you still are probably going to find that, sooner or later, you'll need the help of a super-soldier, a Norse god, a Russian secret agent, a humongous green rage monster, a one-eyed spy, and…a guy who's good with a bow and arrow? (Sorry, Hawkeye. You're definitely not the most memorable Avenger.)
And that moral resonated with a viewing public that was just beginning to go along with the idea that renting out another person's apartment was preferable to staying in a motel, getting into a car with a pink moustache on it was preferable to hailing a cab, and leaving your doggy with another corgi-lover when you go out of town was preferable taking him to a kennel.
Of course, sometimes superheroes get into fights, and sometimes Airbnb guests throw wild parties…but we'll talk about that in Captain America: Civil War.
One of the staples of the MCU is the "post-credits cookie," a little snippet after the last credits roll to keep bums on seats (and enjoy the names of all the people who worked hard on the film) and help set up the next entry in what looks to be a very long-running franchise. (Source)
Actor Paul Bettany has a little part here as JARVIS, the online artificial intelligence in Tony Stark's Iron Man suit. Bettany's a famous actor and has starred in his own movies, which makes it odd that he would take a little role just to whisper plot exposition into the main hero's ear. But all that anonymous toiling paid dividends in the next Avengers movie, Age of Ultron, in which he goes from being a disembodied voice to being heroic android (and instant Avenger) the Vision. (Source)
Remember when Bruce Banner wakes up in that empty warehouse, and that kindly old security guard asks him if he's an alien? If the actor looks familiar, he should. He a legendary character actor named Harry Dean Stanton, and his "Are you an alien?' line is a reference to his most famous role: the hapless astronaut Brett in Ridley Scott's Alien. (Source)
You're probably all aware of the Stan Lee cameo by now, but we'll bring it up for those who missed it. Lee, the creator or co-creator of a huge number of Marvel characters, shows up in almost every Marvel movie. It's happened so often that it's become a running joke, one the filmmakers definitely love. (Here's a list of where he pops up in all the films.) (Source)
Here's the cast and crew, for those interested.
Rotten Tomatoes Page
The critics are in…and all in one place. They seem to dig it.
Roger Ebert's Review
The late great movie critic shares his thoughts.
Marvel.com has the basics on the characters' comic book origins.
The hit movie begat the new animated series, which premiered in 2013.
Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes
Before the movie came out, there was this animated series, which Disney replaced with Avengers Assemble.
Marvel Has the Comic Book Hook-Up
Interested in following the characters in their original medium? Check out Marvel.com.
Cast and Crew Are Interviewed
A passel of interviews from cast and crew
As you may have suspected, they got a lot of ink on this.
Joss Whedon talks to an interviewer about directing The Avengers.
Here's the teaser for the film, which originally ran in front of Captain America.
The second trailer, or "official" trailer depending on how fussy you get about these things.
The Second Trailer
The final trailer for the film.
A two-hour live feed at the official premiere of the film in downtown Hollywood.
The original poster for the movie, featuring the whole team in action.
Some of the original imagery used to inspire the filmmakers. Well done, Mr. Artist.
Behind the Scenes
Director Joss Whedon shows Mark Ruffalo—decked out in the mo-cap uniform—how exactly Thor is going to hit him.
More Behind the Scenes
Posing for the green screens while fighting invisible aliens.
The Original Cover
Here's the original cover to the very first comic book, all the way back in 1963.