How to Make a Tentpole Summer Movie Work When Expectations are Stratospheric

1. Set it up with well done introductory movies.

Some (Number One. Loudly.) can argue that Iron Man 2 sucked. But Iron Man did not. Thor had some weaknesses, but held up on all the important points: Shirtless God, emotional family conflict, epic battles. Captain America also received some criticism for feeling like an introductory film, but I think that’s just because of the way it ended. I thought the rest of the movie was very strong. Much like hunky Steve. In any case, all three of these were liked well enough by enough people that anticipation for The Avengers was high.

2. Fix what was wrong with the other introductory movies when you bring that character back, and play down his role a little bit in promotion.

I don’t think most of the people who saw The Avengers cared much about the Incredible Hulk’s presence. The two movies that focused solely on him in the past didn’t do so well. I admit, I didn’t see either one. But it’s hard to get behind a superhero who’s actually kind of a villain. So The Avengers brought in Bruce Banner instead. They concentrated on the conflict of him not wanting to be “the other guy,” made him a tool for the enemy, and redeemed him magnificently in the climactic ending.

3. Make it funny.

This cannot be stressed enough. But it can’t just be competing one-liners. They have to mean something, like this fantabulous exchange:

Bruce Banner: I don’t think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.
Thor: Have a care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother.
Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.
Thor: He’s adopted.

Make some of the humor visual. Get actors willing to look a bit silly for the sake of a gag, but make that gag fit seamlessly into the whole. Provide different kinds of humor: Coulson’s deadpan delivery versus Nick Fury’s dramatic parting shots versus Tony Stark’s rapid-fire nicknames and pop culture references. Nothing ever gets stale.

4. Make it emotional.

Each character has something worth fighting for, whether it’s big, small, internal or external. They don’t get along, they’re all the best of the best so they’re cocky and arrogant, but when it comes time, they work perfectly together because they know how to exploit each other’s strengths.

Twist the conflict so some beloved characters wind up in places we don’t want them to be, and then sacrifice something unforgiveable—but leave room for hope, because there will be a sequel.

5. Make it accessible.

Comics fans need to be appeased, so give them lots of little things to look for, artifacts and references only they know. But your audience has to be bigger than comic book readers, so make sure we can understand the characters and where they came from, what their motivations are, what they want. Captain America’s loneliness, Thor’s ripped-apart family, Banner’s despair over a lack of a normal life, even Tony Stark’s need to have his brilliance recognized…these are all souped-up versions of things we regular people feel, too.

All of that put together is a pretty tall order. So throw in the destruction of New York City for the testosterone fueled (for the life of me, I’ll never understand why grown men love breaking things so much), special effects to awe us no matter how jaded we’ve become by special effects, and oh, yeah, one more thing:

Put Joss Whedon in charge of it.

The Avengers was probably the most-anticipated movie of the year, bigger than Spider-Man (which has a wary interest from a lot of us, being so soon after a full trilogy), bigger than Batman (which is dark and without the sense of fun of The Avengers). When expectations are stratospheric, a movie is doomed to disappoint, isn’t it?

Not this one. The Avengers earned a rare A+ Cinemascore rating (they poll moviegoers on the way out of the theater, getting their honest and immediate reactions). People laughed so much they missed stuff, so they had to go back and see it a second time. We’ll quote it at each other, put up posters, preorder the DVD, and start counting down until the sequel.

Even without a release date, it’s still way too far away…

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9 Responses

  1. Loved this post. Haven’t seen it yet, but my boys have seen it twice. We may have to celebrate the last day of school tomorrow by going to the theatre again. I think you just talked me into it 🙂

  2. Haven’t seen it. Want to, but I haven’t seen Cap. America or Thor. Do I need to see those before seeing this?

    • No, you don’t have to have seen those, Cyndi, but you’ll get some things better if you do. Especially Thor, because what happens there directly sets up what happens in The Avengers.

      OH! And everyone, if you didn’t already know! Stay through the credits of ALL of these movies! They all have a tidbit that connects them from film to film. It’s an enhancer, so if you miss them it’s not a big deal. They’re just fun.

      And do not, I repeat, do NOT run to the bathroom when the credits start rolling during The Avengers because you’ll be back WAY before the end of the credits. There is a bit in the MIDDLE of the credits, which is a teaser for the sequel, AND a bit at the end, which is just funny. 🙂

  3. Saw it yesterday and LOVED it!!! And for all of the reasons you mentioned. Loved the “He was adopted” line:-D Near the end, Hulk gives Loki quite a thrashing, walks away and mutters, “Puny god.” I haven’t seen the Hulk movies, but I’ve seen the rest. I liked knowing the characters more intimately–especially Thor:-D

  4. OMG, the look on Loki’s face when the Hulk walks away. Priceless! I don’t want to give things away, but there were so many of those little moments!

  5. Great post Natalie. and ugh–we missed the last scene at the end, but I googled and found a spoiler. I knew to stay, but after the tease, I thought that was it!

    I thought the humor balanced with the cocky characters respecting each other is really what made this movie. son fell all over Hulk and adored him once he turned green. Up until that point, I think he was struggling a bit.

    • Well, he’s a little young to get the subtleties of Bruce Banner’s conflicts. 🙂 I thought Mark Ruffalo played him extremely well. And then played the motion capture of “the other guy” well, too. I loved the casual sniff when he did you-know-what to Thor! LOL

  6. Haven’t seen this one, but everyone says its so good. I’m pushing it to the front of my list now! 🙂

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