Avengers Assemble: The A Team
“You think you’re the only superhero in the world? You’ve become part of a bigger universe – you just don’t know it yet.” Nick Fury, Iron Man
It’s the most hotly anticipated movie of the season. We look at the new A-listers assembled by Marvel Studios in a strategy that dates back to the newbie studio’s first blockbuster, Iron Man – and what was little more than a second thought, the idea to put Samuel L Jackson in at the end as a tip of the hat to Nick Fury. The cute tag worked so well, they added another to The Incredible Hulk a couple of months later and mapped out the plan for what would become a five blockbuster series, pillars on which the studio would build The Avengers. And like so much in the movies, each of those pillars came down to casting…
The Avengers Who's Who
1. Robert Downey Jr (Tony Stark / Iron Man)
So much has been written about Robert Downey Jr, but still it’s easy to forget that ten years ago, the idea that any studio would make this talented, mercurial actor the lynchpin in a multi-million dollar blockbuster film series would have seemed laughable. Weirdly, ten years ago he was shooting Singing Detective, a comeback vehicle after years of drug-inspired legal entanglements that was the gift of his buddy Mel Gibson – then at the height of his career. Downey had shown plenty of brilliant flashes over the years of course, in Wonder Boys, and Two Girls And A Guy, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but he came in and didn’t just play Tony Stark, he put his stamp on the tone of the entire movie, mixing arrogance and humour in a series of edgy riffs that made Iron Man a refreshing contrast to the somber Dark Knight films. With a third Iron Man movie planed for next year with Kiss Kiss director Shane Black at the helm, Downey’s trajectory continues to sky-rocket.
2. Chris Evans (Steve Rogers, Captain America)
Mind you, ten years ago Chris Evans was nobody – the only movie on his CV was the aptly named Not Another Teen Movie. The Massachusetts native finally made his breakthrough as Johnny Storm in Fox’s disappointingly uneven but quite popular Marvel movie, Fantastic Four; Evans’ numbskull energy as the Human Torch went down well with audiences. Of his other projects, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is probably the highlight, but he seemed too lightweight to leave much of a mark until his before and after makeover role as Steve Rogers in 2011’s Captain America (subtitled The First Avenger). Evans’ initially weedy physique (and subsequent Arnie-esque abs) was a spectacle in itself, but the actor also made corny idealism seem sexy again, no mean feat. Incidentally, this will be Evans’ third appearance alongside Black Widow Scarlett Johansson.
3. Chris Hemsworth (Thor)
One of the few Marvel heroes who doesn’t come with a double identity, Thor is pretty straightforward: the God of Thunder isn’t one for self-analysis or subtlety. He’s a hot-headed hunk with a hammer, and the Australian actor doesn’t over-complicate that – though he does bring a nice line of comic bewilderment at life in the Twenty First Century to the proceedings. Like so many other Aussie actors Hemsworth did a spell on the soap opera Home and Away prior to his Hollywood debut as George T Kirk (father of James) in Star Trek. Thor 2 is planned for next year, but taking over Kenneth Branagh's directing duties is Alan Taylor (Game Of Thrones; Palookaville).
4. Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk)
Ruffalo is the third actor to play the Hulk in the last decade (Edward Norton and Eric Bana were the others), but if advance word is right, the first to really enjoy the possibilities of the wrathful scientist. The thinking woman’s sex symbol, the soft-spoken Ruffalo probably isn’t the first one you would pick out for a hair-trigger tempter, but then again, apparently he came very close to nicking the part when The Incredible Hulk was rebooted last time around – something Joss Whedon didn’t know when he suggested him this time. Last seen in Margaret (which was shot seven years ago), he has notched up plenty of memorable movies over the years, including Zodiac with Rober Downey Jr, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, You Can Count On Me, and Shutter Island.
5. Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow)
If you have to have eye candy, then it may as well be Scarlett Johansson in a skintight black bodysuit, right? SHIELD agent Natasha Romanoff – aka Black Widow – made her debut in Iron Man 2. She may not have any super powers but she showed she wasn’t any slouch in a fight – and Buffy creator Joss Whedon certainly isn’t one to underestimate the importance of strong female characters. As for Johansson, it looks like her career could use a bit of a push. Except for Iron Man 2 her last three features are the underwhelming He’s Just Not That Into You, the awful The Spirit, and box office disappointment We Bought A Zoo.
6. Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton / Hawkeye)
Like Natasha and Phil Coulson, Clint is a human SHIELD agent who has skills, not powers. In his case, he’s a dab hand with an arrow (maybe Hawkeye should have a face off with Katniss Everdeen). He made his bow (sorry) in a slightly contrived scene in Thor, but we’re always happy for an excuse to see Jeremy Renner, an intense, charismatic actor who scored consecutive Oscar nominations for The Hurt Locker and The Town. This is shaping up to be a very good year for Renner, what with Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, The Avengers, the new Bourne movie and the latest (as yet untitled) James Gray picture all set for release.
7. Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson)
Of all the Avengers team, SHIELD’s Agent Coulson has figured most often, while actor Clark Gregg remains probably the least famous. You would likely recognise him, though from any one of 60 odd credits, including several David Mamet movies (State And Main; Spartan; The Spanish Prisoner); The Usual Suspects; AI; and 500 Days Of Summer). He also adapted Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Choke for the screen, directing it himself.
8. Samuel L Jackson (Nick Fury)
Previously portrayed on screen by David Hasselhof, Nick Fury made his comicbook debut in 1963 at the head of the crack “Howling Commandos”. The series ran 167 episodes, while Fury morphed into a James Bond style spy at SHIELD. Samuel L Jackson of course needs no introduction, and his casting was arguably Marvel’s masterstroke: an iconic and lionized figure on the back of his films with Tarantino, Spike Lee and George Lucas he instantly generated excitement and credibility for the concept of the series. A Nick Fury solo movie remains on the cards, but apparently not a priority.
9. Tom Hiddleston (Loki)
Apparently Thor’s mischievous brother Loki was fingered as the designated bad guy for the Avengers movie even before Hiddleston was cast in Thor. Born in Westminster, and educated at Eton and Cambridge, Hiddleston seems an unlikely blockbuster heavy (though he actually auditioned for Thor! Wallander costar Branagh decided Loki was a better fit). Hiddleston got himself noticed in Joanna Hogg’s films Unrelated and Archipeligo. Last year he impressed as F Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris, in Terence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea, and as Captain Nichols in Spielberg’s War Horse; he’s currently playing Prince Hal and Henry V for the BBC.
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