If you're a fan of superhero comic-book movies, then this is your dream come true. This is the type of film you fantasized about growing up – the ultimate superhero mash-up, but in live action, on the biggest movie screens in the world. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Incredible Hulk all in the same movie together for the first time after each one launched their own successful franchise. And that movie is being directed by one of Hollywood's nerdiest writer-directors, Joss Whedon, a true comic book geek who understands the intricacies of these superhero worlds like no other.
This is The Avengers, arguably the biggest film of 2012, and the most important one of the decade for Marvel and perhaps even Disney, as it signifies the culmination of a master plan that's been taking shape for years – one that could potentially launch a new, massive franchise, the likes of which we've never seen before.
Fandango was among the lucky few who were able to travel to the set of The Avengers last August in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we braved scorching-hot conditions to watch our favorite superheroes battle aliens on a giant set inside an old rail yard converted to look like a New York City street outside Grand Central Station. We watched Iron Man and Captain America film a scene overflowing with anger-induced intensity, and sat down for some of the longest, most in-depth conversations with an ensemble cast we've ever experienced while on a movie set.
So after chatting it up with Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (The Incredible Hulk), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Scarlett Johannson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Joss Whedon and Marvel's chief geek Kevin Feige, here are 10 awesome things we learned about Marvel's biggest movie ever …
1. Each Character Has His or Her Own Story – There's a reason this sort of thing hasn't been attempted yet, and it's because it's extremely difficult to navigate a story that has to be edge-of-your-seat exciting, but at the same time makes you care about each one of these characters and their struggles. One of the most impressive aspects of The Avengers is that Joss Whedon somehow managed to get each hero their time in the spotlight.
Mark Ruffalo, playing Hulk for the first time (Bill Bixby, Ed Norton and Eric Bana have all portrayed the character onscreen), admitted he was hesitant to be involved because he didn't want to just do nothing. "That was my worry – I said Joss, don't put me in there if I'm just going to be standing around," Ruffalo told us. "He's like, ‘No, no, no, don't worry – everyone's gonna have their voice, and their sort of own little character arc' – and he's really come through on that."
2. Don't Expect Much Romance – While each solo Marvel film has incorporated a romantic element between our superhero and his leading lady, the heroes don't have much time for that in this film because the stakes are ridiculously high. Scarlett Johansson, whose Black Widow spends a good amount of time alongside Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, joked, "There's no time for romance. We have s**t to avenge!"
3. Consider This The Avengers: Part 1 – According to Marvel chief Kevin Feige, this is only the beginning of a brand-new franchise, and not the end of a multi-film story arc. "Everyone gets an introduction into this movie as if they've never been in any other movie before,"Feige told us. "That is the way the movie is... This is a "Part 1." This has been a rallying cry and one of the reasons we wanted Joss to come on-board is because he understood the characters. And frankly, he was not interested in doing a half-"Iron Man 3," half-"Thor 2," half-"Captain America 2," half-"Hulk Whatever." He was interested in doing "The Avengers: Part 1." So from the very first frame of the movie, this is "Avengers: Part 1," and all of the characters are introduced to the audience as if you've never seen them before."
4. The Avengers Have a Sweet Ride – You can't round up all these superheroes together and then ask them to bring their own vehicles. Nope, for The Avengers they're riding in style onboard the massive Helicarrier, which operates as an aircraft carrier that can fly. The large, intimidating Helicarrier bridge was built on a soundstage in Albuquerque, and at its busiest the bridge housed 75 extras, all members of the secret organization SHIELD, lead by Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury and Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson. The team also flies around in the famous Quinjet, which they use to travel between the Helicarrier and the action.
Other sets built on soundstages include various parts of the Helicarrier, a laboratory, and Tony Stark's beautiful New York City apartment (with wrap-around balcony complete with its own landing pad), set atop Stark Tower, which you may know as the MetLife Building. When not in New Mexico, The Avengers filmed on location in Wilmington, Ohio, New York City, Worthington, Pennsylvania, and Cleveland, Ohio.
5. The Action is Big and Then Really Big – From fights amongst the heroes themselves (one of the earliest action sequences involves Iron Man, Captain America and Thor all confronting each other for the first time … and they don't exactly shake hands) to large, expansive battles on the streets of New York City, this flick will definitely give you plenty of the good stuff.
We watched one scene featuring Hawkeye fighting alien invaders on the streets of New York City that involved the hero ferociously firing his bow-and-arrow at attacking aliens – spinning in all sorts of directions, as he'd fire an arrow then retrieve it from stuck inside the body of one alien, and in one swift motion he'd spin and stick the same arrow inside the neck of another alien. Badass!
6. There's Also Plenty of Smaller Moments Too – The big, explosive stuff may help sell those trailers, but if you ask director Joss Whedon it's the smaller character moments in this film that really take it to another level. "The action is not small and some of the gags we've come up with are enormous and delightful and I'm proud of them and excited by them, because I like to live in that world too, but when you are in those quieter moments, that's just when I am just in heaven."
7. They May Look Cool, but Those Superhero Suits Aren't Very Comfortable: Thor may be packing enough badass armor to defeat an army of enemies, but he pays the price when it comes to comfort. Same goes for Scarlett Johansson, who admits that even she struggles in her tight black get-up. "We all have our various things that we have to do to get comfortable," Johansson confessed. "Everybody looks incredibly uncomfortable until the cameras are rolling and then we all look badass. Then "Cut!" and we're all like "Aarrrgh… God, this thing, get it off me, it's awful!!"
8. They're Replicating the Comic Book Experience on the Big Screen: While Joss Whedon and his team of superheroes have crafted an all new story for The Avengers, the film still has ties to the comics in that Loki was the villain in the first-ever issue of The Avengers comic book. Beyond that, Marvel's Kevin Feige further explained the true nature of their grand master plan, which, with The Avengers due in theaters next month, now includes solo superhero movies and ensemble superhero movies. "We're looking to replicate that experience that a comic reader had, who loved reading his "Thor" issues and loved reading his "Cap" issues and loved reading his "Iron Man" issues," Feige said. "And they always had their favorites and would argue about who's better and who would win in a fight and occasionally they would get together for an uber-event and then after that uber-event would go back into their own comic stories."
9. You've Never Seen This Version of The Incredible Hulk – For the first time ever, the version of The Incredible Hulk seen in The Avengers was created through motion capture technology, adding a certain amount of realism that hasn't been present in the two recent live-action Hulk movies. "The only distinction that I hold is that I am the only actor to ever play Bruce Banner and the Hulk," Mark Ruffalo told us.
Aside from that, Ruffalo's Hulk is a little less miserable than some of these other versions, attempting to model his Bruce Banner after Bill Bixby's original version from the television show of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. "They wanted him to be thin, but still within Bill Bixby's everyman Hulk," Ruffalo noted. "I think Banner's aging and living with this thing since – now it's been two years since his last "one." We're kind of going for this world weariness of accepting – trying to get to the point where he can live with it, and maybe master it. Come to peace with it. And so there's this kind of nice ironic-wryness Banner. He's not sulking and miserable."
10. "Don't Act Surprised at How Unpredictable It Is" – It's arguably the most ambitious comic book film of all time, and if there's one thing we took away from our experience on set it was that no one involved in this production was taking that fact for granted. As Robert Downey Jr. pointed out, everyone is well aware of how big this movie is and they've all brought their A-game. "Here's what I think it's about. I remember at Comic-Con a season or two ago, there was all this promise of … this is hugely ambitious," Downey Jr. said. "DC has tried to do this before and Marvel kinda said we're going to do it and formulated a way to do it correctly, which is where J-Dub [Joss Whedon] came in heavily. What it is, it's just a really good story that could've been done a hundred ways wrong and don't act surprised at how unpredictable it is."
Tom Hiddleston added, "Somehow Joss has managed to reintroduce characters that we all love, make them seem fresh, make them seem new, and then having them all together without weighting any particular character more than the other. It was really … as just a feat of writing I was so impressed. If they keep Joss on board for another one…I think, yeah, let's hope there are more."
The Avengers hits theaters on May 4th. Stay tuned all this month as we'll be bringing you complete interviews with most of the cast.