The Avengers grossed 1 514 357 910 dollars worldwide.
Marvel is a studio, and studios are out to make money. So when Marvel is making tons of money, they’re per definition succeeding. But Marvel isn’t earning all that dough out of sheer luck. Bad films don’t just accidentally make over 1.5 billion.
The thing about Marvel is that they’re not making ground-breaking avant-garde films, but that’s completely fine. Nobody watches Pulp Fiction for heart-breaking romance or The Road for comedy. When it comes to movies you have to take them or leave them for what they are, and Marvel’s movies are all about entertainment. That’s why they succeed, and that’s what I like about them: they’re fun.
I do realise that maybe I’m a bit biased here, being a Norwegian and everything. So far, Norwegian towns have appeared three times in the Marvel films: Tønsberg is featured in Thor and Captain America, and Tromsø is briefly mentioned in The Avengers. From a Norwegian perspective that is a stunning amount of glory and honour being bestowed upon us, and we’re not quite sure how we’re ever going to repay Marvel’s generosity.
Anyway, it all started with Iron Man. Marvel tried to pair Iron Man with The Incredible Hulk, but that one didn’t really work out, so essentially it all started with Iron Man. That film is a great example of all the things Marvel is doing right. The most important thing being that Iron Man is not a film about Iron Man smashing things and destroying his enemies. In fact, those kind of things are given strikingly little screen-time. No, Iron Man is a film about Tony Stark. In other words, it’s character driven – and the character is perfectly casted.
The same applies to Thor, which wasn’t about an ancient-Norse-god-turned-commercial-American-superhero smashing things with his hammer (I still can’t take it seriously when they try to pronounce Mjølnir – but Marvel films aren’t all that serious anyway). Instead, it’s about the ancient-Norse-god-turned-commercial-American-superhero as a person who has to overcome his pride. And when I watched The Avengers I realized how important it is that everything around him is built up to make him an interesting character, because when all the comedy and culture clashing was taken away, and he was just one of the superheroes, he just became kind of plain, even boring to me. He really needs to be put in the right settings to shine. I haven’t gotten around to watch Thor 2, so I don’t know what they did to him there, but I hope they did something smart, or at least fun.
Captain America basically does the same thing. It’s not just a film about violently killing Nazis, it’s a film about the tender, gentle human being who violently kills Nazis. Although I don’t like the superhero (he is literally propaganda) I did actually enjoy the film, especially the part when Elrond tore his own face off. Furthermore I completely understand Captain’s place in The Avengers.
Which brings me on to the simple, yet at the same time complex spectacle that is The Avengers.
When it was announced that Marvel was going to cram Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Samuel L. Jackson into one movie the main question people asked was: “How are they going to pull this off?” Some argued that they wouldn’t pull it off at all. And why not? We’ve all seen it before: filmmakers have a really great thing going on, but then they go too big, or too many sequels, or make a prequel trilogy and everything just falls apart. Also, Iron Man 2 wasn’t really that great. Heck, the only reason Marvel made this film is because they knew that a film with so many superheroes will draw audiences.
Marvel was right about that. But what they’ve also realised is that what really helps on their bottom line is not only making huge productions with a bunch of superheroes, but also making films that aren’t awful. And that’s really all they’re doing. They’re making a bunch of – not amazing – but at least not all that bad films. And apparently they’ve understood that in order to do that, they have to make their films more about characters and less about action scenes and spectacle. Every time I’ve left the theatre with my friends after watching some dumb action movie, everyone wonders why they just don’t bother putting a little more effort into the characters and the story. That’s what Marvel is doing.
So they made The Avengers, and instead of putting in countless action scenes they put in character scenes where they established relationships and connections between everyone, setting up a lot of things which they then pay off in the end. Finding out that this is the smartest way to go about it isn’t really that hard, but actually doing it is harder, and I have to hand it to Marvel that they did pull it off. The Avengers is not a bad movie, though it did have the odds against it. There are some shortcomings in the film, but they’re mainly there because of the inherent flaws in the concept: too many characters in need of spotlight. Granted, a creative genius could probably have found a way to pull it off elegantly, but Marvel didn’t need that. They just needed an entertaining blockbuster that was good enough to be spread by word of mouth, so that’s what they made. In fact, every moment in the final battle of the film is earned.
Though it may seem like it, I’m no Marvel fanboy, and I want to nuance the picture a bit. The Incredible Hulk had issues that were so incredible that they made Edward Norton jump the Marvel train, and I really think he was right in doing so. The only thing that was really cool about Iron Man 2 was the Wrestler with lightning whips (and Robert Downey Jr.’s charisma, but that one’s a given). I still haven’t decided on Iron Man 3, but I’m really leaning towards liking it, if only just for the barrel of monkeys scene. That scene encapsulates everything superheroes are about to me.
They’re not making incredibly great films, but Marvel has done a lot of things right lately. They’ve found a consistent model that seems to work, that model being “make movies that don’t suck”. The only thing DC has done right lately is Christopher Nolan. Although that one is a big, big right that has resulted in two great films I’m really not sure where they’re going to go next. The only recent DC film I’ve seen that wasn’t by Nolan is The Green Lantern, and that one had nothing going for it. I haven’t seen Man of Steel though, but Nolan did have a finger in play with that one as well.
And I just want to say that I’m so grateful that Marvel haven’t gone the supposedly realistic way of Nolan’s trilogy and Man of Steel, because I want flashy superheroes saving the world against whatever enemy it’s fun to watch them beat up. Also, Marvel could never compete with Nolan at dark grittiness. They have to do their own thing. So it all comes down to taking or leaving films for what they are. If you don’t like what Marvel films are, then leave them. But you can’t deny that they are succeeding at what they want to do. When I sit down in theatre for a Marvel movie, I’m not expecting to get The Dark Knight, and I’m definitely not looking for Sunrise or Citizen Kane. I’ve sat down to watch a decent Marvel flick, and most of the time that’s what I get.
Marvel is doing it right, but of course they could do it better.