Those who know me know that I really like superhero movies. A lot. When I was a kid, I watched Superman at least 50 times in a single Summer. I identify with him. He’s kind of the “speak softly” (Clark Kent) “and carry a big stick” (Superman) kind of guy. That’s me. Where most superheroes wear masks to conceal their human identity while they’re fighting crime, Superman’s mask is his human identity. He’s a fascinating character study… and it’s fun to imagine having his abilities.
What makes superheroes super? One obvious trait is their powers and skillsets are superior to normal human beings. Power itself doesn’t make them superheroes, though… the bad guys typically have comparable abilities for the heroes to overcome. The hero part is the unique trait. Who says the bad guys MUST be overcome? Who made it their job?
Heroes know right from wrong and must deal with the obstacles to doing what is right. This is the fun part for a comic book writer… coming up with the ultimate challenge for their character and then trying to write them through it. The comic book franchises test their characters repeatedly by putting bigger and more impossible obstacles in their paths. One thing a hero can’t do no matter how impossible the situation becomes?
Those who don’t read comic books often assume they lack the depth of traditional novels. Perhaps the name conjures images of the Sunday funnies. Comic books are a genre of story-telling that is best described as graphic novels. There is depth in the characters and complexity to their interactions with the world. The characters are not just super, they have to deal with the consequences of their actions and identity. Some of these stories can be emotionally intense and some comic book titles have even earned literary awards.
The problem for movie studios? Fans already have a picture of their heroes ingrained in their memories. How can you match that image in a way that does justice to the fan’s interest and doesn’t come across as a live-action cartoon? Either listen to those who know the characters the best, the fans, or be a fan yourself.
Bringing comic book characters to the film industry has been a decades-long challenge for Hollywood studios. DC Comics hasn’t been able to successfully bring more than a trilogy together for any of their characters on the big screen. This is a sharp contrast to the Marvel side of the house. Marvel has been wildly successful in their recent offerings. What’s the difference?
Both franchises have a rich history of stories but DC keeps starting over and trying to retell the same stories in new ways with new special effects and more drama. Each director adds a spin of their own and tries to remake the characters in their own vision. They refresh the characters with each iteration and show something new to existing fans. What they haven’t done well is listen to the fans. Batman keeps beginning and Superman keeps getting introduced to Lois Lane. When it doesn’t resonate, they start over again. They seem think comic book fans don’t want stories they love from the comics, they want something totally different. They don’t.
Marvel has been successful in translating their biggest story arcs to the big screen. They don’t keep rebooting, they move the story forward with situations and characters the fans recognize. They focus on the fans and their expectations. Their actors are encouraged to read about their characters in the comic books to understand their own mythology. Marvel has been so successful that the actors have become their characters to their fans. Can anyone argue that Robert Downey, Jr isn’t Iron Man, Chris Evans isn’t Captain America, and Chris Hemsworth isn’t Thor?
It’s that simple. Listen to the fans.
Marvel’s secret is telling the familiar stories in a familiar format and making the characters relatable from the comic books. The movies are made by comic book fans for comic book fans. Just like the comic books, each major character has their own title that comes together for the big issues they can’t handle individually–the Avengers movies. The studios have contracted with their starring cast for the anticipated number of movies in which they would appear. As the movies proved popular, they had big-name stars like Robert Redford and others requesting to be in them. Success breeds more success.
In the midst of the great stories, there is also great consistency. Kevin Feige, the Russo Brothers, and Jon Favreau had the overall vision and kept the plot moving forward through each character’s franchise. There are nods throughout to comic book fans’ expectations and Easter eggs hinting at upcoming story arcs. It was brilliantly conceived and exceptionally executed.
Spoilers beyond this point… you have been warned. If you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame, don’t read beyond this point.
The anticipation for Endgame was palpable. Avengers: Infinity War set up the impossible task for the heroes to overcome and fans were in a frenzy trying to figure how it would play out.
One theory I read online (written before the movie premiered) identified each Avenger with an Infinity Stone. There are six original Avengers and six Infinity Stones. The theory was that the Infinity Gauntlet was too much for any one of them so each would handle a stone in defeating Thanos.
That got me thinking about what actually occurred in the movie.
I noticed the directors actually did something similar to the theory above but with a different twist. The fate of each Avenger at the end of the movie can be related to an Infinity Stone.
Soul: This one is fairly obvious. Black Widow sacrificed herself so the heroes could attain the stone.
Time: Captain America is referred to as the “man out of time” throughout the series. At the end of this movie, he returns to his own time to live out the life he missed.
Space: Thor was meant to be king of Asgard after Odin died. Instead, he takes a different path and joins “the Asgardians of the Galaxy” in their return to space.
Power: Hulk is referred to often as “the strongest Avenger.” Using the Infinity Gauntlet left him wounded and weakened.
Reality: When Hawkeye lost his family, his reality changed. He became Ronin, an assassin. At the end of Endgame, he is able to return to his former reality when his family is restored.
Mind: The time heist was a product of the mind of Tony Stark. More than this, his armor allowed him to steal the stones from Thanos, bear them, and use them. His fate is due to the products of his mind.
I haven’t seen this theory anywhere else and I salute the brilliance of the writers for their story-telling skills. There is depth to the characters and meaning to their stories. They successfully brought the best attributes of comic books to the movies.