'Avengers' Trailer Proves Loyal to Comics' Roots

How Marvel's upcoming ensemble flick will honor the past while bringing together many of the biggest names in the superhero universe.
Zack Rosenthal/Marvel Studios

This article first appeared in the Oct. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

Avengers assemble! The trailer for Marvel's The Avengers debuted Oct. 11, almost seven months ahead of its May 4 release. The initial burst of enthusiasm was strong: The preview for the Joss Whedon-helmed flick recorded more than 10 million downloads on iTunes during the first 24 hours, shattering all records for movie trailers on the service. But to ensure the film is a success, Marvel and its new owner, Disney, are first trying to pump up the hard-core fans, and since the trailer debuted, the comics cognoscenti have been poring over the 124 seconds of footage to see if it captures that Marvel Comics mojo.

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The movie unites four major heroes (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk, who have collectively grossed $2.5 billion worldwide in six separate film efforts), adds two new heroes (Hawkeye and Black Widow) and tosses in another half-dozen major supporting players. It is trying to do something never before attempted: bring the central magic of the Marvel Comics universe -- the interconnectivity of its disparate heroes -- to the big screen in one place. Jonah Weiland of Comic Book Resources said the trailer "gives us a glimpse of the dynamic between the core members. Frankly, that's one of the biggest challenges with this 'team movie' concept." By greenlighting the reported $220 million budget, Marvel has a lot riding on the movie. If it works, Avengers will launch a new generation of interconnected franchises and secure Marvel's movie future.

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Marvel has been building toward a cohesive movie universe with little cameos and Easter eggs here and there in its earlier films, but now it lays it all on the line with Avengers. So far, the trailer -- packed with nods to the classic stories, the visual look of legendary artist Jack Kirby (the brush behind nearly every major Marvel character from the 1940s through the '70s) and the influence of the popular 2002 comics reboot The Ultimates, which also influenced the Thor and Captain America movies -- has comics lovers gushing. Wrote one fan on comics site bleedingcool.com, "I had a geekgasm." With the full class roster revealed, the trailer unveils three key ways the movie plans to honor story lines that will have longtime comic book fans looking forward to May (while also bringing in an all new audience.)

Don't Mess With the Class Prez

Nick Fury originally was a secondary character, a cigar-chomping, Italian-American World War II vet with a dash of James Bond. In the Ultimates reboot, Fury was moved front and center as the leader of the Avengers and re-imagined as an ass-kicking, gun-toting, bald-headed team leader specifically modeled on Samuel L. Jackson. The updated Fury, on display in the trailer with guns blazing, is much more Bourne than Bond. Judging by the trailer, The Avengers will pack more action into it than any of Marvel's other films. Plus, the movie has Loki as the main villain, a nod to 1963's The Avengers #1, which brought the team together to face Thor's mischievous half-brother.

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Have the Big Men on Campus Bicker as Well as Bond

The do-gooder Captain America and the smart aleck Iron Man have always had a complicated but important relationship in the comics. The heroes shared a book in the 1960s but have often clashed in recent years. Marvel's post-9/11 influenced story line Civil Wars had them on opposite sides of an effort to register all heroes, with Cap leading the resistance and Iron Man working with the government. The trailer shows that Whedon, who co-wrote the film's screenplay with Zak Penn, is smartly playing up the clash. Sure, Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man is going to get the best zingers, but don't underestimate Chris Evans' spot-on portrayal of the Star-Spangled Avenger to win fans. The trailer is also jammed with Marvel's trademark hero-vs.-hero fights, including teases of a sure-to-be-epic confrontation between Captain America and Thor (Chris Hemsworth).

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Make the New Kids Feel at Home

Whedon is a huge comics fan. He penned an acclaimed 24-issue run of Astonishing X-Men, so it's no surprise that the trailer is littered with callouts to classic comic book shots -- Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) drawing his bow into the camera and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in action -- that suggest starring turns for these fan-favorite supporting characters. Plus, the Dutch angle shots of Thor throwing his hammer and Captain America leaping over a car show that Whedon is capturing the kinetic energy of the visual style of original Avengers artist Kirby.

View photos that compare the comics with the upcoming Marvel film here.