Bringing Together a Group of Remarkable People
In April 2006, Marvel Studios announced its first slate of tentpoles: Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau; Captain America, written by David Self (Road to Perdition); Ant-Man, written and directed by Edgar Wright; Nick Fury, written by Andrew Marlow (Air Force One); Thor, written by Mark Protosevich (Poseidon); and The Incredible Hulk, written by Zak Penn (X2). In the lead up to Iron Man's 2008 release, plans changed, with Marvel locking on to an obvious and ultimate goal: a team-up action movie that would cohere a "cinematic universe."
Joss Whedon (writer-director): You know, we figured The Avengers better be a big deal.
Kevin Feige (producer): The notion of trying to meet the expectations that we had, and the fans had -- fans of the comics or just fans of the other films -- or just fans of the notion of "What? Those guys that I saw in those commercials? I didn’t see their movie, but they are all in one movie?"... the whole [had] to be bigger than the sum of its parts on this one. That’s where Joss came into the equation [in 2010], who was so gung-ho, who had such a unique voice, who knew these characters already.*
Joss Whedon (writer-director): I bought Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man as a kid. It was just the most monumental event. It meant a huge amount to me. I was perfectly comfortable with these people all hanging out together, from these different worlds and movies made by different directors. That's how comic books work. And there is a thing about when you're not used to seeing that, if they get it right, it's glorious. If you combine two things that people love -- we do that all the time now, mostly in memes -- but if you make it track, then it gives people a high that is different than just the resonance of a sequel.
Kevin Feige (producer): Only Iron Man and Iron Man 2 had been out at the time, and we pitched [Joss] sort of what we were doing in Thor and what we were doing in Captain and how we envisioned at least the bones of Avengers. The fact that he was into it and saw through it.*
Joss Whedon (writer-director): You know, Marvel was like "Look, Loki's gonna be the villain, he's going to get an army from space, and we're gonna have a big ass battle in New York, because this is Marvel, and New York is Marvel's town." I was like, "You haven't lost me yet."
Kevin Feige (producer): He very easily could have gone "Yeah, I don’t buy what you guys are doing, good luck." But he got it and he endorsed it and did a pass for us on Captain America.*
Zak Penn (writer): I was officially attached to The Avengers in 2006, although we had been kicking around the idea since 2003. For me, it was a four-year process. During that time, my job was to keep an eye on all the other movies, write in stuff that could be set up and paid off, and with the help of the Marvel executives, create an overarching story or a bible for the five movies, so we would know where we were going and where The Avengers would be. We didn’t want to be stuck in the end with a bunch of characters we didn’t want to use. Or not having set up certain characters.∅
Joss Whedon (writer-director): I started at square 1 on the script. I mean, straight up. I don't wanna rag on it, but I fought that credit. I was very upset about it. I know how the Guild works, first guy on a movie and all that, but I've never had good luck with arbitrations.
Zak Penn (writer): We could have collaborated more, but that was not his choice. He wanted to do it his way, and I respect that. I mean, it's not like on the Hulk, where I got replaced by the lead actor.∅
Joss Whedon (writer-director): I read it one time, and I've never seen it since. I was like, "Nope. There's nothing here." There was no character connection. There was a line in the stage directions that said, apropos of nothing, "And then they all walk towards the camera in slow motion because you have to have that." Yeah, well, no: You have to earn that.
Kevin Feige (producer): People forget that we started [making] Avengers before either Thor or Captain America were released. What if people hated Thor? What if people thought Loki was ridiculous? What if people didn’t buy this super soldier frozen in ice? We were in the first quarter of production on a giant movie at that time, and we weren’t going to stop. It was sort of all-in at that point.*
Joss Whedon (writer-director): We went through a lot of insane iterations of what might be. At the very beginning, I wrote entire drafts that had no bearing on what I would eventually film. There was a moment where we thought we weren't gonna have Scarlett [Johansson], and so I wrote a huge bunch of pages starring The Wasp. That was not useful. I also worried that one British character actor was not enough to take on Earth's mightiest heroes, and that we'd feel like we were rooting for the overdog. So I wrote a huge draft with Ezekiel Stane, Obadiah Stane's son, in it. Kevin looked at it and said, "Yeah, no." [Marvel Studios co-president] Louis D'Esposito actually at that point said, "Yeah, Kevin, it's all wrong, but look how good it is. Like this is really good wrong." That was a nice boost.
Once we got everybody locked in place the movie stayed on mission. We knew where we were going. For me, the X-Men all have the same problem -- it tracks emotionally. These guys don't have that at all. They don't belong in the same movie. I used to read The Avengers and love it, but I didn't have the emotional connection to it that I did to certain books. It was just grand sci-fi spectacle and had all the heroes I liked. But my thought was these guys just don't belong together. Then I was like, Wait a minute, that's the movie. It's The Dirty Dozen.
There's very little that I didn't look at. It's like, This is a Dr. Strangelove moment. This is The Abyss. This is His Girl Friday. It's constant. You have to have all that stuff sort of in a blender in your head. I will say that the movie that I probably emotionally referenced the most was Black Hawk Down. I wanted to show the toll on a few soldiers of being in battle for an entire day. It's a beautiful rendering of that, the toll of that constant pressure.