Avengers assemble again for Marvel bonanza

Global takeover? The latest Marvel film brings together a huge cast of familiar faces.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is released today and it could break the box office record for the highest-grossing opening weekend. Are we seeing the end of original ideas in films?

At the UK premiere of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Robert Downey Jr is wearing sunglasses and a Bill Gates t-shirt covered by a full-length morning coat. This is his fifth Marvel film so far, and, as screaming fans gather to greet the Hollywood stars, he tells the crowd of journalists that the occasion is ‘pretty bananas’.

The sequel to the first Avengers blockbuster, starring an ensemble cast of as many as nine superheroes, is released in UK cinemas today. Perhaps inspired by the Hulk, the film is predicted to smash its own prequel’s record of a $207 million opening weekend.

The film features all of the familiar heroes from the Marvel franchise, which began with Iron Man in 2008. This time they come face to face with Ultron, a peace-keeping AI robot designed by Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) which has gone badly wrong. It also introduces newcomers Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch — rogue twins who respectively can run extremely fast and control minds.

Our taste for superhero movies seems to be insatiable. At current count, there are at least 32 planned over the next six years, including more X-Men spin-offs, yet another Spider-Man reboot, and several films by DC Comics and Warner Brothers which will eventually lead to The Justice League: Part One, a movie with an ensemble cast which could rival The Avengers. It’s certainly big business; with a total value of around £2bn, Marvel is the most successful Hollywood franchise of all time, outstripping Harry Potter, Star Wars and James Bond — not to mention several entire countries.

But superheroes aren’t the only recurring characters which are coming to dominate our screens. Last week the world gleefully caught its first glimpse of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in over 30 years when the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII was released. In 2014, seven of the top ten highest grossing films were part of a familiar franchise.

It’s a Marvel!

The true heroes have lost, some film fans lament; it’s the end of original cinema as we know it. Forget boldly going where no director has gone before — lazy audiences and cynical production companies have doomed us to watching endless adaptations and sequels until we can no longer remember the joy of discovering a genuinely new character or an innovative idea. We might as well stick to TV and books.

Others disagree. There’s no reason why sequels can’t be original in their own way. Without having to introduce all-new characters from scratch, writers and directors can tease out the kind of nuance and complexity which we may otherwise not have seen. As Joss Whedon, director of both Avengers movies, puts it, the only important question is: ‘Are we making good movies?’

You Decide

  1. Do you prefer to watch films with characters you already know or to discover something new?
  2. How important is originality in storytelling?

Activities

  1. Divide into groups and decide three main reasons why people enjoy watching adaptations.
  2. Plan a sequel for a book or film you recently loved. How would you develop the characters and explore new avenues of the fictional world?

Some People Say...

“All the stories have already been told — we’re just retelling them in different ways.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why is Hollywood making so many superhero movies?
The simple answer is money. They have proved extremely profitable, and as long as we keep going to see them, producers will keep wanting to make them. The world of comic books is also extremely well-populated, with hundreds of characters to introduce and storylines to pursue.
Can original ideas ever make successful films?
There are still lots films being made which are based on original characters and ideas, they just aren’t guaranteed success. One obvious example is Avatar, which not only re-introduced the world to 3D effects, but also holds the top spot for the highest-grossing film of all time, making almost £2bn worldwide.

Word Watch

Nine superheroes
There is always debate about who count as superheroes. The big six are undisputed (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, The Hulk and Hawkeye) but do the ‘bad guys’ Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch count? What about Ultron?
AI
Artificial Intelligence — that is, computers that can think. In some ways, AI is already possible, since computers can make spectacularly complicated calculations and perform increasingly diverse tasks. But does this mean they are truly intelligent? It’s a question that philosophers, cognitive scientists and programmers debate fiercely.
The Justice League
Set for release in 2017, so far confirmed characters include Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman.
Highest grossing films
The only films which were not part of a franchise were American Sniper, Disney’s Maleficent and Pixar’s Big Hero 6.

Subjects

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