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'The Avengers' ensemble debuts to big overseas box office (+video)

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Lee has a cameo in the movie (as he does in most Marvel properties that reach the silver screen), and even he finds it hard to believe that Hollywood has delivered one movie jammed with gods, aliens, super-soldiers, monsters, spies and a guy with a bow and arrow.

"We used to put anything in there that we could think of because all you had to do was be able to draw it," the 89-year-old icon said. "They could never make it a TV show or a movie because it would look ridiculous. But now they can do it with the special effects. It's not ridiculous."

That is the hope, at least. But Lee makes a good point. For decades the standard Hollywood approach to superhero adaptations was to ask the question, "How can we fix this comic book character and make him look like a credible movie property?" Now the question is, "How can we use digital effects to make the movie screen into a living comic book?"

"Open those old comics and look inside and what you find is modern mythology and great stories and drama and conflict and amazing places," Feige said. "Why not look for the reasons these characters have endured instead of 'fixing' them?"

The Avengers (like most of the Marvel creations of the 1960s) were defined by their flaws and frustrations, and that carries over into this new silver-screen edition. Downey's Iron Man is self-obsessed and charismatically arrogant; Evans' Captain America is a lost soldier after decades in suspended animation; Chris Hemsworth's Thor is badly rattled by the fact that his brother, Loki, is endangering billions; and then there's Mark Ruffalo stepping in as Bruce Banner, who has the ultimate anger-management issue _ he turns into the Hulk.

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