Avengers: Age of Ultron ploughs its way onto UK cinema screens on the 23rd of April. This time Tony Stark inadvertently sets things awry in his attempts to revive a dormant peacekeeping programme. Naturally, the Avengers have to band together once more to stop the villainous Ultron from wreaking havoc.
The days of comic book adaptations being scoffed at are ancient history, of course. The resounding success of Christopher Nolan’s superb Dark Knight trilogy, and Avengers Assemble, has cemented them as the new juggernauts of the blockbuster world. We’re talking big money here – crazy money.
They’ve grown so big in fact, that Marvel and DC have expanded beyond cinema screens and into TV (the former with the likes of Agents of Shield and Daredevil, and the latter with Gotham). The current Marvel cinematic universe has sprouted more heads than the mythical Hydra (or that evil organisation so prominent in the Captain America movies). In the Avengers pantheon alone we have Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk all jostling for position; and then there are the branch-offs like Guardians of the Galaxy. This is reflected in the overarching stories that will increasingly be weaved between the Avengers and the respective individual superhero entries. For those who don’t like anything resembling a spoiler, look away now … (but only for a second) …
… because there’s a war a-comin’, including splits within The Avengers’ ranks.
Although this kind of story-weaving is fairly new in the movie world, it’s certainly not the case with comics. For those of us who grew up glued to the adventures of our favourite superheroes, it was commonplace to have references to spin-off comic strands. One wonders if the movies will have to start mirroring this; imagine it – 57 minutes into Avengers 6, Thor has mentioned a nemesis not encountered in the previous Avenger movies, and a subtitle box appears in the bottom right of the screen with the words, “See Thor 8 – Hammer of the Gods”.
It would be easy to dismiss such antics as shameless commercialism. And yes, it can be head-spinning trying to keep track of every little detail dotted throughout multiple movies. However, isn’t this just giving the audience what they want? After all, it is the kind of thing the avid geeks, the super-fans, live for, right? A badge of honour, a secret code that distinguishes the “real” fan from the part-timer?
No judgement though – there is place for both kinds of viewer. Some crave depth, and love to explore every corner of the wider universe, while others are content to dip in and out as the mood strikes them. The trick is for those overseeing the development of the movies to strike a decent balance between the two. In the case of Marvel, so far they have managed this admirably well. Avengers Assemble, the first Thor & Iron Man entries, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier mark particularly impressive high points; depth and throw-away entertainment seamlessly melded together.
So, for now, we eagerly await the next instalment.
Bring on Ultron.