Director Joss Whedon is no stranger to the comic book, sci-fi genre. His best known works, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the cult series "Firefly/Serenity" were television masterpieces. Whedon's latest turn with Marvel's iconic comic book heroes "The Avengers", is another jewel in his crown; a guaranteed box office blockbuster that will no doubt thrill audiences and comic book fans alike. The Avengers are Marvel's latest entry into the world of film, (following the Hulk, Spiderman, Captain America, The X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Fantastic Four and Daredevil), yet I am always curious see how these classic stories from the 1960's translate to today's world of 2012. Whedon does a good job with what he had to work with, however I'd love to see someone make one of these films set in the decade they were created. If they can do it with shows like "Madmen" and the BBC's "Call the Midwife", surely they can do it with superheroes without the camp and cliches. How much have the Avengers changed? A brief look back at the original is both revealing and at times, even rewarding.
The original Avengers featured Iron Man, (ably played by Robert Downey Jr.); Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth); the Hulk; (a CGI-enhanced Mark Ruffalo); Ant-man/Giant-man and the Wasp. The latter two characters aren't part of this modern update, however Captain America, (played by Chris Evans), would join the team later in their 5th issue, actually replacing the uncontrollable Hulk. Hawkeye, (played by Jeremy Renner) and the KGB operative/double agent Black Widow, (played by Scarlett Johansson), arrived many issues later, and were initially characters and villains-turned heroes from the Iron Man comics. After the departures of Thor, Iron Man, Giant Man and the Wasp, Cap would lead an all-new team with Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlett Witch, two more "villains-turned heroes" from the X-Men comics.
One of the best things about the Avengers was the arrival of the World War II hero Captain America. In the original, Cap was found frozen in a state of "suspended animation" by the Avengers, floating in a block of ice, following his final battle with Baron Zemo, not the Red Skull in the newer film. Whedon and the previous film touch on Cap's survivor guilt and Rip Van Winkle-like angst. It was Cap's readjustment to the '60's that also helped make the Avengers a hit, and his struggle to keep the new team of misfits together while saving the world, a world he himself was still struggling to adapt to.
The plot of the original version had nothing to do with the evil Loki, (played by Tom Hiddleston), a powerful cube, "cosmic" or otherwise, so fans of the May, 1964 issue number 5, "Invasion of the Lava Men", will have to live with the realty of today's modern adaptations. Nevertheless, Whedon knows exactly what today's fans want; action, explosions, 3-D, CGI, a dash of romance and butt-kicking galore. There are a few guest stars to make you smile; Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, (Marvel's version of the C.I.A., MI-5 and U.N.C.L.E. all rolled into one), Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony Stark's gal Friday Pepper Potts, and cameos by Harry Dean Stanton, Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, (one of my all-time favorite actresses from Walkabout, American Werewolf in London, Logan's Run and the aforementioned Call the Midwife), Marvel creator Stan Lee, (who, like Alfred Hitchcock, appears in virtually every film), and even Lou Ferigno, TV's Hulk reprises his role as the green goliath's voice!
Eventually, Giant Man/Goliath and the Wasp would return to make Cap's team into a super-powerful new version, with many story lines involving the romance between the Black Widow and Hawkeye. Later, other Marvel comic book heroes like, Hercules, the Vision, the Black Panther and others would join and herald the Mighty Avengers into the 70's, 80's and '90s. Spiderman, bless his web-spinning heart, would eschew all offers to join not only the Avengers, but the Fantastic Four and even the X-Men.
As many folks know, Marvel has had a few losers in its history of turning their comics into films; Daredevil and the Fantastic Four come readily to mind; they've also had some so-so efforts; Blade, the Punisher, Elektra and Ghost Rider for example. Many of those films suffered from either poor scripts, plots, casting, or failing to adapt those stories to more modern times.
Films like Spiderman, the X-Men, Captain America, Thor and Iron Man are absolute winners. Whedon's the Avengers now can be counted among them.