Expectations are high, box office will be gargantuan…now let’s just hope it doesn’t suck! There will be an exciting collection of superhero films over the next year or so(“The Amazing Spider-Man”, “The Dark Knight Rises”, Superman returns in “Man of Steel”), but “The Avengers” is the maverick that is boldly bringing FOUR franchises together. This kind of thing has been attempted before…but certainly not on this grand of a scale. My example is the Universal horror films series of the 1930’s and 1940’s. I cut my teeth on those babies…and I have major affection for all of them(even the stinkers). “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” were HUGE hits for the studio in 1931, and they spawned a slew of monster movies and their respective sequels. “The Mummy”, “The Invisible Man” and “The Wolf Man” all entered the picture over the next decade. But by the time Lon Chaney, Jr. howled at the moon in 1941, the popularity of these films began to wane. Starting with “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” in 1943, Universal starting combining their creatures to try to enhance floundering ticket sales. 1944’s “House of Frankenstein” and 1945’s “House of Dracula” brought together the Frankenstein Monster, the Wolf Man and Dracula. All three titans would meet again in 1948’s “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein”—which sought to revive Bud and Lou’s fading career(and succeeded!). That one even had a cameo from the Invisible Man(voiced by the legendary Vincent Price)! But as much as one could compare this procedure to what is happening present day, there are a number of clear differences too. For one thing Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk are not ebbing in popularity. In fact, they are batting a thousand as box office hits! Critically they’ve been a mixed bag, but they’ve all made a bundle of cash. Also, this hero-mash has been approaching since 2008, when Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark first meets up with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury in a post-credits scene in the first “Iron Man” film. Also, while those later Universal horror vehicles were mostly low-budget affairs, it appears all the stops have been pulled out for “The Avengers”. The budget apparently approaches a quarter of a billion dollars. Can director Joss Whedon, who notably helmed the low-budget “Serenity”(the critically acclaimed feature film version of his critically acclaimed television series, “Firefly”), handle this titanic responsibility? The trailers make it seem like he can, but I’m still afraid to wish too hard. Hey, we’ve all been burned by those great-looking trailers before, right? For the record, I was very fond of the first Iron Man movie and also “Captain America: The First Avenger”. I despised the Iron Man sequel and 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk”. I’m okay with portions of “Thor”, and I think Ang Lee’s “Hulk” from way back in 2003 is underrated. It’s a failure…but it’s a fascinating failure. And that must count for something. One more thing, those old movie monsters were derived from novels and legends, and never appeared together before Universal combined them. “The Avengers”, on the other hand, is a popular comic book series dating back almost 50 years. Fans have been waiting breathlessly for this film…and I’m one of them. Some of you are now asking: you’re dying to see “The Avengers”?!? That’s a fair question. I’ve reviewed an awful lot of artsy films on this blog…and some arty theatre too. And you’ll see plenty more of that. But I’m still a dude…and a big kid at heart. Every now and then give me James Bond, Superman, Spider-Man and John McClane. Hell, Christopher Nolan has raised Batman to the level of artsy with his “Dark Knight” series. And while I don’t expect “The Avengers” to quite achieve that degree of quality, it still looks like it’s going to be pretty damn good. Let’s hope they don’t muck it up.
“The Avengers” is coming…please don’t blow it!!!