If you separate the individual franchises in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Avengers movies are clearly the most popular and it's pretty easy to see why. These movies, created as the big climactic endings of the MCU phases, are built on all of the movies before them and manage to combine these fan favorite characters into coherent standalone crowd-pleaser movies. In just four films, The Avengers series has brought in $7.767 billion at the worldwide box office, encompassing over 1/3 of the total worldwide grosses of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe with 20 other movies making up the other 2/3 of the total.
Clearly Marvel Studios knows exactly what they're doing when even the black sheep of the family, Avengers: Age of Ultron, has the "Certified Fresh" marker on Rotten Tomatoes. So what makes them work? What's in the DNA of The Avengers movies that makes them fan favorites and the cornerstones of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe? We've boiled down the essence of these films to the core tenets at the heart of all the Avengers movies and what makes them so good.
The Quiet Moments
It would be easy to say that the thing that makes The Avengers movies work is they're multi-million dollar visual effects focused blocksbusters. Though they might be a treat for the eyes with their world ending explosions, giant purple aliens, and floating cities, the dynamic effects couldn't be further from one of the most important parts of what makes these movies work: the quiet scenes. The Avengers movies are not wall-to-wall action despite what we might recall. That in mind, the down beats that connect the story threads are precisely the times that explore the characters the most and offer the biggest dramatic punches.
Think about the conversations that The Avengers have on board the hellicarrier in the first film or the post-party scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron as the key examples. These scenes break down the characters to their most integral emotions and moments, offering a chance for the audience to get to know them even better. Plus they're pushing the story forward through their own actions and language and not just having it happen to them.
The Unlikely Pairings
In 2012 fans were eager to see The Avengers because of the promise of seeing all the characters from these very different movies interact together, and that has continued to be a staple of the films with each new entry. The first Avengers birthed Science Bros with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, but also gave us Captain America and Agent Coulson. Age of Ultron delivered Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch, who share a powerful moment in the climactic battle. Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame had the ultimate combos with masterful moments between Iron Man& Doctor Strange in Infinity War, plus The Winter Soldier & Rocket Raccoon and Thor & Star-Lord. Endgame brought it all home though with pairings like Thor & Rocket, Hulk & The Ancient One, and Captain America & Captain America.
Letting these characters bounce off each other in unexpected and hilarious ways builds them up more than smashing robots and aliens ever will.
On the note of their pairings, the fact that The Avengers don't always get along is a key factor in what makes the movies sing. The heart of a good story is conflict, and frankly the conflict within the ranks of the team are more important than the killer robot or aliens that they're fighting. Naturally we love to see Tony and Steve fight alongside each other in battle in the movies, but when they're at each others throats with their words their relationship is taken to a new level, no explosions needed.
Though they may not always get along, when they do that provides a unique foundation that will keep the MCU going for years to come. Take the opening scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron for example, these characters are a unit and we know it not because they're fighting in tandem on green screens but because they're having the dialogue of old friends while they do it. Once again, the post-party hangout scene in that same film is another example of this, not to mention all of the Time Heist planning scenes in Avengers: Endgame.
The New Characters (and Actors)
Though each Avengers movie is working as a culminating event for all that came before it, they still take time to introduce new characters into the fold. Though there are varying degrees of success, they all end up bringing something to the larger table that has major effects on the entire cinematic universe as a whole. The first Avengers brought us Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill (plus Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner), Age of Ultron introduced Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch while giving Paul Bettany a proper part and costume as Vision, Infinity War brought us the Children of Thanos and Ross Marquand as the new Red Skull, and Endgame (thought mostly a reuniting of the old) gave us Emma Fuhrmann as an older Cassie Lang, perhaps setting the stage for her to return.
The Blending of Genres
Some of the best moments in all of the Avengers movies have taken a piece of either an action or sci-fi subgenre, or a different genre altogether, and grafted it onto the film with tremendous effect. The Hulk chasing Black Widow in the Helicarrier in the first Avengers is undoubtedly a horror movie with (again) the party scene of Age of Ultron clearly a slice-of-life hangout scene. But Endgame takes the cake, delivering a movie that is part hangout movie, part time-travel movie, part heist movie, and part non-stop brawler.
And we don't just mean moments that offer a twist in the narrative, but that certainly helps because no one actually expected Marvel Studios to kill all of their characters at the end of Infinity War. Think about The Hulk punching Thor in the first Avengers. Completely unexpected, but a character driven decision that pushes them forward while giving the audience a jolt of shock and laughter. Furthermore, The Vision lifting up Mjolnir in Age of Ultron is a key narrative beat that carries weight and is the furthest thing from the audience's mind when it happens. The Avengers films carry surprises because they have to, because they're built on comic books and movies with storylines that sometimes don't have any.
Though each of the Avengers movies are designed so you don't HAVE TO have seen everything that came before them, their connectivity is what makes them work and this is at its best when it calls back to moments from the other films. Most of Captain America's entire arc in the first Avengers is built on these types of narrative and character beats, fitting since its his first "modern day" story, but think of the others and how they elevate the scenes by encouraging the connectivity. Age of Ultron has the hilarious, and meta, line from Hawkeye of "I've done the whole mind control thing. Not a fan," while Infinity War brought us Rocket Raccoon inquiring about Bucky's arm, which he promises to himself that he'll get. The king of them all is "On your left" in Avengers: Endgame, the key line that signals to the audience what we all expected but cements it as one of the most iconic bits in the entire MCU.
The seed planting1comments
Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe will likely never come to an end completely, each of the films must always give us a tease of what's next. Even though The Avengers films serve as endpoints they still do this. The first film gave us the very first tease of Thanos, Age of Ultron name dropped Wakanda into the world, Infinity War sets up the arrival of Captain Marvel into the sequel and the MCU as a whole, and Endgame set up the entire next phase of movies and TV shows...literally.
What do you think it is? What secret formula do you think Marvel has that keeps audiences coming back for more? Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts!