Will The Avengers be exceptional or generic?

When the first trailer for The Avengers hit the net on Tuesday, I tweeted something which has been on my mind for a few days now: I haven’t been this excited about a film and followed every step of its development since The Lord of the Rings, ten years ago. My exclamation met with incredulity from my fellow film buff friend Carsten: “I don’t get it”, he wrote. “Looks totally generic.” And I couldn’t help but tell him, he’s right.

Others have already voiced their skepticism about Marvel’s big project. “Wired” author Erin Biba tweeted “So I guess The Avengers is just gonna be Iron Man 3 then”, and “Cinemablend” made an excellent list of 5 Reasons The Avengers Trailer Was Kind Of A Letdown: nothing new, no character dynamics, not enough characters, terrible music and the best reason: “It just didn’t make The Avengers seem as special as it is.”

Want to watch the trailer again? Here it is.

I think “Cinemablend”‘s last reason is key here, and it ties in with Erin’s Tweet. If The Avengers will really only be a sort of Tony Stark show with a couple of other guys in the background, then it will become another generic comic book movie, maybe even a comic book movie that suffers from the extra plot stuffed in for franchise reasons like Iron Man 2. And the trailer doesn’t do much to ward off that sentiment.

Nevermind that the movie turned out to be terrible, but do you remember the first teaser trailer for The Phantom Menace? It did have that “Every saga has a beginning …”-feel to it. It had Anakin Skywalker meeting Obi-Wan for the first time, it had the moment where Darth Maul unveils his double-bladed lightsaber. It definitely got me excited. The first teaser for The Fellowship of the Ring said “It wasn’t until now that the legend could finally come to life!” – even more excitement there. The Avengers trailer doesn’t even say “Avengers assemble!”. The teaser at the end of Captain America did a much better job at making this exceptional movie project actually look exceptional (not least because of the “Some Assembly Required” tagline).

The question stands: Will The Avengers, the movie itself, not the effort that went into building up the project, actually be exceptional? Something the trailer pulled into question for me is: Does Marvel see this film as a culmination? A finale of sorts to the five movies that preceded it? Or will it be just a continuation of the universe they are building? If people keep expecting the former and the movie turns out to be the latter, with too many loose ends, not at least some sense of closure and no general feeling of Big Momentness – it will definitely disappoint a lot of people.

I don’t read comic books continually and generally haven’t followed any periodical narrative regularly for some time now (I only watch tv series on DVD sets), but what Marvel has been trying to do with the building of their universe and the creation of their franchises is basically to import comic book narrative mechanics into the movie world. The first Avengers book was a decisive narrative moment in time, because it brought together heroes that hadn’t worked together before, but it was no culmination, it was a beginning – and it ultimately did feel quite generic to me when I caught up with reading it recently. In one of the last panels, one of the characters says something to the effect of “A team of superheroes, huh? We could give it a try.” Not really very momentous.

If Joss Whedon knows what he’s doing, like I hope he does, he will not make this look like Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Cap and the rest of them are merely giving it a try. He will make this The Moment We’ve All Been Waiting For(tm), when the heroes of five movies finally assemble. And then, The Avengers will be exceptional – and not as generic as its first trailer.

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