For every comic geek and fanboy who will be standing in line for the midnight screening of The Avengers this weekend in a costume so realistic even the real Hawkeye couldn't tell the difference, there are probably twice as many people asking, "Just who in Stan Lee are these Avengers anyway?" Well, here is a handy inquisition that will tell you everything you need to know before seeing Joss Whedon's masterpiece and the culmination of Marvel Studios' movie efforts so far. It's the biggest (and first) superhero movie so far this summer.
What is an Avenger and why should I care about them?
The Avengers are a superhero team often known as "Earth's mightiest heroes," and have been a comic book staple since Marvel first got the team together in 1963. They're basically Marvel's answer to DC Comics' more iconic Justice League of America.
Is that the one with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman?
So that's something different?
Who is on this team?
The roster has changed significantly over the course of the nearly 50 years the comic has been around. Initially the team was made up of Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and Iron Man. Captain America was introduced in issue #4 and has been the leader of the team ever since.
Ant Man? What's his power? To control Ants?
Yes. And to be small.
What a stupid character.
There's a reason he's not in the movie.
So, who is in the movie?
Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, and Black Widow.
That's a lot of dudes.
Yeah, but they got Scarlett Johansson, so that's the equivalent of like three ladies.
Not the same, and didn't all the other guys get their own movies?
Mostly. Hawkeye didn't. But Black Widow was in Iron Man 2.
You mean the lousy Iron Man? Couldn't they add Gwyneth Paltrow to the team? She was in that too, right?
No, she's basically an assistant and the Avengers have their own assistant. He's a butler named Jarvis.
Great, another dude. Is he in the movie?
Dunno. Probably. Apparently, he's voiced by Paul Bettany.
Just what we need. So, tell me about this Black Widow lady?
Well, in the comic, her name is Natasha Romanova. She was a Soviet spy who the government treated to slow her aging and make her stronger. She also trained as a ballerina, learning skills that she then employed during fighting. She's basically just a really awesome badass. Her signature weapon is a pair of bracelets that shoot a "widow's bite," an electric shock that knocks out opponents.
So there is one female and her super power is basically jewelry?
She doesn't have powers, per se, but she's an enhanced human.
She's still a Russian spy?
No. She defected from Russia and came to America to work for SHIELD.
What the heck is that and why are you shouting about it?
I'm not shouting, it's an acronym. It stands for the Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division. It's basically a CIA for the whole world and they use superheros to get the big jobs done. It's run by Nick Fury.
Is he the guy with the Howling Commandos?
Yes, they were a unit of World War II soldiers who had their own comic book. When it ended, Nick Fury went on to be the leader of SHIELD. Samuel L. Jackson plays him in the movie.
Wait. Wasn't Nick Fury white?
Well, he still is, but Marvel launched a comic called The Ultimates in 2002. It was an updated version of the Avengers in modern day America that basically started the whole thing over from the beginning. In that Nick Fury is African-American and bald just like Samuel L.
Who the hell are these other new Avengers?
Let's not get you confused, let's talk about Hawkeye instead. In the movie he's played by Jeremy Renner and he had a cameo in Thor. His name is Clint Barton and he uses a bow and arrow and he can hit absolutely any target.
So, his super power is aim?
That is correct, but you wouldn't be so mean when you watch him shoot someone in the eye with an arrow from 300 feet away.
But the other people have powers, right?
No, Iron Man doesn't have any powers. As you learned from the two Robert Downey Jr. movies, he's just a super rich smart guy who designed a really awesome suit of armor. If you read the comics, you would say his super power might be a very resilient liver. Tony Stark has been known to tie a few on.
You're telling me this is a superhero movie and none of these people have any powers? That's stupid.
They have a Hulk. The Hulk has insane powers. As most people know from the Lou Ferrigno television show, Dr. Bruce Banner was in an atomic accident and now, whenever he gets angry, he unleashes a crazy green rage beast who is huge and strong and totally invulnerable. He's basically like Mel Gibson, but glowing and doesn't hate Jews. That's power.
And he's played by Eric Bana?
No, Eric played Hulk in Hulk the 2003 movie. We're still trying to forget about that. Marvel was not happy with Ang Lee's version of the movie and rebooted it and made The Incredible Hulk in 2008.
Oh, the one with Edward Norton! He's in The Avengers?
No. Mark Ruffalo plays him. Marvel and Norton had a bit of a falling out after the movie was released.
This is the third Hulk in three different movies?
Yes, but there has only been one Captain America. He's played by Chris Evans. Captain America, in the comics, was a skinny kid named Steve Rogers who took a "super soldier serum" during World War II and it gave him super strength and speed, near invulnerability, and the ability to lead groups of men into battle. He also has one of the ugliest costumes in all of comicdom. In the funny books he fought alongside other heroes like Namor and The Human Torch to defeat Nazis. The movie followed the comic's plot where, at the end of the war, Captain America fell into the ocean and was frozen in a block of ice, only to be thawed out decades later.
Wait, Chris Evans played the Human Torch, how did he fight with him too?
That's right, Evans was in Fantastic Four, but that's a totally different Human Torch. The characters are totally different and unrelated.
How can you tell?
Evans had a hairy chest as the Torch and a smooth chest as Captain America.
Ah, that makes sense.
That leaves us with Thor, who is the son of Odin, the chief of all Norse gods. The comic book has something crazy about a doctor named Donald Blake who find's Thor's hammer, Mjolnir ...
How do you pronounce that?
You don't. Anyway, Blake finds the hammer and transforms into Thor. In the movies there is no Donald Blake. Thor is banished to Earth because of his hubris and has to live among the humans. His father was trying to teach him a lesson, but then Thor had to return to Asgard, where his deity family reigns and save everyone. He's a central character to have because the Avengers first assembled in the comics because of Thor's brother Loki.
Say what now?
Loki is Thor's younger brother and is the god of mischief and illusions. He uses an illusion of the Hulk to lure Thor into battle. This unleashes the real Hulk and they gang up with the other heroes to beat the s**t out of Loki. After the battle, they decide to form the Avengers, a team that can take on the threats that a single hero can't handle on his own. We know that Loki is going to be the big threat in the movie, just like he was in Thor. Hopefully, just like in Thor, Chris Hemsworth will also be compelled to take his shirt off a few times.
So, does all this stuff make sense.
I guess so, but what does any of this have to do with Uma Thurman?
Oh man. That's a totally different movie called The Avengers that was based on a British TV show. It has nothing to do with the comic. Any more questions.
Just one: Is this movie gonna be good?
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
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This weekend, we will all feel the Wrath of the Titans. The follow-up to the 2010 remake of the fantasy epic Clash of the Titans once again finds Perseus, again played by Sam Worthington, matching wits, and steel with the ancient Greek gods (as well as the dreaded Titans). Along with Worthington, actors Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes return as gods Zeus and Hades respectively. These actors, themselves titans of the screen, got us thinking about our favorite cinematic depictions of deities. Get yourself in the mood for this spring blockbuster by paying them homage.
Zeus (Luke Evans), Immortals
Liam Neeson is far from the only actor to play the supreme deity of Mt. Olympus. In the original Clash of the Titans, the mantle was donned by one of the greatest actors who ever lived: Sir Laurence Olivier.
But as iconic as Olivier’s Zeus remains, one of my favorite portrayals of that mythic patriarch was that created by Luke Evans in Tarsem Singh’s Immortals. Though the movie overall isn’t stellar, Evans’ take on Zeus captures the god’s trademark fiery temper. His edict about the gods not intervening into the fates of men is upheld with a thunderous vengeance. One particular god who dares defy him faces his explosive wrath—a wrath surely no titan could match.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Thor
Moving from Greek to Norse mythology, there are few denizens of Asgard mightier and more notable than Thor, the God of Thunder. Last year, Marvel brought this deity, whom they had translated to a comic book uber hero, to the big screen in a stunning 3D epic.
Chris Hemsworth was faced with the daunting task of not only making Thor believable and heroic in his own mythic realm, but also to maintain that sincerity once he is suddenly transported to our dimension. Hemsworth plays mighty and vulnerably out-of-place to perfection and it’s his performance that elevates the film. Plus, how badass is that hammer?
Hades (James Woods), Hercules
One of my favorite Disney animated films is 1997’s Hercules. Of the many fantastic elements of the movie is James Woods’ hilarious take on the Greek god of the underworld: Hades. The film plays up the rivalry between Zeus and Hades, but tamed down a bit for kids.
Woods lends a frantic, comical snark to Hades, but equally entertaining are the moments wherein he flies completely of the handle. The animators design Hades with a perpetual blue flame encompassing his head, which bursts to dizzying heights when he’s angry. One can imagine the joy that would have come from watching Woods record these scenes in the booth.
God (Morgan Freeman), Bruce Almighty
So many actors have played The Big Guy in films that it’s hard to keep track. The short list includes such names as George Burns, Charlton Heston, and even Alanis Morissette. But in 2003’s Bruce Almighty, possibly the definitive portrayal of the man upstairs was crafted by none other than Morgan Freeman. To be fair, Freeman had a major advantage right out of the gate in that the timbre of his voice is naturally rich and, frankly, angelic. But the wisdom, the ironic humor, and the effortlessly imposing presence he brings to the role make this a lovable God you can believe in no matter what your individual faith.
Ryuuk (Shidou Nakamura), Death Note
This one is a bit obscure, but I highly, highly recommend the 2006 film version of Japanese manga/anime Death Note. The story revolves around a young man who comes into possession of a bizarre notebook. Any name he writes in the book will cause the bearer of that name to suffer a heart attack and die within seconds. The notebook formerly belonged to Ryuuk, one of the many gods of death. The design of this animated character, coupled with his unhinged physicality and diabolical chuckle, makes Ryuuk one of the most outlandish and captivating gods ever committed to celluloid.
Each and every superhero has their own mythology, complete with allies, villains, weapons, secret locations and terminology that's exclusive to the character. It wasn't much of a stretch for moviegoers to be able to understand Spider-Man or Batman's background, but Thor? That's a whole other animal. His story is steeped in Norse mythology, which isn't exactly the most popular major on college campuses, so many are unfamiliar with the legends that inspired the hero's creation.
Below, I've listed a handful of terms that will come in handy when watching Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios Thor. They'll help you keep up with the story when you're watching the God of Thunder smash his way through alien worlds and may actually inspire you to pick up a comic book...or choose your next history class.
The home of the Norse gods and one of the nine realms of the universe. It's a shining golden city powered by magic, presided over by Odin and his kin, Thor and Loki. It exists in another dimensional plane and is about the size of the United States. It is not round like the Earth and does not spin on its axis nor revolve around the sun. It is a flat, asteroid-like mass that has a top surface with a gravitational pull, similar to that of the Earth’s, in order to keep the citizens and their cities from floating into the void. I want to go to there.
We humans don't give our power tools names; generally Black & Decker takes care of that. But the mighty rulers of Asgard all have monikers for their special weapons and Thor's mystical hammer is no different. It's called Mjolnir (pronounced M-Yol-Neer) and it allows the son of Odin to harness the power of the storm (lightening, thunder and rain) and fly! Needless to say, he won't leave home without it.
Dr. Donald Blake
Thor's alias on Earth. In the comics, when Odin banished his son to a life amongst mortal men, Thor inhabited the body of a handicapped medical student -- Donald Blake. The kicker? He had no recollection of his life in the heavens. Blake eventually graduated with honors and opened his own practice, but a trip to Norway eventually jogged his memory and Thor was from that point on able to switch back and forth between Blake and his true self. In the film, the Blake identity is used more as an inside nod for longtime fans, but it does come in handy when our hero is detained by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
One of the nine realms in the universe and home to a race of beings known as the Frost Giants, sworn enemies of Asgard and Earth. Thor wages an epic war on the giants on their turf in the film and, in a cataclysmic turn of events, the planet is nearly destroyed.
Speaking of things being destroyed, no being in Asgard does it better than Destroyer. An obedient guard dog of the Asgardian's prized relics and a protector of all life against the intergalactic entities known as the Celestials, the metal-clad being is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Its energies come from the known gods of Earth, who all gave the inanimate weapon small pieces of their own power to fuel its wrath. Bottom line: stay out of its way.
This is the portal that is used to send the gods from Asgard to other realms in the universe. Also known as the Rainbow Bridge, in the comics it exclusively transports people from Asgard to Midgard (Earth), but in the film it also sends Thor, Sif and the Warrior's Three to Jotunheim and, presumably, other worlds as well. It is guarded by Heimdall, who Odin entrusted the safety of Asgard to.
Casket of Ancient Winters
A powerful, deadly and uncontrollable Asgardian artifact, the Casket contains the fury of a thousand killing winters, creating massive snowstorms (if opened) that can freeze an entire civilization. It has passed through the hands of many gods in the comics and was used against Thor by the demon Surtur in an epic battle. In the film, it is a maguffin that sets the story in motion.