We talk to Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and the rest of the cast of the superhero blockbuster The Avengers.
A Marvel to behold: The Avengers hits UAE screens
Hyperbole is par for the course in Hollywood. But you only have to glance at The Avengers (titled Avengers Assemble in some countries) to realise it's the biggest superhero movie ever made. Consider it the culmination of a decade-long project, in which the Marvel heroes Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk have all been launched in solo feature films – with the express aim of teaming them up as The Avengers, the superhero collective first seen in comic-book form in 1963.
Quite how you produce a movie that will do justice to each, not to mention sating all the Hollywood egos (let alone Iron Man's Robert Downey Jr), is another matter. Suitably, the writer-director Joss Whedon comes armed with bold statements. "I believe, very strongly, most people who love these characters – whether it's from the movies or from comics – will be extremely pleased. Because nobody is left to pasture. This movie is big. There's room for everyone. And everybody really shines."
The creator of the cult TV shows Buffy, Angel and Firefly, Whedon was the connoisseur's choice to take on The Avengers – from his innate understanding of Marvel mythology to his insistence on placing characterisation over spectacle. Moreover, he's not just pandering to the fans. "Ultimately, you want people who haven't seen any of these movies or read any of the comics to come and have a wonderful time." And judging by the pre-release hype, come they will. The National sat down with the cast members to get their take on filmingthe blockbuster.
Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow)
When she was offered the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson jumped at it. "It excited me to play a character who's a very strong, intimidating woman, where she wasn't fighting and posing with the wind in her hair. She gets down and dirty – I like that about her." None more so than in her opening scene of The Avengers when, tied to a chair, she outfights a group of Russian criminals, with all the dexterity of an Olympic gymnast.
With her sleek black catsuit, she has understandably become a fanboy favourite – something Johansson realised when she went to Comic-Con, the San Diego launch-pad for comic-book, sci-fi and fantasy products. "It's crazy to see people dressed as your version of Black Widow," she says, referring to a nine-year-old girl she saw. "She had the red hair and was in the Widow pose! I was like 'Yes! My signature move!' I love that stuff."
Tom Hiddleston (Loki)
"It was just the most spectacular and action-packed film I've ever been in," says Tom Hiddleston.
"There was one particular day where I was sitting on some stone steps, staring down at the Avengers assembled in front of me. It would be quite surreal just to be looking at a group that involves Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Sam Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner and Chris Hemsworth. But the fact that they were dressed in the most outlandish hero costumes was absolutely bizarre!"
The British-born Hiddleston reprises his role as Thor's brother Loki, the villain of the piece, who arrives on Earth with world domination on his mind. While Thor saw him explore Loki's "wounded, damaged psyche", The Avengers offered a different dynamic for the 31-year-old actor. "Joss wanted to ratchet up his bad-boy credentials because it's one against seven this time. And he was perpetually saying: 'More feral, more dangerous, more edge.'"
Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye)
Only briefly glimpsed in Thor – "I was an extra," he laughs – Jeremy Renner returns as the mighty marksman Hawkeye in The Avengers. Unlike several co-stars, he hasn't had a whole film to ease his way into the role. "I'm still trying to flesh out who the character is," he says. "And this Avengers movie is limiting because of the amount of characters in the movie. So it's still a very interesting character to me. I'm still trying to figure him out myself."
What is clear is that Renner's Hawkeye is far more grounded in reality – even if his "superhero version of archery" doesn't really relate to the sport itself. "He's doing things sideways. You'd just never shoot that way." The good news, for Renner anyway, was that he wouldn't be wearing the character's original purple costume. "There's no way in hell I could have signed on knowing I would have been in purple tights! I don't think anybody wants to see that and nor do I."
Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk)
How do you solve a problem like the Hulk? Marvel has wrestled with how to bring their rage-fuelled, green-skinned monster to the big screen twice before, casting Eric Bana and then Edward Norton as Hulk's alter ego Dr Bruce Banner. Neither quite worked. Now, it's Mark Ruffalo's turn. "We considered this a continuation of those great Banners," he says, diplomatically. "This is just an older version of the guy. I think he's ready to turn and face the beast that he's been running from inside of himself."
Ruffalo's advantage over Bana and Norton is that he is the first actor to play both Banner and the Hulk, using motion-capture techniques. Not only did Ruffalo get to act out the Hulk's destructive tendencies, his facial features were integrated into the creature's. "I really pushed hard to make the Hulk look like me."
The only problem? While his co-stars all got to wear their superhero costumes, Ruffalo was lumbered with an unflattering spotted leotard. "I envied them for looking so damn cool."
Chris Hemsworth (Thor)
"It's funny how it all came full circle," reflects Chris Hemsworth. More than three years ago, he shot the Joss Whedon written/produced horror The Cabin in the Woods, which – due to the studio MGM's financial woes – has only just hit cinemas and has yet to come to the UAE.
During the shoot, Hemsworth auditioned for the superhero god Thor – a role that his younger brother Liam had tried out for. Whedon even phoned the director Kenneth Branagh to "put in a good word for me". Winning the role, by the time Hemsworth came off the resulting press tour, he had to immediately assemble for The Avengers. "I really did hit the ground running." Even so, the scale of it was "overwhelming", he says. "Just because it had been talked about so much. We'd all had our individual films, so everything was a piece of some other success coming together." And you'll never guess what's he doing next – come summer, he's shooting Thor 2.
The Avengers opens in UAE cinemas today