In last summer’s The Avengers, the Earth’s greatest heroes contend with an army of otherworldly creatures bent on our world’s destruction, alien soldiers brought to our planet through a portal opened up by supervillain Loki. The rag-tag group rallies together – despite their differences – and manages to save humanity, sending back the Chitauri fleet, capturing Loki and raking in $1.5 billion worldwide. The Avengers was nothing but an unqualified success, a culmination of years of cross-promotion Easter eggs and post-credit teasers. It changed the paradigm of what could be done with a film franchise, something that Warner Bros will no doubt try to replicate with DC’s Justice League. And with Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 on the way this year, and a captain Captain America sequel the next, the Avengers may have served to make its parts greater than the whole, making its super hero stars even more super. However, in closing that rift in space, and doing it with such fanfare, the Avengers may have opened up another Pandora’s Box of sorts, one their super powers and heroism cannot shut.
The Avengers phenomenon, for all the sequel possibilities it opened up for its core members and ancillary personnel, might have actually had an inverse effect on the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe, at least from our perspective. In The Avengers we see Nick’s Fury great vision come into focus, that one day there would be a threat large enough, menacing enough, to require some force or resistance greater than anything S.H.I.E.L.D. or any army could offer. Fury had a hunch that something fierce was coming, and played that hunch in recruiting the team – an arduous process we had seen in and around the individual films since Iron Man kicked this all off in 2008 – and when the time came that there was some truly epic evil, the Avengers would put aside their pride and egos and band together to save humanity.
But there’s an inherent paradox in all of this. If the idea of the Avengers is that they’re needed to combat Earth’s greatest foes, then how seriously should we take the villainy in, say, Iron Man 3. If what Tony Stark is facing – the Mandarin in this case – is so grave and terrible and dangerous, then wouldn’t he call in his new buddies for backup (although, we do assume that The Hulk – but not necessarily Mark Ruffalo – will make an appearance in the film)? After The Avengers the stakes just feel lowered for any non-Avengers movie. Admittedly, it’s a little less clear for Thor: The Dark World, because much of it appears to take place outside of our realm and in Thor’s home of Asgard, but the principle still rings true. If the situation is so dire wouldn’t Thor summon his team if he could? Or else, if he doesn’t need them, then the bad guy can’t be so bad, right?
Of course, you could argue that it’s all a moot point anyway. The approaching enemy forces in these films can be far more powerful and dangerous than the evil in The Avengers, but it doesn’t really matter because we know that none of our heroes will ever be vanquished in their own films. They need to survive until the next Avengers movie. And then live on for their next individual movie. And so on. And so on. And so on…until the whole thing is rebooted once again.