It’s less than a month until Marvel’s Avengers Assemble hits UK cinemas.
If you’re not already steeped in the lore of these comic book heroes, here’s some quick facts to bring you up to speed with the year’s biggest movie.
Marvel’s Avengers Assemble is based on the Marvel comic The Avengers created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
The UK title was changed from The Avengers to avoid confusion with the British TV series of the same name.
The first “Avengers” comic was published in September 1963 and the lineup consisted of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man and Wasp. Captain America joined the team in Issue #4, after being revived from being trapped in a block of ice.
This film brings together Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) when they are called to duty by S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
Production on commenced on April 25, 2011, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the production shot onstage at Albuquerque Studios and various locations in and around the city until Thursday, July 28th. Other filming locations included Wilmington, Ohio; Worthington, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio and New York City. The shoot lasted a total of 93 shooting days on 1st unit and 47 shooting days on 2nd unit.
The huge, impressive Helicarrier Bridge set was built on a soundstage in Albuquerque. This iconic home base for the peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D., whose director is Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), resembles an aircraft carrier, but it’s no ordinary carrier—it can actually fly. The filmmakers wanted to embrace that key element of The Avengers history and give the fans a real thrill when it takes to the air. To achieve the exterior of the Helicarrier, the filmmakers shot on a runway at the Albuquerque International Sunport.
Another classic Marvel vehicle, the Quinjet, is also making an appearance in the movie. The Quinjet is essentially the jump jet that The Avengers use to go to and from the Helicarrier and to go into battles. The Quinjet design fits in with the Helicarrier—the same technology that allows the Helicarrier to work has been incorporated into the Quinjet. But at the same time the silhouette of the Quinjet, the cockpit, the engines on the back and the weaponry make it feel as though it could actually exist today.
In the very first issue of the comic book The Avengers, almost 50 years ago, it was Loki, Thor’s brother, who was causing the trouble that brought all the Avengers together for the first time to defeat him. In the making of the movie, Marvel stayed true to that setup. Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, is a much stronger villain on Earth than he is in his own world of Asgard and wreaks havoc in the film.
Chris Hemsworth (Thor) felt that being on location was like summer camp, where no one really knows each other but everyone hangs out together and has a great time. However, Hemsworth did know Tom Hiddleston (Loki) from “Thor” and developed a great relationship with him on that film that carried over to Avengers Assemble.
To play expert archer Hawkeye, Jeremy Renner received training from Olympic archers on how to use a bow properly. He learned the basics of archery as well as the proper positions, but one of the most difficult tasks Renner had to master was the consistency he had to employ in drawing back the bow, which is difficult to do when drawing back fast.
Scarlett Johansson was more than happy to reprise her role as Black Widow. The talented actress says she is a huge fan of the character and is happy that fans liked her as Black Widow, a role she originated in “Iron Man 2.” In Avengers Assemble, during her scenes with another highly skilled S.H.I.E.L.D. operative, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the audience will be let in on some of their backstory and get a glimpse of their longtime working relationship.
When the cast and crew flew from Albuquerque to Wilmington, Ohio, they didn’t have to go far to reach their new shooting location. The production’s charter flight landed right next to the film set at Clinton County Airpark, a massive complex complete with a 9,000-foot runway and a one million square foot, state-of-the-art shipping facility that would double in the film for parts of the interior of the iconic Helicarrier.
The famous battle cry in the comic book, “Avengers Assemble!” is a call to arms for members of the team to fight “the foes no single superhero can withstand.” During production, Chris Evans (Captain America) borrowed the famous command to gather up his fellow cast members when he sent out text messages to them to come together for a night on the town in Albuquerque after a long, hard week of work on the production.
Shooting in Central Park is never easy, but what about when you put the entire cast of the film at Bethesda Fountain on Labor Day weekend? The cast, crew and filmmakers got to find out firsthand as thousands of onlookers gathered to see something that held the attention of even the most hardened New Yorker—the entire cast in costume, including Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in their Asgardian finery. For the actors in the film it would be the first time they were all on set together in over a month and also the last time they would be shooting together. For director Joss Whedon the challenge was to keep his cast focused. “It was like a circus crossed with a class reunion,” laughs the director. “Paparazzi and fans were everywhere and the cast was so happy to see each other, talk and catch up because they enjoyed hanging out together.”
The film’s second unit shot a chase sequence in Worthington, Pennsylvania, at Creekside Mushroom LTD, the former home to World Famous Moonlight® brand Mushrooms. Creekside was the world’s largest mushroom-growing facility and the only underground mushroom farm in the United States. For the production, shooting at the facility meant gaining access to the 150 miles of tunnels 300 feet below the ground. Without power, prepping the tunnels for the chase sequences that involved Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) took months—but it all paid off with spectacular results.
With so many fight sequences in the film, many of the actors, including Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner, participated in extensive fight training with the stunt team. Cast members trained with fight choreographer Jonathan Eusebio. Renaming the gym the “Stunt Dojo,” Eusebio and his team trained the cast in different fighting styles, including medieval fighting techniques, Wushu, Kung Fu and Kali.
For three weeks, the production shut down East 9th Street in Downtown Cleveland to prep and shoot one of the larger action sequences. It was the talk of the town for months and attracted thousands of curious onlookers, who watched the street transform from empty buildings to a bustling New York City street complete with subway stop and popular storefronts with facades. The production design was so convincing that rumors circulated about new stores opening on the street.
Another challenge for the production design team was transforming Cleveland’s historic Public Square into an exterior location that would double for Stuttgart, Germany. The production changed words on the facades of the buildings to German and added a ”biergarten” to the square. Local workers in the area loved the changes and hoped the upgrades to the square (new flowers, plants, picnic tables and lampposts) would stay in place after filming was completed.
Despite being a secure location that only cast and crew members could access, one fan’s persistence caught the eye of the cast and crew at the Airpark set in Wilmington, Ohio, when she made a big poster-board sign welcoming the cast to the city and requesting that the actors autograph a T-shirt that was in a bag. The sign was such a hit with the company that they passed it to the set. Filmmakers were able to contact the fan and she was given a tour of the set, an “Avengers” crew hat, a meet and greet with director Joss Whedon and, of course, the cast’s autographs on the T-shirt she had placed by the sign. It truly was a day to remember for one lifelong Marvel fan.
Born and raised in the United Kingdom, Tom Hiddleston was not exposed to American sports, but that all changed during production as he was able to watch a Cleveland Browns preseason football game on the sidelines, attend a Cleveland Indians game, throw out the first pitch, and be courtside at the US Open to watch several matches.
In shooting one of the bigger action sequences in the film, director Joss Whedon enlisted the help of 25 members of the Ohio-based 391st Military Police Battalion to be part of the scene in which New York City is being attacked by unknown forces. The troops were brought in to add a layer of authenticity and give the combat scenes realism. And realism is exactly what the MPs delivered with their 50-caliber machine guns and Mark-19s. The film crew was blown away by their firepower and teamwork and Whedon was also impressed and appreciative as he posed for pictures with the Battalion after the scene was completed.
For special effects to pull off the destruction of a New York City street, special effects supervisor Dan Sudick involved precision pyrotechnics and well-timed car gags so that the production’s stunt people could safely maneuver through the explosions and flipping cars. To pull off the large pyrotechnic event, Sudick and his team rigged 28 explosions, which went off in a wave fashion down the street to simulate an air attack. The sequence also included setting up 14 cars down the middle of the street, which included ‘cannon cars,’ ‘flipper cars,’ ‘pyro’ cars as well as a big semi truck that exploded. Sudick and his team pulled off the impressive sequence without a hitch and even though it was shot on East 9th Street in downtown Cleveland, it still made the cover of the New York Post with the headline: “Save us, Thor!”
Marvel’s Avengers Assemble is in UK cinemas from April 26.