By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com May 7, 2012 at 2:02PM
The ambitious, multi-film strategy has paid off, big time, that much is clear. And however this had turned out, they'd made enough money from the earlier films that sequels "Iron Man 3," "Thor 2" and "Captain America 2" are already gearing up for production, with release dates already announced for 2013 and 2014. One big question is whether or not they can expect elevated grosses for those films thanks to the success of "The Avengers." Will audiences newly introduced to Tony Stark's sarcastic gags or Steve Rogers' sincere heroism return in droves for their solo outings? Or will seeing The Avengers solo fail to have the same kind of draw as them together? While the second is certainly a risk, we'd expect improved grosses for all three sequels ("Iron Man 3" in particular), but likely not to the same supernova levels of the team-up movie.
The other thing that's been on everyone's lips of late after "The Avengers" is possible Hulk stand-alone movie. There've been two attempts so far, both of which underwhelmed, but with Mark Ruffalo and the Hulk both stealing the movie, there seems to be a genuine desire from audiences to see a film, and one Marvel executive has already spilled the beans about a possible Hulk flick in 2015. But would it actually work? If "The Avengers" proves anything about Bruce Banner's alter ego, it's that he works best when used sparingly, and arguably as part of an ensemble. Just because we get some good Hulk-smash moments, and an ace performance from Ruffalo, it doesn't mean that a third Hulk flick wouldn't fall prey to the same issues as Ang Lee or Louis Leterrier's versions did. If they can find someone like Whedon who knows the character, and has a take that makes him work in a solo outing? Great. But they should be careful about squandering the goodwill earned here for the sake of a quick cash-in.
Of course, Marvel are now moving into Phase 2 of their plans, and aside from the sequels, we'll see at least one brand new property announced for the next few years -- there's already one open slot, on May 16, 2014, six weeks after "Captain America 2." There's a few possibilities: a "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie seems to be in the works, "Iron Man 3" writer Drew Pearce penned a script for "Runaways," which nearly got made with director Peter Sollett before "The Avengers" saw it delayed, and writers were hired some time ago for a "Doctor Strange" film, which is also in development. But the smart money is on "Ant-Man," to be directed by Edgar Wright: the helmer's been working on the script with Joe Cornish for years, and the character was a founding member of the Avengers, so is an easier fit for synergy than the moustached magician. Plus, Wright tweeted a picture over the weekend that, on top of other hints, seems to suggest that the film may be the next big announcement from the company. However, that doesn't necessarily rule out other characters making it to the screen before the next "The Avengers" outing.
Because what "The Avengers"' mammoth box-office absolutely ensures is that they'll be working towards a team-up sequel sooner rather than later. The film's mid-credits sting, introducing intergalactic tyrant Thanos, seems to be a naked set up for that (we don't expect him to crop up in any of the in-progress sequels, although we guess "Thor 2" might be a possibility), so they've clearly got early plans for it. We suspect, in fact, that they're working on the assumption that it might be Robert Downey Jr.'s last outing as "Iron Man" -- next summer's threequel will be his fifth time playing the character in the Marvel movie universe -- but they're sure to want him back for another "The Avengers."
So far, the studio have mostly avoided directors returning for follow-ups, Jon Favreau's "Iron Man 2" the only exception to date. Frankly, though, they'd be crazy not to offer Whedon a mammoth paycheck to come back, and we suspect that'll be the case. Whether Whedon is interested, or if he, like Gary Ross on "The Hunger Games," is more keen on moving onto fresh pastures, remains to be seen. Our guess is that he wouldn't necessarily be against it, but would like to make something else closer to his heart before moving on. If he can do that, and still deliver an 'Avengers' sequel in 2015 or even 2016, then we're sure Marvel would like him on board. But if he holds up their grand plans, then they may be forced to look elsewhere.