Marvel and their various creative partners began laying the groundwork for “Marvel’s The Avengers” several years back -- not just in their development offices, but onscreen, in a series of teasers tacked onto the end of their films. Maybe you scoffed at fans who anxiously stuck around through the end credits -- but we salute them as savvy moviegoers who simply know how to get the most out of their multiplex buck. How much more did they get, exactly? Here are our reviews.
IRON MAN (2008)
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) returns home from a climactic battle and post-fight press conference to find a mystery man waiting in the shadows: S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). “Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe,” Fury says. “I'm here to talk to you about the Avenger initiative.” The moment is at once cryptic and revealing, just as a teaser should be. At the time, it also provided fan-thrilling confirmation that, yes, “The Avengers” would be a reality. GRADE: A-
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
In a scene just before the end titles, army general Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) sits in a bar trying to forget his recent encounter with the Hulk (played here in human form by Edward Norton). In swaggers Tony Stark. “I hear you have an unusual problem,” Stark says. “What if I told you we were putting a team together?” It’s cool that Downey would be on board with this, but the scene doesn’t offer much, particularly coming right on the heels of “Iron Man.” GRADE: B
IRON MAN 2 (2010)
A car tools through the New Mexico desert, and pulls to a stop. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of S.H.I.E.L.D. steps out, pulls off his man-in-black shades, and surveys a nearby crater. A closeup shows a mallet -- Thor’s war hammer -- buried there, Excalibur-style. Coulson phones in: “Sir, we found it.” Aaand ... thunder clap. Minimalist, and no star wattage, but satisfyingly effective. GRADE: B+
“Avengers” MacGuffin alert! One of Thor’s new mortal allies, astrophysicist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), explores a secret government lab. Jackson’s Fury meets him, and shows him a briefcase containing a glowing geometric artifact (shades of “Pulp Fiction”?) that fans will recognize as the Cosmic Cube. Selvig: “What is it?” Fury: “Power, doctor. If we can figure out how to tap it, maybe unlimited power.” Cut to a shot of Thor’s archnemesis, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who’s mind-tricking Selvig -- and is suddenly very interested. The scene gets credit for trying to cover this much ground, but it’s clunky -- Skarsgard seems as baffled as his character. GRADE: C+
CAPTAIN AMERICA (2011)
This one is more of a coda, and a moving one at that. Chris Evans’s WWII icon wakes from suspended animation and agitatedly races out into modern-day Times Square, shot as a disorienting swirl of traffic, neon, and even metaphor-heavy fog. Enter Fury: “At ease, soldier.” As if. We then get the end credits, followed by another quick snippet with Fury telling our hero that he’s got a new mission. Cap, fresh from pounding a punching bag off its chain: “Trying to get me back in the world?” Fury: “Trying to save it.” Cue first-look “Avengers” footage, and fans’ anticipatory countdown. GRADE: ATom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.