What we learned from The Avengers trailer

James combs through the trailer for Joss Whedon's The Avengers to examine just what it's told us about the film...

The Avengers

We’ve seen glimpses, here and there – stills, teaser trailers, production designs – but only now have we finally got a good look at next summer’s premiere Marvel blockbuster (Spider-who?) in the form of a the first full-length trailer for The Avengers. And let’s not beat around the bush: it’s looking nothing short of epic.

But what does it tell us about the film?

Prepare to see the Marvel Universe

Cramming the ‘Big Three’ – Iron Man, Thor and Captain America – onto one screen would have been a monumental job in itself, but director Joss Whedon has had to contend with an even bigger one than that.

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This trailer alone features characters from four separate movie franchises, and some created specifically for the film. With, at the very least, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Black Widow, Hawkeye, the Hulk, Loki, and Nick Fury laying claim to starring roles, make no mistake: this is going to be one sprawling movie.

And not only that, but it’s also introducing a couple of major Marvel locations into the movie-verse. Early on, we get a glimpse of a complex that bears a suspicious visual resemblance to The Triskelion complex – the headquarters of SHIELD in the Marvel ‘Ultimate’ universe. In a flyby of New York, we see Stark Tower.

Previous Marvel Studios films have been light on iconic locations, preferring a more real-world approach. This one looks like it’ll change all that, truly putting the Marvel Universe on the screen for the first time.

In part, that’s because this film is finally using New York to full effect. Batman has Gotham, Superman has Metropolis, but New York will always be the centre of the Marvel Universe, as established by the writers and artists who lived and worked there in the 60s, laying the groundwork for all we see today.

Whedon clearly acknowledges that, and we get several sweeping images of the city. We’ve had a good look at versions of ‘Marvel’ New York in both the Spider-Man and Fantastic Four films, but its appearance in the Marvel Studios-verse is both long overdue, and very welcome.

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But, of course, let’s not forget the biggest extension of the Marvel Universe so far…

SKRULLS! (probably)

The trailer dances lightly around the issue, trying its best to paint Loki as the film’s sole villain – but we all know that’s not going to happen. Loki already got beat down once, there’s no way he’s capable of defeating the entire team alone – nor, indeed, is he dumb enough to try. All those shots of soldiers, cops, civilians and Avengers staring gravely at the sky strongly suggests that the plot of Avengers is indeed going to follow that of the Ultimates Vol. 1 graphic novel, in which the team’s first mission together involves fighting off an attempted alien invasion of Earth.

It might seem like a leap, but let’s not forget – both Thor and Captain America went to great pains to remind us of the ‘World Tree’ – a network of wormholes in space which connects our planet with several other ‘realms’, including Asgard. Loki himself was lost in one of those wormholes at the climax of Thor, and the Red Skull suffered an apparently similar fate due to the ‘tesseract’ (that’s the Cosmic Cube, to us geeks) energy at the end of Captain America.

Add to that the use of Skrulls in leaked concept work for a cancelled Avengers console game, and it seems almost certain that Loki’s return will coincide with the arrival of alien villains from one of the Nine Worlds that we haven’t yet seen (if not a mystery 10th.)

And, finally, let’s consider Tony Stark’s penultimate line in the trailer: “If we can’t protect the Earth…”. Well, that makes it sound like a global scale threat is indeed on the cards. Maybe they won’t be Skrulls in the typical sense. But an attempted invasion from another world, masterminded by Loki, seems almost certain to be the threat that finally assembles the Avengers.

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As well as bringing back the stars of the previous Marvel Studios films, Whedon & Co. have also given them a visual overhaul.

The trailer gives us a good look at Captain America’s new uniform – an updated redesign of his WWII outfit, and the most openly superhero-esque of them all. In his time away, Thor has an updated version of his movie outfit. Iron Man, once again, has new armour (the Mark VII armour?) and the Black Widow has a nod to her comicbook identity in the form of a Black Widow detail on the belt of her SHIELD jumpsuit.

Of course, the biggest change is in the appearance of Bruce Banner, who is wearing his third face in as many movies. From the short glimpse we get, The Hulk himself looks better than ever, and the visual nod to the TV series with Banner’s shirt ripping around one bicep is indeed a cute one.

But as for Ruffalo himself? Let’s just say, if he wasn’t referred to as such, it’d be difficult to realise that he was Bruce Banner. Not one of Banner’s three primary physical attributes – that he’s thin, diminutive and wears round-framed spectacles – are represented here. Yes, we’d all prefer it if Ed Norton was back for another go, but even leaving that aside, Ruffalo is a poor substitute, visually speaking. Let’s hope he can act his way past that handicap.

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And What We Didn’t See?

As well as any actual visual confirmation of an alien menace, there were a few things we definitely didn’t see in this trailer – and what’s left out tells us just as much about the film as what’s in it.

For a start, there’s no hint of any of the main cast’s love interests – no Natalie Portman, Gwyneth Paltrow, nor even the woman who is (probably) Sharon Carter, Amanda Righetti. Admittedly, there’s no evidence that either of the former pair will appear in the film at all, and maybe they’re trying to keep those plots for the ‘main’ movie strands, rather than this battle-royale of a picture. But it’d be nice to see cameos at the very least.

And if they aren’t in the film, that also begs the question of where, if anywhere, the movie’s romantic subplot will come from. No-one does a big action film without one, after all. Could Hawkeye and the Black Widow reprise their comic book relationship? Maybe. It would give them both a concrete role in the story, if nothing else.

That said, there’s no hint of any other sidekicks either. Agent Coulson gets a brief look in, but there’s no Maria Hill. Presumably, too, someone has already come up with a reason to keep War Machine out of the team and thus out of the movie. Thor’s Asgardian friends are trapped in Asgard (but then, he’s supposed to be as well…) so we can also assume they’re stuck off-world somewhere.

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However, as in the comics, it seems as though one of the biggest problems with The Avengers movie is going to be answering why, in a world full of super-powered/superhuman individuals, we’re only seeing these particular ones responding to such a major threat.

Lastly, even though we got a short spotlight on the team’s own trademark weapons – Cap’s Shield, Thor’s Hammer, Iron Man’s Armour and even Hawkeye’s bow – we didn’t get to see the Cosmic Cube at all. The Thor credits sting made it pretty clear that it fulfils some role in Loki’s schemes – perhaps they just didn’t have room for it!

Although Whedon’s movies have been a bit hit & miss in the past, this trailer makes it clear that The Avengers is, at the very least, going to look like the film Marvel fans always imagined.

It’s rare that a movie can rival the combination of comic book art and a reader’s imagination, but this is very close to doing so. It’s impossible to say whether the film is going to be good or bad so far in advance, but a trailer this high-octane has undoubtedly left even the most cautious of expectations raised.