THE AVENGERS: IS IT REALLY THE END OF A GAME?
This weekend sees the release of Avengers: Endgame1, the latest in Marvel’s eleven-year odyssey of children’s films aimed at adults. The film sees what’s left of The Avengers team of superheroes go up against Thanos (again) in order to save the universe (again) from a destructive force (again). As with every other Marvel film, the MacGuffin will be a bright, shiny thing (again), or a handful of bright and shiny things (again), that will allow the holder to wield infinite power (again).
It’s the first Marvel film since Captain America: Civil War (Am I right? I don’t really care. Seriously, I don’t care.). The fact that we’re a million films in and we still haven’t seen Batman or Superman is what I consider a dropped ball on behalf of the filmmakers.
According to my editor, the new film involves some things called ‘infinity stones’. So I guess they’ll be the bright and shiny things mentioned above.
After over a decade, Avengers: Endgame will see a number of the main cast leaving the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), with certain roles set to pass on to secondary players in the films. I already went and read the movie’s Wiki page but I won’t go ahead and ruin the experience with spoilers.
As the MCU goes into reboot and restart mode, it is instructive to go back and look at the beginning of the MCU, examine the formula each film had, and see if we can create our own virtual reality-based superhero figure. From there, you can make an educated guess as to what may come next.
THE MARVEL FORMULA
Firstly, you need your hero. The first handful of films at the beginning of the MCU were Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. The leads in those films were Robert Downey Jr, Edward Norton, Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Evans. So that tells us that our hero should be played by a young actor but not someone who is already a big name.
Please take a second and think about it. While Downey and Norton were already stars when they became superheroes, neither was considered in the same league as Toms Cruise or Hanks. Downey had only recently come off Ally McBeal and Norton was the second-lead in Fight Club. Evans, meanwhile, had been a supporting player in The Fantastic Four2 films and Hemsworth had played Captain Kirk’s dad for ten minutes in Star Trek before dying3.
Even later films, such as Ant-Man followed this formula, when they cast Anchorman supporting player Paul Rudd in the main role.
The lead in each film - with the exception of The Incredible Hulk - was supported in their quest by an older mentor, there to give advice to the hero on their quest, much like Sir Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. In many respects, the formula is so far, so Joseph Campbell and The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
These mentor roles are played by older, well-respected actors that add some name recognition to the movie, which is why we have Jeff Bridges in Iron Man, Tommy Lee Jones in Captain America: The First Avenger, and Anthony Hopkins in Thor. It’s the same reason we saw Michael Douglas in the Ant-Man films; Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone in the Guardians of the Galaxy series; and—coming full circle—Robert Downey Jr in Spider-Man: Homecoming4.
Some later MCU films have somewhat reversed this trend, dispensing with the mentor role but still casting a name-star to lend the picture some credibility, which is why we saw Robert Redford in Captain America: Civil War, playing on the roles he was famous for in the seventies like Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men.
It’s a habit that Marvel has yet to drop, as we saw with Michael Keaton, fresh from playing off his role as Batman in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) move to playing off his Batman role as Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Using an established, older actor for the mentor role is the same approach for casting the bad guy in the first spate of MCU films. That’s why we had Hugo Weaving as The Red Skull in the first Captain America5, Jeff Bridges doubling as mentor and villain in Iron Man, and Tim Roth in The Incredible Hulk.
In rare instances, the MCU has not gone for an older actor, but for one of roughly the same age, which is why we have Tom Hiddleston as Loki throughout the franchises (after he unsuccessfully auditioned for the lead).
The hero also has a nominal sidekick—Bucky Barnes, AKA The Winter Soldier, in the Captain America films or James Rhodes, AKA War Machine, in the Iron Man series. There is usually a pre-existing relationship between the sidekick and the hero, and the former knows who the latter was before they made the transition from human to super-human.
The nominal sidekick is there to provide comic relief to balance out the action and drama, while sometimes occasionally providing information and insight on the story’s main conflict. The technical word for this is ‘exposition’, which is why Michael York plays a character called ‘Basil Exposition’ in the Austin Powers franchise. The sidekick role is also used, on occasion, to provide the main character with some sort of moral guidance—usually a harkening back to some earlier value that the lead has abandoned in pursuit of their goal.
So what would our VR superhero look like? Firstly, he’s going to need a name, so let’s call him Staramba Man. And since we are a Berlin-based company that’s working hard on our own VR world, we are making our potential superhero German.
Staramba Man is the alter-ego of Steffen Schaefer, a student from North Rhine-Westphalia who becomes a superhero within MATERIA.ONE. Our lesser-known, younger leading man for this part would be someone like Deutschland 83’s Jonas Nay6.
AROUND STARAMBA MAN
And Staramba Man needs his mentor, an older, grizzled character who shows them how to exist properly between the world of MATERIA.ONE and the real world. I’m nominating Pierce Brosnan for this since we haven’t seen him in a big action film for years and he’s a much better actor than most people realise.
Staramba Man also requires a love interest in our film (title: ‘Staramba Man’). Now, most of the Marvel films have a female love interest for the hero, and they’re usually played by critically-acclaimed actresses that are relatively new to blockbuster films after making indie movies and TV shows. And since I’m a bit of a movie nerd and because she’s nowhere near as well-known as she should be, I’m nominating Samantha Robinson from The Love Witch for this role.
THE BACK STORY
Of course, our hero needs a back story. In the Marvel films, the heroes tend to be geniuses at science, business, or both (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk) or embodying some manifestation of honour and nobility (Thor, Captain America). And the hero’s journey is that they have to learn to take on and manage responsibility. Once they have done that, their journey to selfhood is complete—they have, in other words, become themselves.
So I think Schaefer, our nominal hero, should be a chemistry wunderkind who excels at track sports. However, he still sees himself as being weak due to his lack of brawn and heft, and tries unsuccessfully to compensate. Schaefer, however, undermines his abilities by his yen to party hard and stay up late.
In our film, Schaefer is a young man who finds a headset (conspicuously not the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive virtual reality headsets) in an alley on his first visit to the city of Dusseldorf. He goes home and logs into MATERIA.ONE for some hot social VR experiences.
Inside the virtual reality system, he is able to fly, manipulate his environment, and has super-strength. When Schaefer comes out of the VR platform, he believes that he has left the reality experiences behind but discovers that he can now do them in the real world.
The first time Schaefer sees that his abilities have come back with him is when he is crossing the road and is nearly hit by a car. Raising his hand, he causes the car to stop and the road, simultaneously, to ruck up and concertina.
Travelling back to the city, he traces the headset back to an experimental facility run by Dr. Ian Feelgood (“I’d become a professor but it’d ruin the name.”) . Feelgood advises him of the true power of the headset and that it needs a better energy source, only one of which is available. Unfortunately, the supervillain known as ‘The Creator’ is also looking for it.
Feelgood also has a lab assistant he affectionately calls ‘Tinhead’ that both works with him and offers some comedic relief. Tinhead is a woman called Beverley Brown and is a clumsy, bespectacled PHD student who has been working with Dr Feelgood for a number of years.
At the start, Beverley Brown treats Schaefer with contempt, considering him undisciplined and irresponsible, too lacking in self-control to be able to fully adapt to being Staramba Man. She tells Dr Feelgood of her worries. He replies that he can see the potential of Schaefer and that Brown should trust in his judgment.
After some time manipulating the world around him and using the powers to satisfy his own curiosities, Staramba Man is found by the creator and they engage in a battle. Seeing the destruction after the battle finishes, Schaefer/Staramba Man realises that there are problems in the world larger than his place in it.
Feelgood, Schaefer, and Tinhead work together to find the location of the energy source (call a ‘Bright and Shiny Thing’, or BST). In the final battle, on the streets of Dusseldorf, Staramba Man/Schaefer realises that the Creator and Feelgood are the same person, and that he has been manipulated by his mentor into finding the BST. After a long and protracted battle, in which Staramba Man is nearly defeated, Tinhead comes to his aid and they manage to overpower and defeat The Creator.
THE INEVITABLE SEQUEL
The film finishes with Staramba Man standing in the streets and trying to understand what comes next. After a few moments, a mysterious stranger appears and tells him that he is not the only one on the globe with super-powers. Although he was not born with those powers, they are now his to use—and use responsibly.
Instead of taking on the responsibility, Staramba Man/Schaefer turns to Tinhead and gives her the headset, reflecting that she is the only one who truly understands the power and potential of the technology. “You know this better than anyone,” he tells her. “You be the general and I’ll be the soldier.” In stepping aside and making room for her to become Staramba Woman, Schaefer acknowledges that some people are born to lead and some are born to follow.
The movie finishes with the new character, the Mysterious Stranger, promising to show them the way. And, as with every Marvel sequel, there will be a promise that things will get really ‘dark’.
But that’s the sequel. Let’s get this one made first, Marvel, and then we can talk about a follow-up. Just contact me here at the Staramba office.
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- Avengers: Endgame trailer, YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcMBFSGVi1c)
- Chris Evans in The Fantastic Four, YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrEZ0byUInI)
- Chris Hemsworth in Star Trek, YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GqdntnVUKg)
- Robert Downey Jr in Spider-Man: Homecoming (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HOb-virbaE)
- The Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger, YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6l0PNsZjJRs)
- Deutschland 83 trailer, YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvZyUlD7Yq0)