The Avengers

Photo Credit: Lex Rojas | Daily Texan Staff

While big-budgeted movies, such as the “The Avengers,” are expected to draw millions in box office profit, hundreds of independently produced films scramble just to make it to theaters. 

Independent films, which are movies major film studios do not produce, fight tooth and nail to reach an audience. To do this, they try to sell the film’s rights to film distribution companies. 

Major film studios normally don’t have to worry about this because they have the financial backing necessary to get their film into theaters. If the producer of an indie film fails to find a channel to release the movie, then they have no guarantee of making a profit.

Film distribution companies help movies reach mass audiences. They have the power to determine both a film’s release date and whether it’s released in theaters or through a different medium. Although a majority of distributors generally try to push the film into theaters, the growth of the video-on-demand industry creates an incentive for releasing films straight to streaming services. 

Films that stream on a video-on-demand service have a better opportunity to gain audience attention because they don’t have to compete with studio films. Distributors also provide both publicity and marketing services for a film, meaning they create posters, trailers and other forms of advertisements. 

The first step for a producer hoping to get a film distributed is to screen it everywhere. The process of finding a film distributor usually begins when an indie films premieres at a film festivals. Festivals such as South By Southwest allow directors to present their movies to hard-core film lovers and help build much-needed hype for their work. Producers pray for glowing reviews and strong word-of-mouth for their films, as these things set them apart from the competition and increase the chance of getting purchased. 

Films that fail to attract buyers at one festival move on to others until they finally attract a distributor. If a producer can’t find a buyer, then the only remaining option is self-distribution — an expensive venture. Finding a potential buyer is a harrowing task. Film news website Indiewire speculated that out of 110 feature films the 2012 Sundance Film Festival screened, only an estimated 40 films would be purchased by distributors.

A few independent films that premiered at SXSW last month managed to pick up distribution deals. Drafthouse Films bought “The Invitation,” a thriller that premiered with favorable reviews. “Manson Family Vacation,” a quirky black comedy, reached an agreement with Netflix. These acquisition deals pave the way for these films to become big hits.

Once a film has been acquired by a distributor, the marketing aspect comes into effect. HowStuffWorks columnist Jeff Tyson wrote that distributors “determine the best strategy for opening the movie” and consider factors such as target audience, star power and season. They have to do everything in their power to ensure that the indie film, on which they spent up to seven figures, generates a profit.

This isn’t the absolute way that indie films are bought and distributed. Numerous factors go into such a complex process. Independent film producers face treacherous, uncertain roads as they present their movie to the world. Some get lucky and snatch up a distribution deal after one successful run at a film festival. Others consider self-distribution or evaluate a video-on-demand release. Either way, it’s important to know that there are hundreds of small films just waiting to burst onto the scene dominated by big-budget studio films. 

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a prime example of the growth of the Marvel film series. Just as the first “Captain America” film led into the events of “The Avengers,” “The Winter Soldier” also serves as a setup for larger events to come. Even though the movie connects with a much bigger plot, it still manages to tell an entertaining, self-contained story. “The Winter Soldier” is a fun, thrilling superhero flick that beautifully mixes serious action with funny humor and likeable characters.

After the events of “The Avengers,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) struggles with adapting to life in a modern age while embodying the role of Captain America. He stays loyal to the country by continuing to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. and its head, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Finding a plot in the works to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. down from the inside, Captain America works with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and former soldier Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to stop forces that plan to simultaneously assassinate millions of citizens. Meanwhile, the three are stalked by a mysterious enemy, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who poses a deadly threat to the team.

Marvel films tend to include an appropriate amount of humor in their plots and often use it more naturally than the gritty DC Universe films. “The Winter Soldier” follows this trend, as most of the jokes stick while every subtle, humorous gesture possesses great timing. These action scenes are phenomenal and well-paced while maintaining a constant, pulsing thrill. The action-loaded climax, which takes place on a monstrous Helicarrier, demonstrates the excellent pacing and brutality of each punch. 

The effects, despite relying on an overload of CGI, seem real enough to enhance the setting. The story features a few gimmicky, predicable plot elements, but it unfolds with a smart instinct for audience expectations and is richly entertaining. References to other Marvel heroes and villains are dropped constantly, yet they feel like natural universe-building, not forced synergy. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo show a clear knack for balance as they paint a fun comic book story with heavy action and complex character relationships.

Evans steps up his acting game as Cap, who finds his loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. and his country tested. But it is clear that Johansson and Mackie are the real acting powerhouses. Johansson has Widow pegged as a sardonic, but dangerous, heroine who is enchanting in almost every scene. Mackie, who plays Falcon, is also a humorous and effective character who commands the camera. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury, who actually has a larger role in the film than he has had in any other Marvel film, and it seems that he has perfected a formula that keeps his performance of the character from growing stale. Robert Redford plays a big role in the film, dominating as a powerful S.H.I.E.L.D. official. Oddly enough, the titular antagonist is surprisingly underplayed. The Winter Soldier is offered as a small tool of a larger threat. Stan, who played a role in the previous film, portrays him as overly mysterious, and while he looks extremely cool with his robotic armor and lethal persona, he lacks much of a character. The Winter Soldier is more of a force of mayhem than a fully realized villain.

Overall, “The Winter Soldier” is perhaps the best Marvel offering since “The Avengers.” Its great action and fantastic story present pure blockbuster entertainment. Mixed with stellar performances and well placed humor, the film proves that Marvel has succeeded in finding the balance that keeps superhero movies fun without being too gritty or campy. Despite being considered a prequel for next year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “The Winter Soldier” is a great blend of elements that make an incredibly powerful superhero movie.

The Avengers

Thor portrayed by Chris Hemsworth, left, and Captain America, portrayed by Chris Evans, are shown in a scene from “The Avengers” (Photo courtesy of Disney).

Ever since Samuel L. Jackson poked his eye-patched head in for the post-credits stinger in “Iron Man,” audiences have been looking forward to the inevitable “Avengers” movie. In creating this film, Marvel Studios had to launch four separate franchises and establish four superheroes worth caring about in the process. One misstep, and it could have been a disaster. Not only did they do it, they absolutely nailed it. “The Avengers” is the best film in the Marvel canon, a massively entertaining summer blockbuster and a huge success for writer/director Joss Whedon.

Thanks to their respective setup films, we already know Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It would be easy to say Whedon had all the tough work done for him since each of these heroes was established in their own film (or two), but juggling these big, distinct personalities could have been an equally foreboding challenge. Whedon doesn’t disappoint, and he crafts a true ensemble, even as each character gets his own big moment.

Each of the films preceding “The Avengers” had its own issues, but if there’s one thing Marvel has done right on a consistent basis, it’s casting. Chris Hemsworth has had a great month between this and the Whedon-scripted “The Cabin in the Woods,” and his Thor is much more layered and interesting as he is forced to battle with his brother, the nefarious Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Hiddleston is fantastic here, full of anger and insecurity, and his chemistry with Hemsworth gives the film’s conflict an emotional complexity that many comic book good vs. evil stories lack.

Evans and Downey are the characters who chafe the most often as Captain America’s unflappable optimism clashes with Iron Man’s shielded cynicism, and “The Avengers” is smart in the way it incorporates Tony Stark’s daddy issues into their relationship. Evans continues to impress as Steve Rogers is relocated to a time period he doesn’t understand, and Downey’s Tony Stark comes so naturally at this point that it’s impossible to discuss the character without thinking of his portrayal.

The only major cast member who didn’t get a chance to establish himself in a previous film is Mark Ruffalo, but he’s a perfect fit for Bruce Banner, and the Hulk ultimately ends up walking away with the movie. Ruffalo plays Banner not as an emotionally conflicted scientist, but as a man who’s come to terms with his unusual condition. When the Hulk finally comes out, it’s equal parts inevitable descent into madness and joyous celebration of destruction, and many of the best beats in Whedon’s sprawling Manhattan climax focus on the green force of nature..

For “The Avengers” to work, Marvel needed not only someone who could write well for its heroes, but someone who could deliver action scenes on a massive scale, and Joss Whedon turns out to be the perfect man for the job. His setup is quick and easy, and starting with the opening assault on a military base, Whedon stages his action scenes with incredible scope. From there, he just goes bigger and bigger, while never losing sight of his characters and infusing the most intense moments with a sharp sense of humor.

The film’s final action set piece, a sprawling alien invasion in Manhattan, is a climax in the truest sense of the word. Whedon finds a way to pay off character dynamics that have been simmering the entire film while staging one of the most impressive, massive action scenes to hit screens in far too long. Imagine the epic final battle in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” but this time, you actually care about the characters, and you have an idea of how insanely exciting and satisfying “The Avengers” is.

“The Avengers” is the event movie that every summer blockbuster wishes it could be, the final result of a grand, multi-franchise experiment that works better than anyone ever dreamed it could. Thanks to Joss Whedon, the strong cast and the undeniably smart people pulling the strings at Marvel, “The Avengers” is a resounding success and a wonderful start to what promises to be an unforgettable summer of movies.

Printed on Thursday, May 3, 2012 as: 'Avengers' blasts off with solid cast, staging