Blockbuster Blitz

10 years ago, Marvel changed superhero movies forever with one perfect shot

“The world has changed.”

Almost a decade ago, in the summer of 2012, the Marvel Cinematic Universe delivered its first billion-dollar baby — setting the Disney-owned superhero franchise on track to becoming the most lucrative of all time.

The success of The Avengers, Marvel’s first team-up movie, had been presaged by a marketing campaign that communicated, with rousing results, the grand potential of a shared universe (back when that was far from a box-office guarantee).

By the time the Super Bowl had rolled around that February, Disney’s marketing campaign for The Avengers was already in full swing and had seen massive interest from fans who’d made the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s freshman entries — including Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man 2, and Captain America: The First Avenger — box-office successes in their own rights.

The trailer cycle for The Avengers had started earlier than planned when a teaser trailer intended for the post-credits scene of Captain America leaked online. Marvel soon leaned into the hype with a presentation at the 2011 Comic Con expo in New York, shortly following this with the release of a two-minute trailer that was downloaded over 10 million times in 24 hours.

And so the Super Bowl teaser for The Avengers essentially had its work cut out for it. In 30 seconds, such a spot would heighten audience anticipation for what was already shaping up to be one of the biggest films of 2012. That same month, the debut of a second full-length trailer had been even more widely viewed than the first, mandating that Super Bowl spot emphasize the film’s “event” nature while making apparent exactly what the brand’s fans were preemptively cheering for.

Opening on a somber, downbeat note, the spot in question sees New York under siege by an unidentified threat, which sends explosions tearing through a busy street of taxi cabs and cowering passerby.

“The world has changed,” says Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, talking to a thawed-out Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) — though, for audiences who’d missed Captain America, there was no need to over-explain the shot of him wrapping his hand in a boxing gym as he replied, “I doubt there’s anything that would surprise me.”

And yet, Rogers looks slightly taken aback in the teaser when flashes of the titular superheroes assembling bring him face-to-face with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) suiting up in the familiar Iron Man armor. Elsewhere, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) raises his hammer to the sky as lightning strikes a New York skyscraper, teasing his entrance into the fray.

The Avengers assembled.Marvel

The dialogue is sparse and functional — “Mr. Stark,” “Captain,” “It’s time” — as characters dispense with the introductions in favor of steeling themselves for a tough battle against alien spaceships invading the streets of New York with destructive laser beams. There’s the fully transformed Hulk roaring into battle as he leaps through the air and punches through one adversary, Thor helping Captain America, and Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) bracing behind Cap’s shield as an explosion almost takes her out.

A spirit of camaraderie shines through in all these shots, delivered upon with the money shot comic-book readers had been waiting decades to see: a climactic pan circling all the Avengers, fully assembled in the heat of the moment, ready for battle.

That electrifying image, more than any preceding it, embodied the grand promise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and — in just 30 seconds, in the midst of the year’s biggest sporting event — confirmed that its architects were finally ready to deliver upon it.

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