'The Avengers' at 10: How Marvel's superhero team-up changed the most from original script to screen

·3-min read

Would-be blockbusters get written. Then they get rewritten. And sometimes they get rewritten again. Often each round is scripted by a different a writer with a different vision.

Which means that there's plenty of what-might-have-been when it comes to the biggest movies of all time.

Take 2012’s The Avengers, Marvel’s inaugural assemblage of its A-team superheroes released in U.S. theaters 10 years ago, on May 4, 2012.

Before writer-director Joss Whedon came on board to unite Iron Man (Robert Downy Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and company, the studio hired Marvel Cinematic Universe vet Zak Penn, fresh off The Incredible Hulk (2008), for scripting duties.

Penn, a prolific scribe whose credits include Last Action Hero and X2, explained how his version differed from Whedon’s in a 2018 interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above).

“All of the dialogue was rewritten, almost all of it,” said Penn, who received a “story by” credit on The Avengers's final cut. “I think the fundamental story elements were put in place beforehand.”

THE AVENGERS, from left: Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, 2012. ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection
Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk in The Avengers. (Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Courtesy of the Everett Collection)

Among the major differences: Penn had Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) as the Avenger who is captured and interrogated (in the film it’s Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow) in a nod to the “Ultimates” comic storyline. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) goes on a rampage in New York (“But it didn’t fit the restructuring,” Penn explained). Loki (Tom Hiddleston) did not arrive until much later in the story. And there’s a scene where everyone attempts to pick up the iconic hammer owned by Thor, which of course played out onscreen in 2015’s sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Penn will be the first to tell you that the latter sequence was not a revolutionary idea, given how many Avengers comics have been written over the years. “There are a lot of scenes where people try to lift Thor’s hammer in the comic books. By the way, everything [happens] if you read through the comic books. There’s been every iteration.”

Again, it’s all part of the business. In 2018 Penn was promoting the Steven Spielberg-directed gamer adventure Ready Player One, which he rewrote from a draft by the author of the novel, Ernest Cline. (Penn’s most recent credit is last year’s hit Ryan Reynolds action-comedy Free Guy.)

“Obviously I’d be a hypocrite sitting here talking about Ready Player One and I said, ‘Oh, my draft was perfect and they should’ve done it that way,’” he said of Avengers, which became the third-highest-grossing film of all time during its release (and currently sits at No. 9). “Clearly, they didn’t screw it up.”

— This story is based on our interview originally published April 2018.