Check Out Marvel’s Avengers On This Week’s Entertainment Weekly Cover

Here are the highlights from Entertainment Weekly’s October 7th, 2011 issue featuring The Avenger’s cover story (on newsstands nationwide Friday, September 30th):

“What do you get when you put Marvel’s biggest superheroes in a room together? In this week’s cover story, Entertainment Weekly went to the set of The Avengers to find out.

For Avengers aficionados, there will be plenty of details to debate and drool over between now and May 4, 2012, when the film launches next summer’s movie season. But the lure of the film, particularly for casual fans, is simply seeing the buff and (mostly) brainy all-star team—Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)— standing united at the law-enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D., which dispatches them in a giant flying helicarrier to danger zones around the world.

The stakes are obviously high for the film, which just wrapped filming. At risk is not only the movie’s estimated $220 million budget, but also one of the most promising tent pole franchises in Hollywood. The Avengers comprises half a dozen iconic Marvel Comics characters, many of whom could spawn a stand-alone franchise. Iron Man 3 and Thor 2, each aiming for theaters in 2013, could be either dramatically helped or hurt based on how The Avengers is received. Legions of devoted fans worldwide are just praying The Avengers doesn’t get screwed up on its way to the screen. The movie’s writer-director, Joss Whedon, is one of them.  The creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the cowboy/space saga Firefly is a pop culture demigod—and no stranger to ensembles or superheroes, having helped with the script for this summer’s Captain America and having written some of the acclaimed Astonishing X-Men comic-book series. Still, The Avengers has him feeling like what The Hulk might call a ‘puny human.’ “Every day I make some boneheaded mistake,” he confides. “And I go, ‘Really? Wow. So no learning curve, huh?’ ” Whedon says he’s occasionally gone home after a long night of shooting and detoured straight to the local Starbucks to spend the dawn hours hammering out much more detailed new scenes. He laughs nervously. “There is a weird element of: They handed me one of the biggest movies of all time, and I’m making it up as I go.”

Some fixes have been easy. Others have been more taxing. Before filming began, Ruffalo had to take over the role of The Hulk from Edward Norton, who was dropped from The Avengers after clashing with Marvel over the final cut of 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. In the spirit of camaraderie, Ruffalo called his predecessor before accepting the role: “Norton and I are friends, and he was like, ‘You’ve gotta do it, buddy.’ He basically bequeathed it to me. It was very cool and very generous of him.”

On the Iron Man movies, Downey became infamous for improvising and pushing for heat-of-the-moment script revisions. Or, as he colorfully puts it, “I dominated like a rabid, horny gorilla.” But that impulse had to be tempered on The Avengers, which requires more sharing than he’s used to—something Downey learned after pushing too hard for Tony Stark to take center stage in Whedon’s early drafts. “I said, ‘I don’t know what you’re thinking, but Tony needs to drive this thing,’ ” Downey recalls. “He was like, ‘Okay, let’s try that.’ We tried it and it didn’t work. Because this is a different sort of thing. Everybody is just an arm of the octopus.”

In the end, the actors are so glad to be sharing the burden that the cast and crew joke that the code name for the movie— used to avoid unnecessary attention during the shoot—is Group Hug. “Joss describes it as the definition of family,” says Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. “These are people who have no business being together, but they are thrust together and need to make the best of it.” To that end, he says Marvel is keeping the focus on these core characters, and not introducing a slate of new heroes through cameos. “We didn’t want to make a big mess,” Feige says. “They don’t walk through the S.H.I.E.L.D.  commissary and see another 20 superheroes.”

One thing that did help the actors bond was shooting in New Mexico, where they all were out of their element. “Any time you film somewhere where nobody is from, you’re forced to hang out together off set,” Evans says. “No one knows anybody, no one has any prior obligations out here, no one has any dinner plans because we’re all alone.” Johansson, Ruffalo, and Renner caught a Mötley Crüe concert, and Whedon (when he’s not rewriting) has been known to take his team dancing. Wait…dancing? “It’s my favorite thing in the world. I know every dance club in Albuquerque,” Whedon says, drop-dead earnest. “It’s not like I’m deliberately saying, ‘Oh, we must foster a sense of unity,’ but it’s fun when you see everybody cutting loose together.” Renner says they got even closer when the production moved to Cleveland later in the summer: “We were all in the same hotel, huddled together. It was like being at camp.”

Could they be getting along too well? Whedon shrugs. “I was like, well, if they hate each other, I guess we can use that,” he jokes. “But they don’t.””

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