Which 'Avengers' Cast Members Are Most Expendable?

Robert Downey Jr. Avengers

There's an interview with Robert Downey Jr. in Collider that's got me thinking about the actors in Marvel's very lucrative superhero stable.  When the website's Steve "Frosty" Weintraub asked the actor if he's going to sign on for several more Marvel movies or take them "one at a time", Downey responded that he wasn't sure but then added candidly: "Let’s just say that me, the agents and the lawyers are having a bit of a ball right now."  

In other words, the Iron Man 3 star realizes just how vital he is to Marvel's plan for cinematic superhero domination, and he's going to milk it for all its worth. And he should

Sure, no actor is indispensable in the-show-will-go-on world of big-studio movie production, but I'd wager that the appeal and the box office of the Iron Man and The Avengers franchises would take a big hit should Downey ever hang up his metal suit. He sets the standard against which all other superhero performances —  Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne/Batman included — should be judged, and Disney/Marvel should do everything it can to hold on to him.  His portrayal of Tony Stark is a pitch-perfect mix of wit, swagger and emotional depth that satisfies Marvel Comics fans and moviegoers who've never picked up an issue of Iron Man. He also brings his previous history as a self-destructive party boy to the role, so Stark never seems less than authentic.  I hope he is having a ball negotiating his next contract.

The Avengers' Best Heroes

But what about the other key members of the current Marvel Universe?  Here's how I rank them in terms of their importance to the Marvel movie franchise:

1. Robert Downey Jr.:  As close to indispensable as it gets. (See above.) Also, hands down, he has the coolest costume of the group.

2. Chris Evans Although Evans is nowhere near as interesting an actor as Downey, his soulful, no-nonsense portrayal of Captain America makes him a good straight (edge) man to Tony Stark's class clown. Also, thanks to the surprisingly well done origin movie, Captain America: The First Avenger,  Evans' character is the second-best developed member of the Avengers. Unless his standalone sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier tanks, he's in a good place.  By the way, I'd love to see Cap's costume, particularly the cheesy headgear, updated.

3. Scarlett Johansson: ScarJo was reportedly offered $20 million to reprise the Black Widow in The Avengers 2, and I hope that means she'll get an equally rich narrative arc in the sequel. Her storyline in The Avengers left a lot to be desired, especially since Johansson has the chops to do much more with her character. (The flip side of that is she's an ambitious actress who has much bigger career goals than playing a leather-clad superhero.)  She also has such a distinct look and Ferrari-style curves that it would be a mistake to replace her. If push came to shove, I suspect the producers would just write Black Widow out of the story. The good news is that, as the first woman member of this cinematic superhero team, it's in Marvel's interest to keep her happy and present. That said, I'm still crossing my fingers that Lizzy Caplan gets at least a cameo in the sequel.

4. Chris Hemsworth:  Thor is an example of a character where the costume overshadows the guy inside it. Hemsworth's a fine acting, but there are so many brawny-but-emo actors who look good wearing long flowing locks and holding a giant hammer that I don't think Hemsworth would be missed all that much if he gave up his breastplate.  Then again, if Thor: The Dark World  does gangbusters,  he could bump Evans from the number-two spot.

5. Jeremy RennerHawkeye was never the most scintillating Avenger. I mean, the dude shoots arrows. But Renner has a memorable face, does smart-ass really well and is good at expressing the inner darkness that makes comic geeks, ahem, quiver with excitement.  I think it also helps that his costume is not memorable.  It makes the actor who wears it that much more important. The problem is that, like Black Widow, Hawkeye pretty much served as window dressing last time around, and Renner reportedly was not happy with that. His part is supposed to be more substantial in the sequel. We'll see.

6. Mark Ruffalo I thought Eric Bana made a better Bruce Banner, but, really, it's all about the CGI here.  It was the computer-generated Hulk that got laughs and high marks from fans in The Avengers. Hell, Carrot Top could play Banner, and I don't think fans would raise a stink.


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  • Avenger122 says:

    It's about how Marvel develops the movies. If they make the world rich enough, they can have a movie without RDJ then have one with him...have one without Evans and have one with him.

    One thing they are in desperate need of is more females and considering Marvel has a large roster, I find it crazy that the Marvel movies are so male-centric.

    • Jay says:

      The thing with the Avengers is that the roster changes with every mission they go on. If Loki's not the bad guy, Thor doesn't have to be there. If Ironman is busy, Captain America can lead. Hulk only works in these movies if he's with the Avengers, so they'll bring him back every time. They haven't even introduced some of the ones from the books yet.
      As for the female heroes, most of the best ones are actually part of the X-men series, and FOX isn't planning to give up the rights to that francise just yet.

  • CBFAN! says:

    Robert Downey Jr. didn't set the standard against which all other superhero performances. Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne/Batman set the standard. How ignorant!

    • Frank DiGiacomo says:

      I've been a fan of Christian Bale since 'Empire of the Sun', but I can't agree with you there. Downey is the state of the art.

    • Ahr Mon says:

      Bale was OK, but honestly, the Bat-Voice disqualifies him for being the #1 contender. That was awful.

      Even though I *hate* the character, I say Christopher Reeve set the standard as Superman in the 1978 version. But hey, to each his own...

  • CBFAN! says:

    Both Jeremy Renner and Scarlett can #### off!!!!!

  • markfromky says:

    I agree with you on most points. Consider, a group of seriously SUPER super heroes, containing two run of the mill human beings with no extraordinary abilities save some martial arts/assassin/espionage training and a guy with really good eyes that has incredibly good aim and a few trick arrows. Now, accepting these into the group (I was never really crazy about Hawkeye myself, and as far as heroes, Black Widow seems like she should fall a little shorter than she did in the movie.

    That being said, If Black Widow is to remain in the movies, Scarlett Johanssen is the one to play the part, she has the acting chops to handle Widow's complex character and the physical ability to pull off the fight scenes and look good doing it all.

    As for your assessment of Thor. Chris Hemsworth seems to have the part locked. The costume and special effects are a BIG part of Thor's presence, but Chris Hemsworth has captured Thor's persona almost perfectly. I know it's an actor and a role.

    I defended the newest amazing Spiderman actor (funny can't remember his name unless I look it up) with the simple argument that, as a fan of Marvel Comics, I've seen him through different artists and writers and story lines, and he's always been Spiderman/Peter Parker, no matter what he actually looked like.

    This having been said, Chris Hemsworth (while I wouldn't necessarily move him up on the
    list numerically) deserves better than he was given in your assessment I believe...

    Sorry if I was a bit wordy.

  • Frank DiGiacomo says:

    Well put, Mark -- not wordy at all. As a huge Spidey fan, I think Andrew Garfield is a worthy Peter Parker. But, like the initial Sony trilogy, I felt that 'The Amazing Spider-Man' fell far short of my expectations. There is such a rich, exciting universe to be mined there, but it's not ending up on screen. Maybe Spider-Man is actually too good for the movies.

    • markfromky says:

      It seems we all agree to agree... LOL I THOROUGHLY enjoyed this particular interpretation of Bruce Banner, I know he was always a simpering tiny little man in the comics but in more recent years he has most definitely become more assertive and possibly a little more angry but in control... Mark
      Ruffalo was Excellent in the part. And I do think that THOR would have been a little more pissed and closer to his righteous -fury stage, where he decides that anything can be fixed with a hard enough hammerblow... LOL I LOVE THOR always have (although Spidey will always be my fave).

      As for cutting anyone, You could replace Hawkeye with someone a little less somber, I seem to remember him being a cut-up unless the situation required more seriousness. Also, what's up with them taking all these liberties with costumes... I say if the man wore a purple cowl in the comics he should wear a purple cowl in the movie!!! And to be honest, Caps headgear? It Was goofy in the beginning, had to go through quite a few artists to finally change that...

      Love the discussion guys... 😀 Keep it comin' I've been a Marvel Fanboy since oh, let's sayThe mid to early 70's, could talk about it all day. Actually got cornered by a blowhard intellectual in the library while checking out the movie, and he tried to tell me that there was no Nega-force blast from Mjolnir just didn't exist he said. sheah right, and pigs might fly out of my butt.... LOL

      Somebody ask me how Thor flies sometime if you really want to hear what I think about that, pretty heady stuff (I'm an amateur physicist too)

  • P.F. Bruns says:

    Sorry, but I can't agree on Mark Ruffalo's Hulk. I thought he was tons more entertaining. I do agree that Cap's headgear was ridiculous, and that Hawkeye and Black Widow needed more to do. Hemsworth's Thor was, in my view, quite good, but he wasn't called upon to provide too much emotional content, which was an odd choice, what with Loki leading the Chitauri invasion and all.

  • liquidmuse says:

    Yeah...terrible "analysis" on the Ruffalo/Banner thing. The gravitas he built into that role made us care about this berserker freak even more, & almost made us forget that The Hulk wasn't even screen. Just think, nobody wants to see a Bana/Norton Hulk again...everyone's clamouring for a Ruffalo...

    • Frank DiGiacomo says:

      Gravitas? Ruffalo wasn't on screen long enough to exhibit anything close to gravitas. Bana was better.

  • Feldman Hawkes says:

    Ruffalo was effing brilliant as Banner. He brought much needed humanity to the character. Yes, Cap's old outfit was better in the solo movie. All the rest are solid, but I'm not a fan of Jeremy Renner. Maybe he'll be better in the second movie. I'm not feeling Thanos. Yet another alien threat? Meh.

    • Jay says:

      They need an alien threat to do an Avengers movie. All the human threats they can handle on their own. That's why they have the solo movies!

    • Frank DiGiacomo says:

      Feldman, you mean Ruffalo was fracking brilliant as Banner. Har.

  • Katie Guinn says:

    I thought Mark Ruffalo was brilliant as Bruce Banner! Eric Bana on the other hand was completely forgettable. When I first heard that Ruffalo was going to be playing the part, I was less than impressed, but he brought a lot of feeling to the character that I think was missing in the earlier movies. I would love to see a Hulk movie with him in the lead!

  • wolfprince13 says:

    I love how the Banner banter is all about Bana v. Ruffalo and poor Ed Norton is tossed to the wayside.
    That said, I thought Ruffalo was a much more enjoyable Banner than either of his predecessors. Yes he was on screen for a briefer time, but I felt more of a connection to him in that short span than either Bana or Norton in their full length appearances.
    As an actor and a comic nerd, Bana felt shallow to me. To me he was merely there as an explanation for the angsty CGI behemoth's presence. (Mostly the script's fault but not completely) and Norton felt like.. well.. Norton.
    Feel free to disagree, but there's my 2 cents.
    Otherwise, I'd say I agree with most of your assessments. I've always loved Hawkeye and I look forward to seeing him fleshed out for the next outing. I like what Renner brought to the table here, but I want to see more.
    As for RDJ and Chris Evans, those two are spot on and I dearly hope they stay around for a while.
    When I first heard Evans' name attached to Cap, I was put off. All I could see was The Human Torch from Fantastic Four and, to me, the thought was jarring, but the man pulled it out beautifully and I am very happy with the result.
    As for ScarJo, I'm anxious to see where they take her. The Black Widow has no superpowers, and yet (in the books) she is at one point the Chairwoman and field leader of the Avengers. I'd love to see more of that tactical mind brought to bear.
    Hemsworth has done an admirable job, but I'm afraid you're right there. It is kind of a case of "Insert muscled hunk with Fabio hair here" I like Hemsworth and am very happy with his portrayal, but another actor wouldn't destroy the illusion.
    OK, I'll stop rambling now
    Love reading your stuff Frank. Keep up the good work.

  • markfromky says:

    My only problem with this whole topic is, What happens if the FF and the Avengers should ever have to work together? How they gonna explain the fact that you never see Johnny and Steve at the same time??? OMG he's Batman!!!

    I know I jumped across a big fence to get from Marvelous Marvel to Dull DC (shouldn't really insult them, I like DC too, I just like Marvel better) But I thought it was funny when I wrote it... Not so sure now... LOL

    • Jay says:

      FOX still holds the rights to The Fantastic Four, so there's not much chance of a crossover with Disney running The Avengers. However, if it did happen, it's easy to make an actor appear with himself in the same frame. Hollywood figured that one out decades ago!

      • markfromky says:

        This is entirely too true, Marvel should retain rights to everything they create so they can do crossovers and such.

        OH, If they do THANOS in the next flick, I think The Mighty Thor will get a chance to play a more major part in it, since he's the one that finally fixed that problem in the comics...

        And finally, there's one fight I read in the comics between Thor and The Hulk that I would mightily like to see done in live action. at one point, One of them, I can't remember which, grabbed a locomotive leapt into the air and slammed the entire engine all the cars and the caboose down on the other, and the other got up and continued the fight.

        There's lots of reasons why it could have been either one of them that did it. here are my favorite two.
        A: It's a pretty destructive move, I wouldn't put it past the Hulk, But Thor was PRETTY pissed at the time so I could see his battle rage driving him on to do something like that.
        B: I've seen each of them at various times, survive worse, it's just such an awesome visual!!!
        Oh and my favorite part of the panel was the wording. It said something on the order of, "We couldn't think of a sound effect that would do this justice."

        There I go running on at the keyboard again... LOL

  • JamesProsser says:

    Ruffalo's Hulk and Renner's Hawkeye should rate higher. Both good actors and they did the best they could with what they were given. I wouldn't miss Hemsworth. ScarJo always plays the same character: herself. It's high time she stopped coasting on her image and got acting lessons and a speech coach.

  • Bana was better? Sorry, you're out to lunch on that one... Bana was by far the weakest of the three actors who have played Banner in recent years, I thought Ruffalo was great, as was the side story of the two brainiacs in the group being friends...