Marvel Cinematic Universe – An Ambitious Experiment That Is Paying Off
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (shall be referred as MCU in the rest of the article) is a powerhouse in the movie industry. It started out as an experiment, using some of Marvel’s better known characters but not their A-List characters. It became apparent that the experiment was paying off (after the success of the Avenger’s movie) and this made the MCU move in directions that were more ambitious. Marvel Studios was making their cinematic universe succeed through good storytelling, great acting and the right amount of comedy to lighten the mood.
The most interesting thing about the early success of the MCU is the fact that Marvel’s A-List characters at the time (Spider-Man, Venom, X-Men, Fantastic Four and others) were not the focus. It can be argued that Iron Man, Thor and Captain America were A-List characters, and there may be some merit to this because they are part of the Avengers, but then it can be argued that their popularity grew upon the positive reception of their movies. I would argue that while they are mainstays of the Marvel Comic Universe, their comic sales at the time were behind those of Spider-Man and the X-Men, thus not as bankable in the cinematic universe.
Another thing that the MCU did well was to diversify the tone of their movies. While it is most likely that when writing a comic book movie, based off of comic source material, that it would have more of a comic book tone. Instead, those in charge of the MCU decided to allow the directors to put their stamp on the movies, while adhering to the overreaching story line that had been drawn out. This gave us comic book movies that played as a different style of movie, thus creating a more interesting movie.
Marvel Movies of Old
Marvel comics have inspired movies for over 50 years. The first was a Captain America serial, when Marvel was called Timely Comics, in 1944. It took another 42 years until the release of the next movie based off of a Marvel character. This was one of the weirdest movies ever made called Howard the Duck. Following this cinematic failure, there were several other cinematic failures before there was something of a success.
Blade was one of the first movies that enjoyed some success. It was a relatively well-made film with a decent story and good acting. It was also made in a time when the thought of a crossover universe was not considered viable. So, there were several movies made that could have had stories or characters that crossed over, but were handled independently. This included a lot of characters that hailed from the same city, yet had no mention of each other in their films.
The first X-Men and first Spider-Man film of their respective series were groundbreaking at the time. They were extremely well-made, had great acting and casting, had thoughtful stories that were fairly true to their comic book source material. They were successful enough to spawn sequels, which some were more successful and some were near embarrassing as a continuation of their series.
Starting with Blade, there were 16 movies made from Marvel comic source material before Iron Man was released. Through them all, there was one constant influence in the form of comic super-nerd, Kevin Feige, serving as a producer of some type. He worked a lot of different ideas into the movies, trying to be faithful to the source material while giving us good movies, and yet having to keep the characters in separate universes.
Kevin Feige’s Influence
Kevin Feige has had his hands in just about every Marvel related TV and movie project since Fox Studios made the first X-Men movie. He has been some type of producer in these projects, from associate producer to the executive producer.
Under his direction, the MCU has become a huge success. There has been a continuous story that is linked together with each movie, some with small teases or end credits scenes, and some with the bulk of the story contributing to pushing the larger story forward. Marvel Studios has had to call some audibles and change the vehicles in which the overreaching story is told, such as making The Inhumans a TV show as opposed to a feature length movie, or adding Spider-Man to the roster by securing movie rights in a joint venture with Sony Entertainment.
Kevin Feige is regarded with a lot of respect due to his knowledge of the comic universe that he is largely responsible for adapting to the big screen. His commitment to bringing the fans the best of what is available through stories that have been adapted for the big screen is astounding. A lot of B-List heroes have had amazing roles within the MCU due to giving them a spot that may have been reserved for an A-List hero, had they been available (due to movie rights).
Putting It All Together
When the MCU started, we were introduced to a B-List hero that was part of a major team in the comics. Iron Man is arguably one of the most well-known heroes at this time due to the success of his movies. This success was due to how the adaption of his origin story was handled and the way that it was grounded in our reality. From the first movie, the hint of the larger universe was made clear in the end credits scene.
Then, we were given The Incredible Hulk. Another standalone movie that was better than Marvel movies of the past. Again, it wasn’t until the end credits scene where we were teased with a larger universe when Tony Stark finds General Bolt in a bar and mentions putting a team together.
This end credits scene tease was to become a regular expectation of movies in the MCU. It provided the viewer with a credible tease of what the next movie was to be, or a tease of the larger story behind that of the movies. This is one of the things that the MCU got right the first time and never relented upon. The direction of the MCU was always moving forward, with a clear path of what the end story was, but the movies that provided the viewer with the build up to that story did change some as the universe was becoming more stable.
Maintaining The Universe
The MCU could have become a stagnant universe, content with putting out movies a few times a year, giving the viewer these awesome but limited chunks of story. Instead, Marvel tried its hand with producing TV shows on various networks that used some actors from the movies and tied the universe together on the big screen and the small screen. This has for the most part been a success.
Agents of SHIELD brought us another outlet for those who were looking for Marvel stories that were grounded in a reality more similar to that of what we are living through. The major heroes were left out and the focus was on the SHIELD team and their missions. When Captain America: Winter Soldier hit the big screen and SHIELD was dismantled, the show was also affected.
When the deal was struck to give the MCU access to Spider-Man, it was considered a major milestone in the legitimacy of the MCU’s success. Sony has historically been very protective of the Spider-Man movie rights, and for good reasons. They own the movie rights to the most well-known hero in Marvel history and have made a lot of money making good and bad Spider-Man movies. With Spider-Man added to the character roster of Captain America: Civil War, the audience was finally paid back for their patience and perseverance. We campaigned for him and we got him. The first sighting of him in the trailer was a huge moment for me. I knew it was coming, but I still raised my arms and exclaimed in joy when I saw it.
Marvel Studios has done an excellent job of adding new heroes and villains to the universe while continuing the story across separate movies. As with Spider-Man, other characters were added after initially not being on the roster. Others, such as Black Panther, had their roles altered or expanded to better suit the developing movies.
It Can Only Get Better
The MCU is at a major turning point in the story of Thanos and his quest for the Infinity Stones. It appears that our heroes have lost the battle for the fate of the universe. Thanos has a completed Infinity Gauntlet and has snapped his fingers, destroying half of all existence. As our heroes fade to dust, along with a lot of other living beings across the universe, there is confusion and sadness among the living.
Historically, the MCU has not been extremely dark and sad. There have been moments of loss, pain and sadness, but it seemed those moments were merely there to push the story forward. The pain that our heroes endure because of Thanos’ actions is more than they’ve ever felt before. Thanos seems to be unbeatable. Our heroes appear to have struggled in vain.
Not only is this a change in mood, but it will usher in a change in the major heroes in the MCU. The original cast is nearing the end of their film obligations. It is time to pass the torch on to a new generation of heroes. This is evident with the introduction of Spider-Man, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Dr Strange and Captain Marvel. It is known that some of our heroes will not return after the conclusion of the Infinity War. Some may see this a bad thing because of how heavily invested we are with the current group of main heroes, but it really isn’t.
When the MCU was put together, it was done with a version of the Avengers team that may have included major players, but still were not really the most marketable of the Marvel Universe characters. So, this change is like a new beginning, except we have a rich backstory to prop the new beginning on and continue forward. This is a level of genius planning that really shows the love that the people involved have for this project. We, the viewers, will continue to receive great movies as long as this love is never lost.