Marvel Cinematic Universe – An Ambitious Experiment That Is Paying Off

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Just Josh

I used to be a cool dude, now I'm a cool dad. I love anime/manga, comics, movies, action figures and collectibles. I hope to pass my passion for all things cool and nerdy on to my son.

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12 Responses

  1. Stacie says:

    I am a huge Marvel fan! My favortie will always be the X-Men! I love Storm, her character and her abilities to control the weather! 

    I think they did a great job with most of the Marvle movies, some I have not seen due to lack of time. But I try to catch them for the most part.

    It sounds like without Kevin Feige, the movies and TV shows wouldn’t be as dynamic as they are. He and Stan Lee must have worked very closely. 

    I am wondering what will become of Marvel with Stan Lee’s passing?  Stan Lee created so many legendary character’s, he will be missed very much!

    Thanks for the great read hear, I learned some new things about Marvel and the movie and TV productions that I did not know.

    Stacie

    • Just Josh says:

      It is very sad to hear of Stan Lee’s passing.  I think that the years that he had invested in the comics, their stories and characters, will provide Kevin Feige more than enough to work with.  This is the great thing about being passionate about something without feeling like it’s a bad thing, other people with the same passion become ambassadors of that passion and keep spreading it!

  2. Shy says:

    I love watching all the different super hero movies, the best part is being able to watch it with my teen daughter, who loves all of the superheros as well.  She really loves Iron Man and Spiderman, those are her faves along with the Flash.  I like pretty much all of them, X-men, Venom, and all the others.  We all lovve Spiderman so much because he is so funny.  My daughter also loves to play Spiderman video games as well as watching the movies.

    • Just Josh says:

      Awesome! My son and I are huge Spider-Man fans!  He has a bunch of toys and costumes that he plays with all the time.  It’s funny when he pretends to be Spider-Man in a public place, people are amused by his “twipping” sounds and him shooting webs.

  3. Stefan says:

    I like how enthusiastic you write about these MCU movie series.

    I’m not that much into comics anymore, I was once, but reading this article wakes my interest back up.

    Movies like Mister America and such really are very entertaining, not much in-depth to ask for but a fun way to spend some hours with the family and kids.

    The newer ones if I understand it right are Spider Man and Black Panther. Black Panther I haven’t seen, I’ll look forward to that.

    The way the movies are made, with animated action scenes is stunning and surely made with a lot of Technic and love.

    • Just Josh says:

      Black Panther was awesome!  There were a lot more themes woven into the story than a simple comic story brought to screen.  I love that the MCU is bringing people back to reading the comics and appreciating where these stories come from.

      I think that the special effects used in these movies is great and does not detract from the story.  To me, the fact that most of the time I don’t even notice the special effects makes these movies that much more awesome.

  4. Huy says:

    I personally  feel like the sucess of Iron Man was largely due to how well Robert Downey Jr. brought Tony Stark to the big screen. I also don’t think the MCU would be what they are today without Disney. I am looking forward to seeing how the MCU will evolve without some of the major original Avengers as the torch gets handed off to the younger Avengers. Great read Josh. 

    • Just Josh says:

      Robert Downey Jr absolutely nailed the role of Tony Stark.  Without his acting skill and look, we would have a very different MCU right now.  I believe his love for the role and promoting the MCU, along with Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, were responsible for it initially sticking.

      I totally agree about the Disney statement.  The MCU had a lot of great ideas early, but as with all the other Marvel properties that have been made into films, they didn’t feel larger than life.  I think you are right that Disney helped give them the staying power and the financial backing to succeed.

  5. Denis says:

    Wow, this is an incredibly well written article.  You have captured my attention all along!  I really like Marvel Comics and I have been a fan for many years, but as I can relate here, you are a much bigger and better informed fan than I am!  

    I did not get to watch all of their film but one thing I missed in all of the ones I watched is the end credit scene teases.  I usually just leave the movie theater right after it’s finished. It’s something that I will definitely watch for those in the future!

    In your opinion, who will be the new generation of superheros to become the next Marvel Cinematic Universe craze?

    • Just Josh says:

      From what I’ve read, Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans are finished with their contracts soon.  I think that we may get Shuri’s role expanded, either in a true combatant form or to be the intellectual replacement to RDJ’s Tony Stark.  Black Panther, Spider-Man and Bucky (Winter Soldier) are sticking around.  I think that they will spearhead the next Marvel team, with Sam Wilson potentially becoming the new Captain America.

  6. fyre says:

    Wow, Howard The Duck, now there is a blast from the past.  I still sing the the weird theme song…most have no clue what I’m on about.  

    You tell the cinematic evolution of MCU very well.  Your 1st MCU figurine picture had me guessing if they were yours…then by the 3rd one I was smiling so hard!  Are they yours? Did you do that?!  So, enjoyable.

    I don’t get to see every Marvel movie when it first comes out so, as you put it, the TV series that have come out does, indeed, Maintain the Universe. 

    Kevin Feige is an excellent example of what every good movie should utilize.  Someone that’s not just passionate about the subject material but, knows it back to front.  

    MCU is like comfort food to my generation and generations before and after me alike will always welcome another story for our plates.

    • Just Josh says:

      Thanks for the comment!  Yeah, those action figures are mine.  I thought it might be fun to include them in a way that highlights a couple things I love at the same time.

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