Editorial : Why the Marvel Cinematic Universe deserves more credit than it’s given.
If you were to choose the best superhero movie that came out in 2008, you’d be quite right in picking The Dark Knight. The second third of Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is a masterpiece, but contrary to what people thought at the time, it wasn’t the most influential comic-book movie released that summer.
On 2 May, over a month before Heath Ledger’s joker was unleashed, we were introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man. It stands alone as a very good film, but more importantly it’s the first step in what is undoubtedly the biggest, and one of the most audacious cinematic ventures ever pulled off.
Little did we know when Robert Downey Jr. delivered the line “I am Iron Man” at the end of that first step, ten years down the line Avengers: Infinity War would mark the 19th film in the MCU, with no signs of slowing down.
It is undeniable that the MCU has been a huge success. Every single entry has made a tonne of money. Even The Incredible Hulk made over $250m, while five of their movies have made over $1bn, including three which are in the top ten highest grossing movies of all time. They’re also critically pretty well received – reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes have every single one as fresh (rated over 60% on average), while seven of the 18 released to date have scored over 90%.
Despite all of this, I can’t help but feel the MCU doesn’t quite get the credit it deserves. Yes we all go out in our droves to watch their latest releases, and for the large part we all have a good time doing so, yet somehow what super-producer Kevin Feige has achieved is somewhat underappreciated.
No other franchise comes anywhere near the MCUs output, Bond has more entries but has taken over 50 years to get there, and the ‘Carry On’ series took 34 years to make 31 films. When Ant-Man and the Wasp is released in July it’ll be 20 films in just 10 years for Feige. No other series has gotten anywhere near averaging two films a year for such a long period of time, never mind the fact that the MCU tasked itself with maintaining a narrative through-line with every single one, and other than a few minor timeline hiccups hasn’t slipped up at all.
What’s so impressive is that it isn’t necessarily quantity over quality either. The consistency of MCU movies is astonishing. Almost every single one ranges from good to excellent. Thor: The Dark World and The Incredible Hulk are probably the exceptions, but 16/18 is seriously impressive.
There have been times where the attraction began to fade. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing, especially when there are other studios churning out Caped Crusaders and X-Men galore. There’s the threat of saturating the market. Some would argue that has already happened but every time the MCU is in danger of growing stale it seems to freshen it up.
After four origin stories and an Iron Man sequel, they completely change the formula with team-up extravaganza Avengers Assemble, which may seem the norm today, but at the time was unlike anything we’d ever seen. Then two years later they switched it up again with the electric Guardians of the Galaxy, again, unlike anything we’d ever seen before.
Recently they’ve gained more and more confidence in playing with the formula and taking risks. Captain America: Civil War was superhero-versus-superhero done well, Doctor Strange was trippy as hell and the two latest entries (Thor: Ragnarokand Black Panther) have seen two completely individual filmmakers in Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler given huge budgets and delivering two stylish, bold and distinctivemovies.
As for Infinity War, while Marvel’s “most ambitious crossover event in history” comment has been made fun of with some of the finest memes of 2018, in reality they’re probably not wrong. We’re talking about trying to fit in well over 20 superheroes into one film, maybe 30 I can’t even count them all. Every single one will need a significant role to play or at least a big moment to have. Whether it’s even possible to deliver a coherent story with so much on their plate is hard to tell, but we’ll soon find out.
The reason they have gotten to the point where they can take on such a monumental challenge is because they walked before they could run. Starting with simple formulas taken on by solid directors like Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh, they didn’t immediately tell the world they were building an enormous cinematic universe. Instead they gained popularity, drew people in and then slowly began going bigger, developing more and more characters and taking risk with their directors.
It’s something no other studio has managed. The DC Extended Universe is still struggling to get out of the starting blocks after biting off more than they can chew. Meanwhile Universal’s plans for the Dark Universe, a cinematic universeconnecting classic monster stories like Dracula and Frankenstein, seems to have fallen apart after The Mummy, their very first entry.
Even if it doesn’t come together, even if too many superheroes do spoil the broth, Feige and directing duo the Russo brothers deserve enormous credit just for trying with Infinity War. Cynics can and will say it’s just an easy cash grab, and of course money plays a part in all decisions at Marvel, but Infinity War is an extraordinarily bold concept, the likes of which we’ve never seen attempted. If they succeed, it could blow all of our minds.