Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Marvel Cinematic Universe: 10 Reasons Why It Rules the World

On April 30, 2008 just three days before its American release, a film about a playboy billionaire weapons manufacturer who later became a superhero by creating his own suit in order to stop his weapons be used for harm was unveiled to the world. Budgeted at $140 million and with a lot of skepticism into the idea that a gifted but troubled film star like Robert Downey Jr. would play the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man. The film would end up being the start of something much bigger than anyone would ever realize. Ten years later with billions and billions of dollars accumulated and counting with 17 films released and more to come with two films set to come out in 2018. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has re-written the rules of what a franchise could be as well as how to bring characters from different stories to come together and be heroes.

While it can be stated that films about superheroes aren’t for everyone and in an age where there’s so many big movies about superheroes to the point that people can be burned out. There is no question that Marvel Studios has created something that is special in not just making films about superheroes but giving audiences heroes whether they’re humans, aliens, gods from other universes, or beings made by man with a conscious that they can connect with. It’s easy to say that the films that Marvel has made are escapist, popcorn entertainment with big special effects and bombastic action sequences. Yet, they’re so much more than that as many of these films get their ideas from not just the original source materials in comic books but also draw ideas from the cinema of the past. So why has the Marvel Cinematic Universe have become a big deal and matter to the world of cinema? Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Heroic Characters with Human Struggles

Part of what make superhero films work is giving audiences heroes to root for in saving the world as Marvel had succeed that in the early 2000s with the first X-Men and Spider-Man films. There is something about a band of mutants and a teenage kid with superpowers that do connect with audiences as they’re all flawed and struggle with themselves. This is something the MCU has followed as the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man starts off as a douchebag who creates and sells weapons, drinks a lot, have too much fun, and sleeps around with women. Yet, when he’s attacked by terrorists and see his creation be used to kill innocent people. He would fight back as well as use his gift in inventing things including an arc reactor to protect his heart from the shrapnel that is near it as he would have a change of heart and spend much of his character arc through three solo films as well as other films in the MCU trying to bring world peace and ensure the world’s safety despite some bumps.

It’s also in the character arcs that is important to the MCU as Thor is this Norse God who wields a mighty hammer as his journey has him being banished to Earth in an act of humility to then realize what he needs to do in being king as he would later cope with loss and questioning his worth. Steve Rogers/Captain America also goes through an arc of his own from an idealistic scrawny kid from Brooklyn who is given a serum to be taller and stronger in order to help the Americans in World War II to dealing with the complications of the modern world as he struggles with his ideas only to see that not everything is black and white. Others such as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Bruce Banner/the Incredible Hulk, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Doctor Steven Strange, Scott Lang/Ant-Man, and T’Challa/Black Panther all display characteristics that make audience relate to them as human (even though some are aliens) who know what they have to do to make the universe a safer place.

2. Unconventional Villains with Strong Motivations

Every superhero in any story needs a villain to fight against. That is often the scenario in every movie about a superhero needs though the MCU has struggled with creating compelling villains. Yet, recent films in the MCU have provided audiences with antagonists that don’t exactly play by ideas that seem very typical of what to expect from villains. While the character of Loki might be considered a villain in his role in trying to rule Earth in The Avengers, he’s really more an anti-hero as someone that is just trying to prove to his adopted father Odin that he can be king and step away from Thor’s shadow. Even as he would eventually help Thor in becoming king while having to face the fact that he is his own worst enemy for his love of mischief. Villains like Red Skull, Malekith, Ultron, and Kaecilius play into the typical tropes of characters that want to rule the world and have a thirst for power yet someone like Hela from Thor: Ragnarok isn’t just about wanting to conquer the world but also someone that has a legit grudge towards her father and brother with the former putting her in exile and the latter for just being in the way of her claim to Asgard’s throne.

The MCU admittedly has suffered from villains that don’t live up to expectations like Malekith, Kaecilius, Emil Blonsky/Abomination, and Aldrich Killian but recent films in the MCU have managed to find way to create antagonists that are more compelling like Hela and Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 who have ambitions but also want something more. The character of Helmut Zemo from Captain America: Civil War would do something other villains hadn’t done which was to hurt the Avengers through secrecy all for the act of vengeance while Adrian Toomes/the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming is just selling illegal weapons just to provide for his family. Then there’s Erik “Killmonger” Stevens from Black Panther who has a legitimate claim to the throne of Wakanda as he is someone that doesn’t play by the typical tropes of the villain. Instead, he is someone that is willing to challenge a lot of ideas his reasons into wanting become Wakanda’s king is a reaction to African-Americans’ own oppression as well as the dark history of colonization in Africa. So far, Killmonger is the MCU’s best villain though the upcoming arrival of Thanos for the next two Avengers films might top Killmonger.

3. Kevin Feige and Stan Lee

Anyone who has paid attention to cinema’s history is aware that there’s been film franchises as the longest-running franchise so far has been the James Bond film series. There’s a reason Bond has been around for more than fifty years and remaining strong as it goes to the people behind the scenes as it started off with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman from Dr. No to The Man with the Golden Gun and then Broccoli by himself afterwards before handing the reins of the franchise to his daughter Barbara and stepson Michael G. Wilson who have ensure the franchise’s longevity since Broccoli’s death in 1996. It shows the importance of the role of the film producer as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been overseen by Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige.

Since working as an associate producer for the 1998 film Blade and working under the tutelage of Richard Donner and others involved with the films from Marvel Studios. Feige’s role under the MCU isn’t just being the producer but to plan everything and make sure the films are released accordingly and planning for the future. Like Bond and its author in Ian Fleming, the MCU also rely on the comic books of Marvel as their resource while they’re also fortunate to have a good luck charm in Stan Lee. Lee’s role in the comics as the co-creator of the many comic characters has been a source of fun for the film. Though his role in Marvel has dwindled as more of a celebrated figurehead, he does remain a source of inspiration while his cameos in the many films of Marvel as well as the MCU have been a treat to watch.

4. Exposing Audiences to New Actors and New Heroes

For anyone that don’t read comics or are just casual fans surely have an idea who Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man are before the MCU emerged. A decade later, not only are audiences given the chance to know more superheroes including the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy but also others who are strong supporting players who actually matter. Characters such as Sam Wilson/Falcon, Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine, Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, and the artificial intelligence program J.A.R.V.I.S. who later became Vision have managed to stand out and make an impact on their own in aiding the bigger stars like Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. The MCU would carefully prepare those characters that include Pierto Maximoff/Quicksilver into the foray as well as create solo films for Ant-Man and Doctor Strange as a way to introduce these two characters. Yet, the most successful introduction the MCU has done is with the Guardians of the Galaxy as this group of misfits who come together to save the galaxy as it include a half-human with a love for 70s/80s music, an alien assassin, an alien warrior, a genetically-engineer raccoon, and a tree-like humanoid named Groot as it would later expand the assassin’s half-cyborg sister, an alien empath, and a ravager who is Quill’s father-figure.

These heroes would come to life and into the popular consciousness if it wasn’t for the casting directors in finding the right people. Before he would play Thor, Chris Hemsworth was just a TV star in Australia and played Captain Kirk’s father in the 2009 film version of Star Trek by J.J. Abrams while Tom Hiddleston was also doing TV and theater in Britain before playing Loki. Their roles in the MCU would make them big stars while Dave Batista was a popular pro wrestler in the WWE in the 2000s and had been in a few movies before being cast as Drax the Destroyer in the same year he would make an uninspired and uneventful return to the WWE due to bad booking. This inspired casting has also brought in a wide variety of people to be in the MCU whether it’s emerging indie film actors like Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Brie Larson, and Lupita Nyong’o to veterans like Michael Douglas, Forest Whitaker, Michael Keaton, Angela Bassett, and Samuel L. Jackson playing key parts along with established actors like Sylvester Stallone, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, and Cate Blanchett. Without the right people, these films wouldn’t matter.

5. Creating a World/Universe that is Diverse and with a Sense of Equality

It is obvious that a lot of film franchises over the years have often featured protagonists who are essentially white. Batman, Superman, and James Bond are portrayed by white men and the world they live in is predominately white though it would change to reflect the world that would become more diverse. The one film franchise that managed to break away from those ideas to be part of a world that is diverse as well as cater to wider demographic has been the Fast and Furious franchise. Since 2001, the franchise started off with a unique cast that included a half-black/half-white lead, a white lead, and two Hispanic actresses that eventually grew to include African-Americans, a half-Samoan/half-black Canadian, an Israeli actress, Asians, and many others as it had become this very popular franchise that takes place in various parts of the world which would contribute to the film’s financial success as well as being embraced by the critics who dismissed the films as just car-chase films. This is something Marvel had noticed though they were slow in embracing the idea of diversity and gender equality during the Phase One portion of the MCU. There was controversy over the idea of having Idris Elba play the role of Heimdall in the Thor films yet Elba would end up being embraced for his performance as the famed Asgardian.

This eventually lead to the emergence of characters of diverse ethnicities and races to emerge as Scott Lang’s friends are a mixture of people who help him out while many of Peter Parker’s classmates in Spider-Man: Homecoming are kids from different racial backgrounds who actually look like real kids as it has this reflection of a world that mirrors the positive aspects of reality. The portrayal of women in the MCU is unique though slow to catch on as characters like Pepper Potts started off as Tony Stark’s assistant to then running his company and later becoming his fiancĂ©e while the character of Peggy Carter is seen as a total badass whom Steve Rogers becomes attached for. Eventually, characters such as Sharon Carter, Maria Hill, Scarlet Witch, Gamora, Nebula, Valkyrie, Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye with the Dora Milaje would prove that women don’t have to be damsels in distress but rather women who can’t be messed with. Even as the spotlight will be given towards more women and characters of diverse racial backgrounds as Hope Van Dyne/the Wasp and Captain Marvel are about to play their roles for the MCU.

6. Bringing in Filmmakers with Ideas that are Unique

The films of the MCU wouldn’t come to life without the filmmakers who are hired to make those films happen. While not everything worked in their favor as attempts to get Patty Jenkins to helm Thor: The Dark World and Edgar Wright for Ant-Man were unsuccessful. They have managed to get reliable studio filmmakers such as Joe Johnston, Peyton Reed, and Shane Black to create strong entries for the MCU in the first two phases of the series as well as Jon Faverau who would kick things off for the first two films about Iron Man. Then there’s Joss Whedon whose work in TV as well as having made a film of his own in Serenity before the MCU as he would helm the two films on the Avengers as well as help chart the course for the first two phases. It’s in that 2nd phase where Kevin Feige’s work in finding new talent would come into play as the MVPs of the MCU in terms of filmmaking have been Joe and Anthony Russos in not just helming two films in Captain America’s arc trilogy but will also be helming the next two films on the Avengers as they both brought their own spin on the story based on their work in comedies.

Then there’s filmmakers who aren’t part of the studio system such as James Gunn, Jon Watts, Taika Waititi, and Ryan Coogler whose recent entries into the MCU would prove to be beneficial. Gunn’s work as a writer/producer for Troma Entertainment in the late 90s as well as creating offbeat film projects made him the ideal choice to helm Guardians of the Galaxy while Jon Watts came from an independent film background that made him the unlikely person to direct Spider-Man: Homecoming. Then there’s Taika Waititi whose offbeat work in happy-sad comedies would make Thor: Ragnarok not just a standout film in the MCU but also make something allowed audiences to be engaged with Thor’s encounter with tragedy as well as loosen him up. Finally, there’s Ryan Coogler who had only made two films prior to Black Panther but would provide something themes of political and social commentary into the film as it would stand out from other films in the MCU. With the duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck helming Captain Marvel, it is clear that the MCU has become a place where filmmakers with original ideas can bring something to the table.

7. Thinking Outside of the Box and Infuse Other Genres into Superhero Films

The idea of a superhero film often have this traditional narrative of a hero overcoming adversity and challenges in the hopes of making the world safe. That’s a story that is told very often as the MCU knows that it’s a formula that’s been done yet it doesn’t mean that they can get ideas from other films and other genres. The first film about Captain America was essentially inspired by World War II films in terms of its look and setting as the story was set during those times. The next two films under the helm of the Russo Brothers would draw its inspiration from 1970s political thrillers while Spider-Man: Homecoming was obviously inspired by the films of John Hughes with a visual reference to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with a clip of that film being shown. Of course, there would be criticism over the fact that filmmakers had to get ideas from other films to stand out. Yet, the revered independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch says it best about getting ideas from other films based on this quote.

It’s not just the comics that the filmmakers have to get ideas from but also from other films as Thor: Ragnarok is partially a buddy-comedy where Thor has to go back to Asgard to save his people with the Hulk. The scenes of Thor and Hulk are in the tradition of the screwball buddy comedies which include those moments with Bruce Banner dealing with the fact that he’s been the Hulk for two years. Doctor Strange is largely inspired by 1960s psychedelia and martial arts films of the 1970s/1980s in its visual approach as well as in some of the training scenes involving the titular character. Ant-Man is partially a heist film with some offbeat character that include Scott Lang’s friend Luis whose monologues provide a sense of comedy as it’s a play on the heist genre. Then there’s Black Panther which is obviously inspired by ideas of Afro-futurism and politically-based films to create something that is different where it does harken to ideas of Blaxploitation cinema but also the cinema of Africa as it relates to the years of colonialism and exploitation the continent would suffer through for much of its time.

8. Reinventing the Concept of Shared Universe for Cinema

The idea of the shared universe in cinema sort of began in 1943 in Roy William Neil’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man in which two famed horror characters from Universal Studios meet for the first time. Though it would be the start of the monsters from the studio to meet and interact, they weren’t exactly great films. In 1954, Japan’s Toho Studios created the first Godzilla movie as it would lead to a franchise involving the titular character as well as the creation of more kaiju monsters that became a cinematic universe of its own. Attempts by Hollywood in creating shared universes with films like Alien vs. Predator and Freddy vs. Jason were presented with mixed results while independent filmmaker Kevin Smith created his own universe with his own creation that is set in a small town in New Jersey in the View Askewniverse. What Marvel Studios did upon creating Iron Man was to make audiences unaware of what they were doing while taking the time to develop films for other characters and introduce characters before finally unveiling something big that was to be The Avengers in 2012.

Rather than let audiences know right away of what they’re doing, the MCU’s method of making audiences aware of what is going where through post-credit sequences while subtly hint in what might happen next. Each character that Marvel is using and have the film rights to allows Kevin Feige and many others in the creative department to map things out as if it was a TV show for each episode. It allows a film to be developed carefully and be given the time to make sure things go right. It wasn’t until the third Iron Man film in 2013 where the shared universe concept was coming into play as audiences would be introduced to new characters without making people aware of what is to come through elements of subtlety. When it came to getting Spider-Man in the MCU after Sony Pictures’ attempt in creating a cinematic universe for Spider-Man and other characters related to the character with 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man and its ill-fated sequel in 2014. Marvel Studios would make a deal with Sony in getting Spider-Man in the MCU as it would be a successful partnership where Spider-Man would interact with other characters giving audiences the chance to see all of their heroes together in one film.

9. Its Importance in Popular and Social Culture.

The world of the comic film culture can be described in before and after as it relates to the release of The Avengers. Before The Avengers, comic book conventions and other types of fandom were on the verge of the mainstream by the 21st Century yet remained sort of exclusive to the hardcore fans of comics, wizard trading cards, and such as it would become bigger by 2006 where the San Diego Comic Con would reach more than 100,000 attendees. After The Avengers, the culture itself became the mainstream for better or worse as it became the place where filmmakers would make announcement for new projects or the launch of something big. It didn’t just become comic book readers, nerds, and outsiders that were dressing up like superheroes but it also became mainstream. There is a downside to it as the culture can get overwhelming as studios would try and create cinematic universes of their own without any real understanding of how to reach a wide audience. Marvel understands that creating a universe isn’t easy as the fact that The Avengers and its 2015 sequel in Age of Ultron were major financial successes as they strive to ensure that all of their films become successful.

Especially as they’re aware to not underestimate its audience and have them prepared for something new to come. The recent success of Black Panther is a key example as it’s clear that Marvel didn’t think the film as of 4/15/18 would become this massive as it grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide and has made it into the top 10 highest-grossing films of all-time. Yet, it’s not just the financial success that is monumental but also in its reach to a demographic in African-American audiences and African audiences where it’s not just celebrities, athletes, political figures, journalists, and others that are doing the Wakandan salute. It’s the fact that this demographic have been waiting for a film like this and it couldn’t come at an appropriate time of racial turmoil and uncertainty where even rich African-Americans offered to rent theaters so that people who couldn’t afford or have the chance to see the film can be able to and more.

10. Developing Ideas for the Future

Following the release of Avengers: Infinity War, there will be three more films to come to complete the third phase of the MCU with Ant-Man & the Wasp coming in the summer while 2019 will mark the introduction of Captain Marvel in her titular film and the fourth Avengers film. The post-phase three period will be tricky as sequels for Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy are in development for its respective summer 2019 and 2020 releases. Along with developing sequels for Doctor Strange and Black Panther plus a possible solo film for Black Widow, there is so much that Marvel wants to do as they’re also aware that they can’t go overboard as audiences can get burned out over so many film franchises. Even as Disney recently purchased 21st Century Fox which could mean that characters of the X-Men series and the Fantastic Four could finally be part of the MCU. Then there’s that question of then what? There’s so much the MCU could do but this isn’t some studio that will immediately rush and make something happen as they know that things like that could hurt a film. The people who run Marvel Studios are fortunately a patient bunch who will go to the comics for guidance as well as bring in anyone who has an idea and make something special.

It’s a future that is very bright for Marvel as they’re also involved with an upcoming animated feature for Spider-Man later in 2018 that isn’t part of the MCU but it might open the door for more Marvel-based films to be presented in a different light. Even as they’ve managed to find success on TV with shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Jessica Jones, and the animated shows on Disney XD. Marvel has pretty much managed to find a formula for success with the MCU now becoming the new blueprint in not just creating a universe but also keep it fresh as long as there’s an audience that wants to see stories about heroes they can relate to. So to Marvel and the MCU, thank you for making films that matter to everyone including some of us snobs who love cinema.

Marvel Cinematic Universe: Infinity Saga: Phase One: Iron Man - The Incredible Hulk - Iron Man 2 - Thor - Captain America: The First Avenger - The Avengers

Phase Two: Iron Man 3 - Thor: The Dark World - Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Guardians of the Galaxy - The Avengers: Age of Ultron - Ant-Man

Phase Three: Captain America: Civil War - Doctor Strange - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Spider-Man: Homecoming - Thor: Ragnarok - Black Panther - Avengers: Infinity War - Ant-Man & the Wasp - Captain Marvel - Avengers: Endgame - Spider-Man: Far from Home

Post-Infinity Saga: Phase Four: Black Widow (2021 film) - Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten RingsEternalsSpider-Man: No Way Home – (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) – (Thor: Love and Thunder) – (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) - (The Marvels) – (Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania) – (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) – (Fantastic Four)

Related: MCU is Cinema: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3Pt. 4 – (Part 5) – (Part 6) – (Part 7)

© thevoid99 2018

1 comment:

Dell said...

I love this post! I can tell you put a lot of thought into it and I don't have too much to add to it. I hope the franchise can continue its winning streak. And I'm so ready for Infinity War.