Superheroes have been around for almost 100 years. They are the American gods, mythology created to inspire and to entertain with their legend. Superman taking to the skies, showing us how to be our best self. Batman clinging to the darkness, showing that our imperfections are what make us who we are. These new gods have shaped fiction in the 20th century, so it’s only fitting that they also change the world of film.
Superman made us believe that a man could fly. Batman showed us how to dance with the devil. Still, even with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and 20th Century Fox’s X-Men, we never really saw the comics reach their true cinematic potential. Christopher Nolan brought us The Dark Knight trilogy, making superhero fare into “real cinema”. While this was happening, Kevin Feige and Jon Favreau were taking a different approach. While Batman was made to be realistic, Iron Man embraced it’s comic origins. Now, I dive deep on Iron Man in my retrospective so for more on that just click here. What we’re going to focus on today is the impact that the MCU has had on movie industry.
The slow build of excitement from Marvel Phase One is interesting to say the least. Iron Man was a hit but The Incredible Hulk is all but forgotten. Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger are both generally well received but even they didn’t destroy the box office or made any lasting impression. it wasn’t until Marvel’s The Avengers was released that the Marvel juggernaut took off.
The Avengers is everything you can want in a crossover event. We have our main characters, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). All returning characters. Even our antagonist, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), is a returning foil from Thor’s adventure. The conflict is fairly simple, Loki wants to use a cube to takeover the earth, heroes must stop him. The simplicity to the story is what makes it work. You don’t have to watch the other films to get it. In fact, it actually makes you want to go back and see what you missed.
It’s an event comic come to life. The MCU also knew how to evolve. Where the X-Men stayed in black leather, and Spider-Man killed Uncle Ben a second time, Marvel went to space to the tune of Hooked on a Feeling. Instead of trying to go bigger than alien invasion from The Avengers, they looked into the personal struggles of Tony Stark in Iron Man 3. The films started as simple superhero adventures, but quickly evolved into character studies and political commentary.
Marvel knew that the more saturated the market became, the more quickly people will get bored. So, they started hiring up and coming directors with unique visions. They told stories ranging from the edge of space to a little ant hill San Francisco. Civil Wars, African nations, other dimensions, the 1940s, the 1990s, and the not too distant future. Marvel gave us a variety of films, all leading to the big one; Avengers: Infinity War.
I don’t need to tell you how big Infinity War was, you lived through it. The film brought together nine different franchises. If you liked Iron Man but didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy? You still watched Infinity War. Huge Captain America fan but never saw Doctor Strange? You still saw Infinity War. Love Loki? First off, I’m so sorry, but the point is you still watched Infinity War, probably walked-out after the first 10 minutes but nevertheless.
Disney and Marvel made the ultimate movie machine. Many tried to copy it, but none ever figured out what made it all click. Marvel Phase One will never be considered the best phase, but by just getting on base, they managed to set up a grand-slam. Marvel learned to adapt to the changing world of film, and by doing so, they never lost their audience. It only grew, they also were born from desperation. They didn’t have the star power of Wolverine or Spider-Man. Instead, Feige and company had to build this franchise with a box of scraps.
11 years later and those scraps become a 20 billion dollar franchise. There will never be anything like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This was the first of its kind, and we need to appreciate that we just witnessed history. I’m sure there will be more franchises of his ilk but it won’t have the same cultural impact. We still have people saying Hail Hydra and Wakanda Forever. Thanos has become this generation’s Darth Vader. The end of The Infinity Saga is coming to a close. I can’t to see where Marvel goes next.