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Has everybody noticed what Marvel has been doing recently? Of course you have, but I think we should take a moment to appreciate it…
Over the last six years Marvel has changed the face of superhero and comic book movies as we know them with the birth of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”. Sure, we’ve had many superhero movies before – we’ve even had trilogies and interconnected stories – but sooner or later someone hits the reset button and we have a different actor playing a variation of the same character in a variation of an earlier story. Up to now the dreaded reboot seems to be the bane – Not that Bane! – of superhero movies. Marvel decided to try a different tack…
Beginning with the release of Iron Man in 2008 the newly-established Marvel Studios started showing that it wanted to do something very different; it started to weave a story featuring multiple characters over multiple films with crossovers and cameos. Even little short “One Shots” featuring lesser characters helped to tie it all together. It seemed like they were trying to bring a little of the comic book interconnectedness to the big screen. And it seems like this plan has been a roaring success.
Nobody expected that much from Iron Man before it was released. Directed by John Favreau and starring an audaciously-cast Robert Downey Jr, the film went on to be a huge critical and commercial hit, paving the way for more films. The Incredible Hulk came later the same year and, while not as well received as Iron man, was still a success. This in turn was followed by an Iron Man sequel, a Thor movie and a Captain America origins film too. All these films carried the story on a little further, introduced new characters and villains. This all culminated in the (Marvel) Avengers (Assemble) film earlier this year, which brought together all the characters from the previous films in an epic super-team film. All the films managed to walk a fine line between being viewable as a stand-alone project and being part of a bigger, more complex story. These six films, with a combined budget of around a billion dollars, have managed to make over three billion at the box office, with (Marvel) Avengers (Assemble) making over a billion on its own. These films have also been, on the whole, a success with fans and critics alike. While other comic book hero films – with the exception of X-Men: First Class, Christopher Nolan’s Batman efforts and a few others – fell by the wayside, Marvel have managed to revamp their superhero franchise ideal and change the way we look at these kind of films.
It hasn’t all been a total success: the second Iron Man outing concentrated a little too much on the introduction of S.H.I.E.L.D. and various other characters to the detriment of the main character. Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Hulk between the character’s own film and the Avengers. However, on the whole, this has been a marvelous experiment and something that other superhero franchises are looking at enviously.
Those franchises, including DC and the various parties who own the film rights to their characters, seem to be scrambling to catch up. After a very successful Batman trilogy Christopher Nolan has turned his attention to a Superman reboot, due next year. Spider-Man recently had a reboot and DC is currently fishing around for someone to direct their planned Justice League film, with Ben Affleck recently turning an offer down. The film, to star Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, looks like it may arrive around 2014-15, but it’s still very early days.
With Avengers completed Marvel isn’t sitting on its laurels and has begun to pave the way for phase two of its plan; Iron Man 3 is due for release in May of next year with a second Thor film, subtitled The Dark World, to be released in November of the same year and a follow up film for Captain America out in mid 2014. They also plan to bring an Edgar Wright helmed Ant-Man and Guardians Of The Galaxy to the big screen in 2014 and have it all culminate in a second Avengers film, which is to be released in May of 2015. And after all that there are characters like Iron Fist, Black Panther and Vision waiting in the wings. There’s even been talk of bringing the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” to the small screen with news that a TV show is being developed by Joss Whedon. Whatever happens, it would seem Marvel and their characters have a bright future beyond the printed page.
Now, I’ve often said I’m not a big fan of superhero comics, or the way Marvel and DC reboot and alternate universe their characters to death and back again, but I do enjoy a good superhero movie and so this endeavour has interested me from the start. I’ve enjoyed every one of the films from phase one and I can’t wait to get my hand on the Avengers Blu-ray or to see where future films take these characters next.
Whichever way you look at it Marvel has made some very bold moves over the last five years; it has changed the way superheroes can be presented to the larger cinema going audience, it seems to have the fans on side and it’s done it all with great stories, great actors and a great set of directors. It seems they can do no wrong and I, for one, am happy to go along for the ride.