Though Marvel fans still have Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther to look forward to, we are already eyeing next year's release Avengers: Infinity War with great anticipation. It’s not hard to see why! The humongous cast is filled with so many Hollywood darlings, fan favorite characters and titanic talents, it’s a wonder that the Eye of Agamotto itself isn’t watering!
Marvel Studios' rivals are sure to be keeping a close watch on the proceedings to see what they can glean for their own budding enterprises. But they may not have to! In a recent interview, a Marvel producer detailed what the most important ingredients were for an MCU success!
Superhero films were flourishing before #IronMan came along in 2008, but Kevin Feige & Co. demonstrated that older paragons of pop-culture could reach new heights with the right amount of dedication, forward planning and flair. Other studios are now hurriedly working on their own similar franchises, and, especially in the case of Warner Bros., they are even undertaking huge reshuffles of their company's structure in order to succeed against the competition.
So how exactly did Marvel Studios manage to dominate the field?
On the special features for #DoctorStrange’s home release, Jeremy Latcham — who was the associate producer on Iron Man, as well as an executive producer on #TheAvengers, #GuardiansoftheGalaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron — reveals that it's Marvels' consistent approach that makes the movies so magical for audiences, critics and box-office returns.
The Three Major Marvel Questions
Latcham insists that the true recipe of #MCU's success is far more basic than "keeping an eye on the big picture." Indeed, the producer attributes it to three questions continually asked during the filmmaking process:
"[We're] honest about: does this work? Is this good for the character? Does it give me a good feeling when I watch it? And that’s all that matters…"
On the surface, this may sound pretty obvious, but if we stop and think about it, Latcham’s words reveal much about Marvel’s modus operandi…
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1. 'Is This Good For The Character?'
Character work is crucial for filmmakers who want their movies to flow logically, and for audiences to warm to the story. So initially, Latcham’s emphasis on Marvel’s titular characters may not sound wholly groundbreaking.
However, this three-point approach is clearly effective. And looking over Marvel’s output, the mark of this approach can be seen in every one of their films, such as in the grounded tweaks to Falcon’s (#AnthonyMackie) flight suit to make it work in a more realistic context. Additionally the highly quotable banter between the heroes definitely creates this “good feeling” that Latcham refers to, as does the studio’s general adherence to the “classic” characterization of their heroes.
Certainly, heroes like Doctor Strange (#BenedictCumberbatch) and Iron Man (#RobertDowneyJr) are likable rogues that remain true to their crowd-pleasing, comic book roots. The flip side of this is the divisive #DCEU movie, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, which tried to radically reinterpret #Superman (#HenryCavill) as a brooding figure for a more modern world; #Batman (#BenAffleck) was similarly darkened, becoming a violent, more extreme version of his usual self. Zack Snyder’s deviation from the Man of Steel’s regular optimism and from the Caped Crusader’s mercy proved to be very controversial among fans upon its release.
DC fans have retorted that at least it was an attempt at something new, unlike the alleged sameness of Marvel’s efforts. But #DawnofJustice’s mixed reception is still impacting the DCEU’s future.
2. 'Does This Work?'
A frequent criticism of the MCU is that the majority of the films are highly similar origin stories revolving around the personal struggles of witty men, detrimentally sidelining their lightweight villains. But as Kevin Feige has argued, this is actually all part of the plan. In a recent interview, Feige explained that more focus is intentionally given to the heroes and their respective journeys to “serve the story.”
And let’s be honest, isn’t that kind of the point? While a bit more screen time for villains like Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and Ronan (Lee Pace) wouldn’t go amiss, we are meant to be engaged with Tony Stark’s hubris and #CaptainAmerica’s disorientation in the modern world, since they are the main characters. The growth and struggle of these characters through their solo movies imbues them with an impetus as they progress from their own adventures into the crossovers such as The Avengers.
We can understand Captain America’s suspicions about governmental oversight in #CivilWar because of what we saw him undergo in #TheWinterSoldier. In fact, his understandable reticence provides the basis of the whole plot, and thus highlights the success of this approach.
Films in the same genre are bound to be somewhat similar. Marvel’s snark and CGI showdowns are as integral to their movies as oiled, bulging muscles and third-act shootouts of the macho action movies of the 1980s. If it ain't broke, why fix it?
3. 'Does It Give Me A Good Feeling When I Watch It?'
Let’s consider Guardians of the Galaxy and The Winter Soldier once again. They are drastically different movies — the first is an irreverent space opera, and the latter heavily borrows from political thrillers and action movies — yet they're both a total blast to watch. Underneath the tonal and aesthetic differences, they remain similar because of the way in which their characters are approached: with affection, a dash of realism and reverence for their comic book pasts.
It is this that allows the movie makers to innovate, but also ensure that the characters and worlds can collide without too much of a contrast. This Marvel formula may be criticized for breeding familiarity, but on the other hand, it is this approach which is the catalyst for their continuing innovation and the level of fun that audiences experience. No matter whether we're watching Tom Holland's Spider-Man or a CGI raccoon, we're watching with a smile on our face.
How Will The Marvel Formula Hold Up In The Future?
Kevin Feige, the Russos and everyone else at Marvel Studios are keeping mum about the cinematic universe’s future, but it looks as if we’re in for more of their winning formula. With Robert Downey Jr.’s contract coming to an end, Iron Man may step aside as the shepherd of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so that Doctor Strange can assume that unofficial position. Plus, we also have the upcoming origins of #CaptainMarvel, and the Evangeline Lily as the Wasp to enjoy.
However, it looks as if Marvel — which has already experimented with genre — will attempt to experiment with their character-driven approach. Kevin Feige has confirmed that the insidious Thanos (Josh Brolin) will serve as the main character of Infinity War, instead of an established hero.
Giving Thanos a chance to be fleshed out as the protagonist may go some way to countering critics of Marvel's villains. The status quo may be irrevocably changed after the #Avengers battle the Mad Titan, allowing for an even more diverse array of movie plots and characters in Phase 4!
Whatever happens, with a robust yet malleable methodology in place, the Marvel Studios formula will continue to be a dominant and entertaining force in pop-culture going forward.