It all started in May 2008 when Robert Downey Jr. said the most fortuitous and foreboding words possibly ever spoken in a superhero film, “I am Iron Man.” We all sat back in the theater and chuckled at how Tony Stark was able to nonchalantly claim a synonymous status with his alter ego. In that moment the tables had turned, but not exactly in the way that we perceived. The statement not only indicated that the Iron Man franchise would have a different tone than any other superhero films that had come before but also that the Marvel cinematic universe was being crafted in a unique way. It was the first in a series of preemptive strikes that have served to disarm the general movie going audience. And in that moment Marvel went all in and won us over with a full house. Like Jarvis awakening as Vision the MCU emerged in her true form… a self-aware being.
I have what I like to call “dangerous” or “risky” properties within the MCU. These are the comic book characters that are silly, campy, and downright strange. I am talking about properties that are a hard sell for the average moviegoer. A talking raccoon, a sorcerer, a Norse god… why would any of these characters show up in a superhero film? It’s a fair question for anyone who has never cracked the pages of a comic book. An equally relevant question is, “how could any film studio hope to keep an audience captive long enough to introduce such bizarre characters who walk among the likes of a super soldier, an archer, and a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist?” Well, it’s tricky for sure. But Marvel seems to have cracked the code. So how do they do it? How do they keep making such weird things make so much sense? I'll get to that in a second.
As I await the next chapter in the metamorphosis of this engaging movie-verse I can’t help but sit back and be amazed at the many obstacles Marvel has overcome along the way. While I do not by any stretch consider Iron Man to be risky I have to admit that it had the difficult task of unveiling the Marvel universe on the big screen. It set up the initial tone and paved the way for the continuity that would eventually follow. But one of the more important elements in that movie was Tony Stark’s admittance that he was in fact Iron Man. This allowed the franchise to take a breath, kick their shoes off, and relax with the audience… and you really want a relaxed audience before you introduce them to the God of Thunder.
Marvel cleared this hurtle with what appeared to be great ease. They went right for it. Thor came to the big screen, and nobody apologized for him. In fact the movie spent a great portion of it’s dialogue pointing out how outlandish it was that he came from outer space, and he is super powerful, and he is a Norse god, etc. But there was a key line that continued to bridge the gap and make the outlandish a bit more attainable. Thor says to Jane, “Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science. I come from a land where they are one and the same.” This continued to remove the curtain of the bizarre and allow the non-comic book reading audience (aka the majority) to have a leg to stand on. Marvel continues to call themselves out, and it is more brilliant every time. Speaking of which…
The MCU makes itself evermore palatable through the delicate use self-deprecation. And no other movie yet has showcased this ninja skill quite like Guardians of the Galaxy. Even from the first trailer marvel was willing to call a spade a spade and point out exactly what the general audience was going to think. They beat everyone to the punch, and they did it with class. We got to see the film vicariously through John C. Reilly (Corpsman Dey) and watch with glee as he voiced the ridiculous nature of the characters, premise, and title of this movie. He poked so much fun at the character lineup that you couldn’t help be filled with giggles and intrigue by the end of the trailer. And the movie delivered everything the trailers promised. It was over the top, silly, clever, and loveable. But from the very beginning of the marketing campaign it won the audience over with humor and humility. It was bold yet unassuming.
Age of Ultron continued the trend with a memorable line from Hawkeye, "The city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots, and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense." And another win for Marvel.
So now we approach Phase 3, and there are a few other odd balls that are on the way. We kick it off with Ant-Man, and the trailers are already calling out the funny name shared by the hero and the film. It is sure to be a fun ride, and I am looking forward to seeing the new direction.
Another hurdle on the horizon is the infamous Sorcerer Supreme himself… Doctor Strange. Scarlet Witch was introduced in Age of Ultron, and she began the process of revealing the supernatural. But it will be taken to the nth degree when Dr. Strange rolls in with the dark arts, other dimensional travel, and a soul gem or two. I wonder how exactly Marvel Studios will handle that behemoth.
And finally we will get to the elephant in the room… A female titular superhero: namely Captain Marvel. This one has been a long time coming, and there is a bit of controversy surrounding the wait. It doesn’t look like they will beat DC and Warner Brothers out the gate in that category, but it will still be a great accomplishment to have a major player who is not a man. President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige said she would be one of the most powerful heroes in the MCU. I can’t wait!
Marvel Studios is trying new things left and right. They have put a lot of thought into the implementation of characters, and they are spoon feeding the audience of the world. From interstellar fighting to a shrinking man; from super soldier serum to a demigod; from robotic suits to a talking raccoon and a talking tree... they have rocked everything they have touched. The only other things they have left to do are introduce Black Panther (July 2018), some Inhumans (July 2019), and destroy the galaxy in Infinity War: Part 1 (May 2018) & Part 2 (May 2019). Oh, and in their free time they are going to reboot Spiderman and incorporate him into the MCU… all in all it's a short order for a studio that is averaging $773 billion per movie and produced three of the eight highest grossing movies of all time.