Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years

- Sadhbh Hanna

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe began in 2008 with the release of Iron Man. Now, ten years and 20 films later, Marvel has created one of the biggest movie franchises of all time. Currently in “Phase Three” of their films, the Universe has also expanded into television, online streaming, and direct-to-video short films. The latest Avengers film, Avengers: Infinity War, grossed over $2 billion worldwide. However, the MCU did come from slightly more humble beginnings.

Believe it or not, Iron Man was a relatively unknown superhero before the 2008 movie. Unlike Spider-Man and DC’s Batman, if you hadn’t read the comics, you probably hadn’t heard of him. An adaptation of Iron Man was in development for 17 years, with the rights to the development of the film being passed between many different studios before finally being passed back to Marvel around 2005. Iron Man was Marvel Studios’s first self-financed film, and it was a huge success.

Iron Man was followed by (the now generally forgotten) The Incredible Hulk in 2008, a second Iron Man film in 2010, and the first Thor and Captain America films in 2011. These films were all met with generally favourable reviews, and led the MCU to its first ensemble film: The Avengers (2012). The film brought together the stars of the MCU’s previous films, along with the previously introduced Black Widow and Hawkeye, to fight Thor’s adoptive brother and nemesis, Loki. Looking back on it now, the stakes are pretty low and it could have been a bit less corny, but at the time it was just an incredible feat to bring all of these superheroes together, and the film became the highest-grossing superhero film at the time of its release.

After the introduction of the Avengers, Phase Two of the MCU broke away into space, the Quantum realm, and with them, different genres. Thor: The Dark World (2013) bridged the gap between Earth and space, and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) introduced new planets, alien species, and a barely talking humanoid tree. Ant-Man (2015) took us to a new place altogether, with Scott Lang shrinking down to microscopic size and travelling into the quantum realm. These films, while in the same universe, all have their own genre and way of telling their story.

While Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) was at its core a war film, its sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) was a spy thriller inspired by the conspiracy fiction of the 1970s. The film focused on the human side of “Cap” and had more realism than other MCU films. Intense stunt work and a focus on practical effects allowed the film to still excite while generally staying away from gimmicky CGI and over-the-top action. It allowed the film to focus on it’s strong plot, powerful acting, and the development of the characters’ relationships. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo hit the nail on the head with this film and went on to direct two of the MCU’s biggest films, Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018), with the upcoming Avengers 4 in their capable hands too.

Although Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) was highly rated and grossed over $1 billion worldwide, I thought it was a big letdown. Director Joss Whedon managed to lose the unique personalities that the characters had developed over the previous film, turning them into stereotypes and making the film feel like any other blockbuster. The film is filled with forced relationships, green screen gimmicks, and cheap jokes. While it was exciting to watch in the moment, it leaves little to think about afterwards.

As a Captain America film, Civil War was a slight disappointment, but as Avengers 2.5, it was pretty good. It’s the Avengers sequel Age of Ultron failed to be. But the film lacked the personal feel that the previous two Captain America films brought to the character of Steve Rogers. There were just too many characters (including the introduction of two new superheroes) to give Cap the focus he deserved in his own film. The film also seemed to force a past friendship between Iron Man and Captain America, which hadn’t been explored properly in past films. It made their big fight, which was really the whole plot of the film, lack real emotion. Saying that, the Russo brothers handled all of the characters better than Joss Whedon had previously, and gave me hope for their direction of Infinity War. The film also introduced some new characters that excelled in their solo films.

After his introduction in Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) was Spidey’s first solo MCU film. Being the tenth Spider-Man film, this was certainly not uncharted waters, but the film managed to feel like an original Spider-Man film, and young actor Tom Holland was perfect in the dual role of Peter Parker and alter-ego Spider-Man. The film captured the feel of 80s teen movies, while still fitting in to the superhero world of the MCU.

Also introduced in Civil War, Black Panther’s solo film in 2018 took the world by storm. The film is the highest grossing solo superhero film and highest grossing film by a black director. Black Panther introduces us to the beautiful fictional nation of Wakanda, and while the plot felt quite simple, the strong heroes, well-written villains, and beautiful scenery make this film stand out in the MCU.

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017) took Thor in a new direction with director Taika Waititi bringing a lighter, more comedic tone to the MCU. While this change took away from the seriousness of Thor as a superhero, it was a needed change to his character before he joined his team again in Infinity War.

After the last few ensemble cast MCU films hadn’t impressed me as much as the solo films, I wasn’t expecting too much from Avengers: Infinity War (2018), but even if I had gone in with the highest of expectations, I still don’t think I would have been disappointed. With over 40 characters, it was always going to be hard to balance them, but the Russo brothers managed to let all the character’s personalities shine through, even though some of them had less than one minute on screen. The relationships between characters from different films were explored perfectly, allowing for hilarious and touching moments within the action. The stakes felt high from the beginning, and the two-and-a-half-hour film held my attention until the end.

Finishing up the MCU’s tenth year, Infinity War was followed closely by Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), which brought us back into the family-led quantum realm for some much needed light comedy. The MCU’s first female-led film, Captain Marvel, is being released in early 2019, and Phase Three is ending with Infinity War’s as yet untitled direct sequel in mid-2019.

After that, the next ten years of the MCU depend on who survives to be there, and with Chris Evans’s final goodbye tweet, the universe is certainly breaking away from the original Avengers of 2012. With the uncertainty of James Gunn’s third Guardians of the Galaxy film, the only confirmed film is Spider-Man: Far From Home. Could Spiderman be the leader of a new Avengers? What new characters will be introduced in the future of the MCU? Will I survive if they kill off Captain America in the next Avengers film? All that we can do is wait and see.