If you haven’t noticed, Marvel Studios has been taking the world by storm. Every one of their films has been a financial success and for the most part a critical success as well. Before this new age of superhero movies, these films were seen as fairly low-brow entertainment. Simply actions movies whose stars had a few fantastic powers. That is until Marvel Studios burst onto the screen with Iron Man, a superhero film done well which was also the movie that launched an entire universe.
What Marvel has done in the most simplest of terms is bring the comic format to the world of cinema. They created a shared universe where their multiple franchise heroes reside and even interact on occasion. This has huge ramifications, which I will get after we dive into the comic format in a cinematic world.
The comic book format of delivery that I refer to is the idea of having heroes with their own series which then crossover during big events or in team based series. Using the Marvel films, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and Guardians of the Galaxy, are all those singular series. While they all still exist in the same universe, the film themselves focus on the individual heroes. The Avengers is the big crossover event, where all these heroes meet on the screen and it focuses on their interactions as a team against a bigger threat.
By bringing this format to Hollywood, it allows for these films to tell more complete stories. If this had been done like a more regular franchise, we would probably only have The Avengers and direct Avengers sequels. By giving each hero their own franchise you are able to expand and grow the characters outside of the team while focusing on the characters growth as a team during the crossover films. This creates a much bigger pay off as we saw in The Avengers. In fact, the majority of complaints about The Avengers centered around the fact these heroes never had a struggle. It didn’t seem at any point you thought they were going to lose. How one of my friends liked to put it, it was all win and not enough struggle.
What this critique or point of view isn’t taking into account is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) needs to be taken as one film rather than in pieces. Especially when you take into account the actual timeline of the films, you find that they often happen at the same time. You can see below an example of this timeline and you can click here for a larger version.
What this means is that The Avengers is not simply a 2.5 hour film about the band getting together, it is a 2.5 hour climax of a series of events leading up to the big final conflict. This ultimately is what sets the MCU apart from the rest of Hollywood. Marvel plays the long game and while individual films may suffer from the need to establish other aspects of the MCU, such as Iron Man 2, ultimately they are minor setbacks when compared to the big picture.
We as an audience see each character with a completed arc, instead of seeing all the other bits that happen elsewhere in the world during Iron Man we instead see that entire story. Honestly, in my opinion this entire film franchise should be seen and presented as a mini series instead of a film franchise. That way they would have more freedom to blend the characters and plots together instead of what we have now. Hopefully this what Marvel’s Netflix shows will look like with a focus of individual characters while still having others in the background.
So, how has this changed Hollywood? It shows how you can get a better payout for your films while still telling great stories filled with compelling characters. Disney is following suit with Star Wars VII by launching their own shared universe. Even Universal is launching a cinematic universe based on classic monsters such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Werewolf, The Mummy, and any classic black and white monster you can think of.
This idea of a shared universe I believe is the new face of franchises and good provide much better film experiences all around. Ultimately, what I hope is to see a blend between the format of a film franchise and the format of a mini-series. Having the big budget muscle of Hollywood applied to a format that historically has told more complete and fulfilling stories than normal television series does. All we can do is wait and see.