If you had told me 20 years ago that there would a film that had Iron Man, Hawkeye, Captain America, Black Widow, the Hulk and Thor in one film, I would have said that you were dreaming. In fact, I WAS dreaming of just such a movie. In the comic book wasteland that was the mid to late 90’s, a film like this was truly unthinkable. Not only did different characters belong to different movie studios (which is still the case for some franchises today) but few directors were willing to tackle the world of comics.
Perhaps the best thing that has happened for comic films in the past two decades (and maybe for comics in general) was the bankruptcy of Marvel Comics. This was the impetus that resulted in creation of Marvel Studios and the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Of course there had been wildly successful movies based on comics before Marvel Studios. One cannot look at film history and forget the impact of Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) which really did make the audience believe a man could fly. And let’s not forget one of the highest grossing films of the 1980’s, Tim Burton’s interpretation of the Dark Knight, Batman (1989).
Yet, movies based on comic films had fallen on hard times. Not only had Marvel put out some truly terrible adaptations of Captain America (1990) and 1998’s Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD (starring David Hasselhoff!) it also made a horrific television adaptation of The Fantastic Four (1994) that never made its way to the small screen (thankfully).
These were but a few of the foibles of Marvel’s foray into film. Even DC comics was struggling with their film franchises, releasing the two Batman films that destroyed the license for years to come. Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997) were so bad that it would be nearly a decade before filmmakers would attempt to touch the property again.
But with a new decade came new hope… no not Luke Skywalker, but rather Wolverine and the X-Men. That’s right, pretty much every X-Men movie IS a Wolverine movie, but that is another story. Bryan Singer’s 2000 adaptation of X-Men proved that a Marvel property could be smart, inventive and successful.
Spider-Man (2002) followed shortly after and it became apparent that Marvel characters could really bring in the Box Office gold. It was at this point that Marvel decided to start creating their own films and for the first time in any comic film adaptation, build a connected universe.
This all began with a short scene following the credits of Marvel Studios’ initial movie, Iron Man (2008). In what has become known as a “stinger” (or a short teaser scene that is either in or following the feature film’s credits) Marvel laid the groundwork for what would become The Avengers (2012).
Marvel ingeniously built up to this film by constructing their universe with threads of connectivity in each of the films that preceded The Avengers. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) appeared at the end of The Incredible Hulk (2008), and there are other hints towards other characters and events to come. The MCU was being crafted one film at a time.
This all built up to a movie that I never thought would be made. The Avengers is truly a comic book film in every sense of the word. It captures the feel of comic book crossover events in which different characters team up to defeat something so big that no one hero can hope to be victorious. Director Joss Whedon handled the task of juggling a team of characters that all had the ability to hold their own feature film. Each character felt important and no one individual felt like the “lead” character. That is what made The Avengers fresh, exciting and engaging.
Now we fast forward just three more years and we have Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) opening. The MCU has grown by leaps and bounds, finding its way into successful television programing and even Netflix original series, such as Daredevil (2015) (which is fantastic and well worth the monthly subscription fee) and the upcoming A.K.A. Jessica Jones (2015).
Personally, I couldn’t be more excited. There are so many great stories to tell in the Marvel Universe that I look forward to all of the great things Marvel Studios has planned. Bring on Captain Marvel (2018) and Black Panther (2018), Doctor Strange (2016) and Infinity War I (2018) and II (2019). I am ready for this.
Now if only DC could understand how to create a unified DC Universe on par with its DC Television Universe (Arrow and Flash on the CW) or the MCU. To that, I can only say good luck. I have been proven wrong before!
Don’t forget to stop by the Indian River Branch on May 2 for Free Comic Book Day. We are having all sorts of events, including Star Wars Trivia, hosted by me! Be warned, it will be tough but there will be prizes! Also, check out many of these films and more at your Chesapeake Public Library.