What has the Marvel Cinematic Universe changed?

Well it’s been 11 years and something like 22 films in the making, but it’s here. Avengers: Endgame. The latest and one of the most crucial pieces in this incredibly lucrative jigsaw puzzle. And while the whole enterprise has brought in billions for Disney, this film is set to break all sorts of box office records. I mean, it’s already reached $1 billion. It did that in five days. But the MCU has done much more than make a lot of money. There is no denying that it has changed superhero and franchise films in general.

One thing it has absolutely changed is the need for an overarching ‘universe’ for characters to coexist in, rather than having films without any crossover at all. DC brought us their ‘Extended Universe’ or whatever they’re calling it this week, which has not been the greatest success, compared to Marvel at least. I mean, we did get Wonder Woman on the big screen for the first time (only took nearly 75 years) and a kick ass solo movie directed by a woman. But Batman v Superman was very hit and miss and Justice League felt disjointed tonally as did Suicide Squad. Now, there is still more than enough time and material for DC to get back on track, what with the recent success of Aquaman and Shazam! and upcoming releases like Birds of PreyWonder Woman 1984, The Batman, The Suicide Squad, The Flash and Aquaman 2 as well as dozens of other films in various stages of development.

Strangely though, DC are also making a line of films not connected with this shared ‘world’ of movies, the first being the Joaquin Phoenix led Joker. Maybe, these are meant to be more of a character study, or maybe they’ve taken inspiration from the Elseworlds concept where they can tell new stories outside the main continuity. Who knows what they’re planning as long as some properly good and enjoyable movies come from it.

I do worry that the focus on making new criss-crossing, inter-connected movies will lead to the stories not being properly thought through and hashed out. That was clearly a problem in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 where every other scene was teasing a film you were not watching. Easter eggs are fine and fun to look for, but not when it sacrifices telling a coherent and entertaining story! The latest version of Fantastic Four suffered from the same problem, focusing too much on the possible franchise that could be built before there’s even any demand for it.

Universal tried to reboot it’s classic monsters such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, The Invisible Man, Doctor Jekyll/Mr Hyde and The Mummy in what can only be described as a monumental cock up. The one film that was released, The Mummy, was universally (pun not intended but noted) panned by critics and moviegoers and has put the whole enterprise on hold.

My takeaway from the MCU is that it has done a lot to make superhero and comic book films be considered as more than light entertainment. The source material is treated seriously and with respect, it’s not written off as easy and disposable, meant for kids. The Dark Knight was the first film to do that, in my opinion, but the MCU has consistently done that for 11 years and will look to keep doing it.

And I think that can be traced back to when comics started to become more grounded and gritty. Very simply, children who had been fans of comic books in the 40s and 50s became editors, artists, writers at comic book publishers. So, as they grew up, the stories they wrote and drew became more mature and grown up. And the audience grew up as well. They didn’t hit 21 and think ‘Well, I’m an adult now, no more reading comics. I will listen to jazz and read Homer’s Odyssey instead.’ The stories and characters grew up and were passed onto the next generation. There’s a reason some of these characters have been around for 80 years.

However, the MCU has led to too many attempts to make ‘universes’ where films can be made and released every one to two years, all connected together to make lots and lots of money for the studios. Superhero/comic book films are a pretty safe bet for box office success and for home sales later on. Through the various avenues, they usually make their budget back and then some. I just feel that more care has to be taken to try and make an entertaining and strong story that can have some social conscience or commentary rather than a thousand and one hints at what film may be coming next.

I just want to enjoy the film I’m watching right now!

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