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The Marvel Cinematic Universe and Its Impact on Cinema

May 21, 2020

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe, The MCU, is home to the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy and trademark cameos by Marvel Comic Co-founder Stan Lee.  The MCU is produced by Marvel Studios, now under the ownership of Disney. It is an interconnected universe of films, 23 at this time, that began in 2008 with Marvel’s Iron Man. An interconnected narrative of this magnitude was a first in filmmaking. 

Of the twenty highest grossing films of all time, as of the making of this video, the MCU claims 6 and has grossed over $22.5 billion over the course of 23 films. 

But why is this significant. We’ve seen interconnected universes in films before with Star Wars and Harry Potter…but never anything like this. 

In 1998 Marvel Studios released Blade, starring Wesley Snipes, to some success. Marvel Comics then fell on hard financial times and began to licence their most popular characters such as Spiderman and the X-Men to studios like Sony and Fox respectively. 

It was the revenue from the success of these films that lead Marvel, now led by Kevin Feigie who was an associate producer, producer or executive producer on every Marvel film licenced to Sony or Fox studios, to take characters remaining in their cannon that had NOT been licenced to other studios such as Iron Man and Thor and create in Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In May of 2008, Iron Man was released in theaters and the MCU was born. The film was distributed by Paramount Pictures which also had distribution rights to distribute Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Then on December 31, 2009, The Walt Disney Company purchased Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. Later Disney would purchase the distribution rights of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger from Paramount.

Many Disney fans criticised the acquisition feeling Marvel didn’t fit into the ethos of Disney. But with the further success of MCU films, such as The Avengers, critics were silenced, Marvel characters found their way to the Disney Parks, and Marvel found a home at the House of Mouse. 

In 2015 Marvel and Disney struck a deal with Sony Studios to work together on Spiderman films which would also allow Spiderman, arguably Marvel’s most popular superhero, to make appearances in other MCU films and vice versa. 

Since 2015 Marvel Studios is a direct subsidiary of Walt Disney Pictures with Kevin Feige reporting directly to Walt Disney Studios. The current MCU is broken into 3 different phases. 23 films that tell the story the Infinity Stones, which was a storyline in the Marvel Comics. The best way to think of the ‘phases’ is an act in a play of film. The three acts make up the larger story.

So why does all this matter? Why do people obsess over the Marvel Cinematic Universe? While I understand that many in the film Industry would say that Marvel is not cinema, no one can take away the contributions that the MCU has made to modern cinema over the last decade. 

Changed what a comic book movie could be…

For so long the idea of comic book movies were either huge big budget blow up films like the original Superman film or dark noir films like The Dark Knight. While we do see plenty of the stereotypical superhero origin stories and big budget blockbuster film making in the MCU, especially in the earlier films, as the MCU progressed, there was a shift to genre films. 

It all started with Captain America : The Winter Soldier. I remember walking into that film opening night thinking that we would get a old fashioned  shoot’em up, Captain America saves the day type picture. Instead, we got a very nuanced and intentional political thriller. After The Winter Solider the trend would continue with Guardians of the Galaxy as a space opera, Ant-Man being heist films, and the magic that happend with Black Panther! The MCU shifted the paradigm of what a superhero movies could be and the rest of the industry is better for it.

Cohesive story over 23 films, something no other films franchise has done…

Though many will point to Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jack Ryan and other film franchises, what the MCU did over the course of 11 years and 23 films no other film franchise has ever done before. Not only so many films over such a short period of time, but also so many different character and storylines that have their source material in the Marvel Comics book, what Marvel head Kevin Feigie and his team at Marvel were able to do in bringing 11 different story lines together into one cohesive narrative should never be overlook.

MCU Phase 4

It is extremely frustrating to me, as a film fan who loves both auteur artistic film making and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that so many in the independent film industry will not at least, whether they like the MCIU or not, give the MCU it’s due for what it has accomplished! While I understand the criticisms that these films feel like they are made by a committee because they serve a bigger narrative and not have the imprint of an indy filmmaker, the MCU has also done an incredible job of letting the individual directors put their imprint on their respective films. Which leads me to my next point, Marvel has used lesser know indy directors over the last 5 years to give the MCU much more character. 

Hiring of Unknown or Indy Directors… 

Taika Waititi speaking with ET at last years D23 Expo

While especially early on, the MCU had its share of big name directors like John Faverou, Kenneth Branagh and Jos Weaton, but as of late there has been a trend to use lesser known indy directors for their films like the Russo Brothers, whose claim to fame before Captain America: The Winter Soldier was You, Me and Dupree. Then there is James Gunn, Director and writer of Guardians of the Galaxy, who directed the films  Slither and Super, two films, unless you are a film geek or a huge James Gunn fan you had probably never heard of until today. 

Other lesser know or indy directors who were tapped by marvel included Peyton Reed (Ant-Man), Scott Derickson (Doctor Strange), Jon Watts (Spider-Man Homecoming) Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Taika Wakiteedi (Thor 3) Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Captain Marvel). Now we know many of these names  like Ryan Coogler and Taika Waititi, because the MCU saw these talented directors, took a chance on them.

Most Successful Film Franchise Ever!

Via Marvel Studios

The MCU is not only producing blockbuster films but TV series that directly tie into the shared Cinematic Universe with new series coming to Disney + . You have to give credit where credit is due. 11 years. 23 films. Grossing over 22 billion dollars including the highest grossing films of all time! The studio shows no signs of stopping despite criticism from the likes of famed director Martin Scorsase, especially with the acquisition of Fox which allows Marvel to incorporate the beloved X-Men, Fantastic 4 and Deadpool films franchises into the MCU. 

And on a personal note, because of the MCU,  I fell even more in love with film making and discovered amazing films like Fruitvale Station directed by Ryan Coogler and What We Do in the Shadows by Taikia Waititi. The MCU fueled in me an interest in film making that led to me changing careers and going to film school and for that, I owe the MCU a debt of gratitude. These films are getting anew generation of film goers into the theaters and inspiring a new generation of filmmakers! 


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