Editorial: Could A Fully-Formed Marvel Cinematic Universe Really Happen?
The year is winding down and when the last page of the desk calendar is dropped unceremoniously into the little wire basket in the corner (after three failed attempts at jump shots from across the room), 2012 will be seen as the year of The Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The successful finale of the Christopher Nolan Batman saga certainly showed that people care about other characters, but this year the press was dominated by Marvel.
There's a lot of discussion in the fan world about whether a complete Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Spider-Man and the X-Men, is a possibility. Here's another take on it.
The Avengers Phase One proved that they could translate the success of a shared universe to the big screen, and guaranteed that the MCU would be a long-term promise. Phase Two is going to introduce two new franchises (the S.H.I.E.L.D. television show, Guardians of the Galaxy) and Marvel is hard at work building stories for other characters. They plan on releasing two films a year through their second phase, but the long-term goal is to release four films a year.
Even with properties at other studios, Marvel has a virtually unlimited pool of characters to pull from. The magic of the MCU means that even characters nobody has ever heard of can be reinvented for the big screen. With the return of Daredevil, Blade and Punisher to the Marvel fold, there are worlds nearly as impressive as The Avengers to explore. What world wouldn’t be better without a Heroes For Hire franchise or a Damage Control one-off?
The problem with the MCU is that Spider-Man is missing, as are the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. As wonderful as Marvel’s combined world is, it will never be perfect without the webslinger, mutants or a perfectly bellowed ‘It’s clobberin’ time!’ There are a few other properties they have farmed out, but for the purpose of this editorial I’m just going to focus on the big three. Ghost Rider won’t be hard to reboot if anyone cares.
Beyond the main characters of the three franchises, the rights owned by other studios extends to peripherals. The Silver Surfer is a Fantastic Four character, as much as everyone would love him to show up in a Guardians of the Galaxy story. Namor, the Atlantean King, may or may not be controlled by Marvel, but even if he were, why would anyone want him without the Richards’ woman to pine over? Can there really be a Civil War without at least some part of the X-Men’s story to help set up the discussion?
Of course, the success of The Avengers has created a lot of talk. Fox hired Mark Millar for the sole purpose of maintaining the integrity of their Marvel properties, and they’re pushing a Fantastic Four film forward in order to maintain their control over those rights. Spider-Man is Spider-Man, and he has never and will never need anyone else to be successful. When he got Fire and Ice to be his backup singers, they didn’t help him be successful; he helped them become (moderately) successful.
If other companies can build their own successful franchise like the MCU, why would they want to work with Marvel and restrict themselves to the limitations presented by an already existing MCU, especially when the X-Men already have an existing continuity so enormous that it couldn’t be ignored if the characters would meet? And why would Marvel want to ruin its already beautiful continuity by introducing stories by companies that can decide on a whim to quit playing ball and go their own direction? What would Spider-Man gain from joining The Avengers, and what would the group gain by letting him join?
Spider-Man is a good starting point to look at how to bridge the company gap and create a fuller MCU. Columbia Pictures (Sony) has already given us a successful trilogy, along with a first act to a reboot story that starts continuity even earlier than their first foray. The reboot, along with the fact that Spider-Man carries with him a smaller universe than properties composed of whole groups of people, makes him the best choice for inclusion into the MCU. Even if he were the only superhero to bridge the gap, the world would be a better place for it, if it were handled carefully.
To explain, please allow me to geek-out for a second.
The Amazing Spider-Man is likely built to be a trilogy, and I’m willing to go on record as saying that I believe it will culminate in one of Spidey’s most memorable moments – the Death of Gwen Stacy. That film will arrive just a year or two before The Avengers 3. This is not fact, this is me playing Karnac.
Imagine for a moment that Avengers 3 is where Spider-Man makes his crossover appearance. This allows Sony a little breather between their origins trilogy and their sophomore following while still keeping the web-slinger in the public eye. Spider-Man’s appearance in Avengers 3 won’t be large, but it opens up MCU specific licensing, allowing Sony to begin reaping financial rewards from merchandising, gives the audience a huge pop and further cements Marvel’s reputation as being the best in the business. The Amazing Spider-Man trilogy doesn’t showcase any earth-shattering events, so it can be summed up in the MCU with a big file on Mariah Hill’s desk or something equally arbitrary. Marvel will begin to be able to use things like The Daily Bugle and Oscorp, while Spider-Man will gain access to a world of characters just waiting to be cleared for a film.
And because of the cosmic nature that the Avengers films seem to be taking, let’s just assume that Avengers 3 is cosmic. Spider-Man needs to be there, because all-hands on deck. And this is where we get our black suit. This is the movies – we don’t need it to be Secret Wars, we just need it to be in space. After the Avengers 3, Sony brings the personal back and TASM 4 is the Kraven the Hunted story, giving us a much better Venom reappearance in TASM 5 or 6. Everyone wins, money grows for both teams, the storylines can comfortably co-mingle and life is good. Sony and Disney have already discussed partnering, so it is entirely possible, and maybe already in the works.
More difficult is the Fox stake in the Marvel Universe. Their control over The X-Men gives them control of mutants, they have their own comics continuity guru in Millar and should Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four reboot do well, they’ll have just as many characters as Marvel has to build a universe from. Additionally, Marvel can’t allow the current mutant film continuity to join with the MCU, because we damn sure would have heard Samuel L. Fury commenting on the absence of mutants when Earth was being invaded and even by itself the Fox world doesn’t make any sense at this point. Nobody knows what is or isn’t canon, and it can’t all be canon unless they’re using multiple worlds. There’s not really a logical way to connect that mess to the MCU world, and it is more likely Fox will attach their Fantastic Four franchise to the mutant world. So that’s a bust.
Except it isn’t. Fox has three films in the pipeline at the moment. The first is The Wolverine, which doesn’t need to be part of any continuity because the film should work beautifully as a self-contained story. The joining of the two continuities wouldn’t see any additional damage by the inclusion of this film. The inclusion of the previous Wolverine stand-alone, yes. This one, no.
The next film in the pipeline is X-Men: Days of Future Past. Even if you aren’t a comic book fan, you just love the movies, the title should give a huge clue to the content. Both Magneto and Xavier will be played by both Magnetos and both Xaviers because both, or all if Wolverine: Origins is a third… who knows at this point, continuities will be addressed. That is to say, Fox just gave itself permission to play with time and reset everything to any point they want it to be. When the curtain closes on this movie, it could just likely be with the formation of the X-Men all over again.
The third film they have in production is Fantastic Four. It is scheduled to appear just a few months before Avengers 2. It gets a fresh start. It can do whatever it wants. Should the mutant morass clean itself up continuity-wise in the next X film, Marvel Phase 3 could have mutants in it.
Fox needs to work quicker to make things copasetic if a complete MCU were to happen in the next decade. Because their studio controls so much of the universe and their stories will necessarily be events huge enough S.H.I.E.L.D. will certainly be aware of them, X-Men: Days of Future Past needs to reset the franchise in the same way Star Trek did – it doesn’t have to say the old continuity didn’t happen to the fans, but the characters need to find a way to reset themselves into the MCU continuity.
With Millar helping guide the way, it certainly is possible. Fox shouldering the burden for a film a year and Sony generating one every two or three will make Marvel’s goal of four MCU films a year possible, and it would also allow multiple studios to cooperatively finance films, reducing overall risk of some films without reducing the rewards the rights to the primary films generate. Used sparingly, Marvel has already shown that film fans are willing to invest in broad continuities, and combining the X-Men with The Avengers will benefit everyone if it is done right – especially the fans, and we’re the ones spending paychecks.
The largest hurdle will be in keeping the universe from becoming too muddled. Spider-Man should always be the solo hero of the Spider-Man movies, and he should almost never appear elsewhere. The magic is in melding the set dressings of the worlds and not in mashing every available star there is into the next big film.
Fortunately, Marvel is being very careful when it comes to crafting their biggest venture. Nobody knows for certain whether a complete MCU will happen, or what it will look like if it does, but as the chips currently lie it isn't impossible. This is the comics world. Stranger things have happened.
Only time will tell.
Thanks for reading. Check out my website, Team Ugli, if I didn’t bore you too much. Until next time.
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