How The Marvel Ciniverse has broken all the rules and succeeded.
This is my first editorial, and it concerns the prospect of Marvels ever expanding cinematic Universe, and how it breaks all the rules of previous film franchises.
When you think about it, what Marvel has achieved is quite unique in Cinema. Everyone talks about the scale of the films, the budgets, the effects, the stars that they have brought together... but the biggest innovation they have succeed in is serialising an entire universe of characters like a TV series or the Comic Books themselves. Before, a Superman film wouldn’t have nudged you towards seeing the Batman film because the two properties were not connected. If you watched the Iron Man movie, in all likelihood you would go see Thor because that continues the Narrative. 2 seconds of seeing a prop or of hearing dialogue that connects to another character (those fabled Easter eggs), drives the hype for future films that could take 10 years to arrive. For storytelling this is a fantastic asset, as Marvel can slowly build up a narrative instead of rushing to squeeze it into a 2 hour film (imagine if Venom in the Spiderman franchise had be built up in the same way Thanos is being developed in the Avengers films).
We the film fans aren’t just waiting for the Avengers 2, but Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2, The Black Widow, Ant Man, Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr Strange and a whole universe of characters films. Such buzz and devotion to products that haven’t even been put into production is incredibly seductive to a film studio and its investors. It’s unsurprising that a new and critically fragile Spiderman film is being suggested by its producers that at a later point the Spiderman franchise will be linked to the Avengers to drum up excitement and ticket sales.
Of course there have been many film franchises that have had sequels, but these properties are always eventually impeded by either the original source material drying up (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter). Plus they are on a linear production, where you only get exited in seeing film 3 after you have seen film 2. Marvel doesn’t have this problem- it has 70 years stories to use and while one sequel like Iron Man is in production, Captain America can be on cinema screens worldwide. The only similar series that has done this is Star Trek, which survived in the same continuity from 1966 up to the reboot in 2009. This makes me wonder if this Marvel Ciniverse could have branches that become TV series?
A comic book movie used to progress like this: The hero's origin, begins to fight crime, comes up against ‘the Uber Villian’, several battles happen culminating in the final showdown where the villain dies. The first masterstroke by Marvel is to not kill important characters. In their film universe Loki comes back from being lost in the nine realms. The Red Skull was dragged into the cosmic cube, and could pop up at any time. Even Agent Coulson didn’t die on screen. These characters could possibly turn up in any other Marvel franchise. I think everyone would agree the problem with both the Spiderman and X-Men Series is that key characters were killed (Doc Ock, Venom, Sabretooth, Cyclops, Jean Grey). It means these characters can’t be used again. The only way the X-Men films could continue was to go back in time, where a minefield of continuity errors lay in waiting.
Of course this structure isn’t without its problems. Since the first Iron Man Movie, reboots are no longer an option for Marvel. If you decide to remake (for example) Thor, all the other films connected to it would have to be rebooted as well. Marvel has been lucky that so far the 6 films that are connected together have not derailed. But sooner or later, there WILL be a film that will falter. Maybe it will be a bad script, a bad plot direction that can’t be ignored, perhaps the subject chosen won’t be known by the general public (a big problem facing the Guardians of the Galaxy movie), or the loss of the original actor that played a part. These are problems that Marvel will have to deal with at some point, and it will be interesting to see how they overcome them. But until that day, I’m sure they are happy enough to rake in the cash.
So looking at this business model, how does a company like DC replicate its success? Frankly, that’s going to be very hard to do because the ace that Marvel has had all along: Stan Lee.
Stan Lee originated (or in Captain America’s case, reintroduced) the mainstay of the current crop of the Avengers. So he didn’t repeat himself, he made sure the Iron Man was different enough from Thor, who was unlike The Hulk, who was nothing like Spiderman- but he placed them all in the same world: predominantly New York. They all can interact with the streets of New York, ergo they can interact with each other. DC’s heroes and the landscapes they exist in were all created by different people. The Execs of DC have the headache of trying to convince the film goer that Metropolis exists in the same world as Gotham, AND the universe Green Lantern already has built (which is 75% CGI). The only real way to do this is to make Superman darker and more realistic, and Batman lighter and more outrageous- which may not sit well with the fans. Plus, DC have the problem that Superman is so ridiculously powerful that he is more godlike than Wonder Woman, more galactic than Green Lantern, and faster than The Flash. Why would you need the others if you have Superman? And why would Batman who doesn’t have any powers be connected to any of them? I don’t envy DCs situation, especially when they are up against the success of Marvel.
Of course nothing is written in stone- in 5 years time we may have tired of this monster Marvel film franchise, and DC may have pulled off what seems like the impossible. But until then we can only Marvel (excuse the pun) over what 10 years ago seemed like the impossible: an entire universe of comic characters being brought to the big screen.
Source: Alan Greenway
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