by Alex Poquette
For the past 15-plus years, the superhero genre has dominated the box office. Of the ten biggest franchises of all time, 4 of them are superhero-based, including the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the most successful series ever, based on Worldwide Box Office accumulation. Ever since Superman promised “you’ll believe a man can fly” in 1978, the superhero genre has grown in popularity. That being said, it wasn’t until the release of X-Men in 2000 that the golden-age of comic-book movies began.
Recently, the popularity of comic-based movies has grown so much that studios who hold the rights of any superheroes have attempted to cash in on the new trend. Although there have been some failed attempts (e.g. the new Fantastic Four movie and the Andrew Garfield led Spider-Man series) overall, these comic-book based franchises have proven more success than failure. Yet, as more franchises are introduced, each with new characters, the genre has become bloated, complicating the movies within. Miss one movie or even an episode of a TV show, and you can be completely out of the loop. This especially rings true to those people (like me) who haven’t read the source material and lack background knowledge of these characters.
Although these movies are still spectacles if you don’t pay attention to the entire “universe,” they’re even better when fully understood. For this reason, I am going to attempt, over the course of 9 articles, to make a universal guide for non-comic readers (or comic-book readers who still need filling in) of the three active franchises which have dominated and are poised to dominate the genre for the foreseeable future. These “universes” are the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), X-Men Universe, and DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Each universe will get three articles giving a quick overview of the “universe”, explaining movies which have been produced, and talking about movies already slated for future release. This particular article is a quick overview of the most popular, and arguably important, of the three universes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Being the largest franchise of all time and the most emulated film series as of late, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) clearly must be the first “universe” I talk about. Since the dawn of the MCU in 2008, there have been 13 movies and 4 television shows produced by Marvel Studios (which is owned by Disney). This high volume is possible because, unlike a typical series, most MCU movies revolve around a single character rather than the entire universe. Of the 13 films, only 2 of them have been Avengers movies, which include nearly all the heroes, and other than the Guardians of the Galaxy, all other sub-series revolve around one single character. To keep the series’ continuity, certain characters will find their way into multiple titles, like Phil Coulson and Nick Fury, while some very important heroes haven’t gotten their own movies (most notably Black Widow). However, most of these sub-series are seemingly independent of each other, as main characters won’t appear in every movie (e.g. Captain America has never been in an Iron Man movie). It is often joked that with the world about to end, where are all the other avengers? That being said, different characters’ actions will often affect other heroes in another movie or show. Marvel has made it feel like all of these characters, although separate, are a part of one big universe.
The man responsible for holding the MCU together is Kevin Feige. As the president of Marvel Studios, he has produced every movie in the MCU and is probably most responsible for the success of the franchise. The sub-series of the MCU may all be separate from each other but they often feel very similar. This is because Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios as a whole have created a formula from which every MCU is derived; blockbuster action combined with comedy. Although certain movies like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, specifically feel different stylistically from the rest of the series, even those films have both, action and comedy throughout (they might be the funniest films of the series). Marvel Studios’ and Kevin Feige’s presence are felt in every movie, and sometimes their overarching presence proves too much for directors (this is why director Edgar Wright quit Ant-Man). Of the three major comic book film series, the MCU is by far the most comedic.
The MCU prides itself on making everything seem perfectly intertwined. There aren’t multiple confusing timelines or characters appearing out of order with new faces. Generally, the movies are released chronologically (with the exception of Captain America: The First Avenger). Unlike most franchises before, the MCU is less of a film series and more of a shared universe in which characters may or may not interact. To help simplify things, The MCU is broken down into phases (we are currently in phase 3). Each phase includes different solo movies, starring different heroes and one climatic Avengers film where all the heroes come together (Phase 3 is breaking this mold with two Avengers films slated and Civil War which felt like an Avengers film). The series started in 2008 with Iron Man, and ever since, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark has set the tone for the franchise. He is often seen as the face of the MCU. The only hero competing with Tony Stark has been Chris Evan’s Captain America. Being the definition of a “hero,” “Cap” has gradually increased in popularity to the point that some say he has replaced Iron Man as the face of the series (although I would disagree). The two will eventually clash, but that’s a story for another article.
Other characters include The Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye and anyone that Marvel still owns. The most recent addition was Spider-Man as his rights were finally lent to Marvel Studios by Sony after the failed Amazing Spider-Man series. With Phase 3 just under way, and characters like Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel, the MCU keeps proving itself to be the most important of the universes and the most promising for the foreseeable future.
Do you love comic books but never have any idea what’s going on? Be sure to stick around for the entire series as I will break down each “Universe” more in depth.