With the highly-anticipated release of Avengers: Infinity War, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now nineteen films strong. Carefully crafted by producer Kevin Feige, the series has introduced us to a wealth of characters who were previously unknown to most, outside of the comic-book community, and has put Marvel Studios in an enviable position.
Looking at this monumental feat of film-making, it’s hard to believe that just a couple of decades ago, Marvel was going bankrupt, and desperately hoping to stay afloat as they sold off the film rights to their most popular characters.
This of course meant that when the time came that they wanted to make their own films, they had to ignore their world-famous characters like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, instead looking to their roster of B-List heroes.
The end result shouldn’t have worked. But instead, it worked so well that all other film studios seem desperate to emulate the success that comes with a cohesive cinematic universe.
But that begs the question, why is Marvel’s Cinematic Universe better than the rest?
THEY HAVE GOALS
A big reason they succeed is because they make extensive plans. They set themselves goals. Then they work towards those goals. First, it was The Avengers. Then, it was Captain America: Civil War. More recently, it was, of course, Avengers: Infinity War. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is sprinkled with big road marks that give audiences a sense of accomplishment once they reach them.
Contrary to this, you have failed attempts like Universal and their Dark Universe. Set to feature a series of films starring fiction’s most memorable monsters, the series originally kicked off with The Mummy, after a failed attempt with Dracula Untold some years before. With The Mummy, Universal went all-in, creating their own Dark Universe logo and assembling the likes of Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe and reportedly Angelina Jolie to headline the series. A strong cast, if ever there was one.
Like Marvel’s cinematic universe, The Mummy saw a unifying force in Russell Crowe / Dr. Jekyll’s Prodigium, the Dark Universe equivalent of Samuel L. Jackson / Nick Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D.
But what was the end-goal? A monster team-up a la The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? A showdown between monster hunters and this all-star cast they’d assembled? All of this was unclear. With Marvel, we knew what they were building to from the end of the first film. With Universal’s monsters, however, the future has always been shrouded in darkness.
THEY KNOW HOW TO GET PEOPLE EXCITED
One thing Marvel has always been great at is self-promotion. You go to the cinema to see a Marvel movie, chances are, the trailer for the next Marvel movie will be attached at the start. You buy the Home Entertainment release, and that too will be littered with teasers of what’s coming up. Comic Conventions are usually dominated by Marvel’s presentations, as they’ve been known to declare whole hordes of films at a time to rapturous applause.
When a Marvel movie is on its way, it’s hard not to know about it. And on top of all that, they have a strong cast of stars who seem to love what they do, and are always willing to share stories, praise and passion about this universe they’ve become a part of.
And then, you’ve got things like Sony’s attempt at a Spider-Man cinematic universe. It was a shaky prospect from the start, because a lot of the Spider-Man centric characters who could headline their own films were villains, and many of them may not have been villains general audiences were willing to sit through a whole film about.
With that in mind, the way things have been publicised so far is mind-boggling. 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 required audiences to ‘Shazam’ a song in the end-credits to get a teaser for the then-upcoming Sinister Six film. More recently, the Tom Hardy-starring Venom film released a teaser that didn’t even feature Venom! Sure, they later remedied that with another trailer, but the damage had been done.
Sony’s constant blundering of publicizing their Spider-Man themed movies (most of which are assumed not to feature Spider-Man, we should add) make it very hard to get excited about this blatantly desperate attempt at a cinematic universe.
THEY FOCUS ON CHARACTER
But Marvel’s isn’t the only successful cinematic universe out there. While it’s true, no others have reached the amazing nineteen-film milestone that they have with Avengers: Infinity War in recent years, some studios are doing things the right way. The best example is probably Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse.
The reason this works is because unlike other cinematic universes, they tell a story, but don’t hamper it down with incessant teases for future projects. 2014’s Godzilla, while not perfect, was enjoyable enough. It’s prequel, Kong: Skull Island was fun, but didn’t beat you over the head with the fact it was a prequel. As such, those in the know will probably be anticipating the next few films in the series, 2019’s Godzilla: King of Monsters and 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong, while those oblivious to the fact that this is a growing cinematic universe will probably be very pleasantly surprised.
However, while we could talk about the limited longevity of these films (what happens after Godzilla fights King Kong? Where do you go from there?) there is a much more pressing issue.
Godzilla got people on the hype-train by teasing Bryan Cranston as the star, only to promptly shift focus to Aaron Taylor-Johnson within the film’s first twenty minutes. Similarly, Kong also had an enjoyable cast in John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston – but out of those who survived, there was the problematic context that this film was set in the seventies, and as such, it’s unlikely Legendary would bring these characters back in the modern day. We have no recurring point-of-view characters in this series. No one we can really relate to.
With Marvel however, we have a whole horde of heroes from whom we can pick and choose our favourites, and the prospect of any of them dying in Avengers: Infinity War was a truly saddening one for fans who had been invested in the series.
THEY LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES
While some may be saddened by the fact that Sony’s ‘Spider-Verse’ and Universal’s ‘Dark Universe’ are dreary messes, perhaps the most disappointing failure is that of DC’s Extended Universe. Here we had a pantheon of characters who could rival Marvel’s own. Imagine if Warner Bros. stepped up, and countered the previously unheard-of Captain America and the Guardians of the Galaxy with good movies about the ever-popular Superman and Batman. Some of these characters are now eighty years old! The word ‘superhero’ was practically invented for them.
And yet, Wonder Woman aside, what we got from Warner Bros. has been a series of critically disappointing movies and a whole ton of behind-the-scenes problems. Because whenever something goes wrong, Warner Bros. learns the wrong lesson, and changes up everything to steer their ship in a different direction.
‘Guardians of the Galaxy worked?’
‘Well, let’s completely derail the vibe we were going for in Suicide Squad.’
‘Batman v Superman didn’t do all that well?’
‘Well let’s change up our approach to Justice League, despite the fact we’ve already pretty much finished filming it.’
‘Oh, people like Harley Quinn?’
‘LET’S MAKE ALL THE HARLEY QUINN MOVIES!’
Enough, Warner Bros. Enough.
Plan a few films, then focus your energies on said films to make good ones. Don’t keep throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. At this point, they have more failing ‘DCEU’ projects in development than they have actual completed movies, and it doesn’t need to be this way. There’s no driving force here to calm everyone down; just a series of producers that have been booted as soon as anything goes wrong under their watch.
Marvel isn’t perfect. But they generally learn the right lessons from their mistakes. Rights issues surrounding the Hulk led to him featuring prominently in team-up movies. Thor: The Dark World’s reputation as the worst MCU film led to them bringing in director Taika Waititi to forge a new path.
In short, they adapt. They change. They grow. But they don’t completely start over whenever there’s a slight panic, which is something DC and Warner Bros. have yet to learn not to do.
Avengers: Infinity War is in cinemas now.