As we stand one week away from the world wide release of Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel Studios’ Nineteenth film of this franchise, I’ve conducted a Road to Infinity War Marathon: watching all the movies from the MCU before the third installment in the Avengers series. While some movies haven’t aged as well as I thought, one thing is for sure: The Marvel Cinematic Universe was a high risk that continues to pay off with each installment.
May 2008: I remember being in college, going to the theaters with my friends to see the first Iron Man film. At this point, my superhero movie loyalty was with DC as their heroes graced the silver screen for years. I have always been a Marvel fan so I knew about Iron Man and other heroes, but realizing the days of the X-Men movies being good were gone and other ventures such as Daredevil not faring well, I didn’t know what to expect.
As I watched Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark escape captivity, build a suit of protective armor, and save California from the Iron Monger, Marvel Studios had created a winner. But that was just the starting line. When Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury appeared from the shadows in Stark’s home and spoke these words: “I want to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative,” I became excited for the journey I was about to embark on.
From that day forward, I’ve looked forward to each Marvel Studios film as Phase One acted as the building blocks for an event that has never been done. In 2012, the culmination of four years of work paid off when Marvel released The Avengers: an ensemble cast movie that connected what came before and built upon it to bring these incredible heroes together. I remember rushing to the Thursday midnight showing and finding the closest empty seat with my friends to watch this spectacle. It was amazing to watch my new favorite heroes mash up to combat a threat in a story that had actual stakes and focused on our heroes as they learned to work together as a team, dysfunctional as they might be. Under Joss Whedon’s direction, The Marvel Cinematic Universe has established itself.
From then on, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has continued to grow and expand in scope; from the streets of New York (you know all their heroes live there) to the vast reaches of the galaxy, there have been adventure after adventure where we see our heroes save the day. Beyond the ones we were introduced to in Phase One, Phases Two and Three have brought more iconic heroes to the screen such as Ant-Man and Doctor Strange, got audiences to care about walking trees and talking raccoons with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and brought back Spider-Man and the iconic Black Panther.
Each story has their own stakes as everyone lived after the Battle of New York, giving birth to a post-Avengers world in Marvel. Our original heroes did not escape unscathed as their solo movies and Avengers: Age of Ultron led to their growth, tearing them down, and building them back up. Audiences and fans, new and old, realized that while they might have fantastic abilities or super-human skills, that word should not escape us: human. They are still people with their own issues, vices, and problems that they must overcome while saving the world.
Other studios have tried to copy the formula (here’s looking at you, DCEU) with less than stellar results (Anyone remember the Dark Universe? Supposed to have started with The Mummy? Anyone?). Marvel has become the standard bearer and the blueprint of creating a shared universe. With Kevin Feige at the helm, writers who know the material and the characters well enough to create intricate stories and directors, either established or ones without a big-budget film under their belt, Marvel has bred success with each film. Now, not all of the films are perfect (Thor: The Dark World) or measure up to a film preceding it (Avengers: Age of Ultron), but each film has been a joy and help build upon the universe as they have kept modifying their recipe for success.
As we march towards April 27 and the next big culmination in Avengers: Infinity War, seeds that were sown in the post credits (can’t forget those post credit scenes!) of The Avengers as their big bad villain was revealed, we can’t forget where we started and why we fell in love with these films to begin with. Going through this marathon, I’m reminded why I love these movies and characters. It’s not just that I’m a superhero fan/nerd, but these characters have become inspirational, people that I wish I could be (sans powers, but those would be nice), and being able to relate to them on some level. Their stories and how they are executed in the final film product is why I love these characters.
If I could meet Kevin Feige, I would say thank you. Thank you for bringing these characters off the comic book page and to life on the big screen. And a thank you to Stan Lee for giving birth to these characters to begin with.
Here’s to 10 years, Marvel Studios. And many more!