Before starting the Cinematic Universe we all know of and becoming the juggernaut production company of today, Marvel Studios was once a small and seemingly insignificant studio. Formed in 1993 by Ari Arad after Marvel Entertainment’s ToyBiz deal, Marvel Studios worked originally in animation mostly. Unable to get funding for live-action blockbuster films, the company began licensing out a majority of their properties – the major ones being The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and X-Men – to companies willing to take the monetary risk necessary to bring these characters to life. As the company began regaining the rights to characters back, they struck a deal with Paramount Pictures to begin self-financing films, which is where 2008’s Iron Man came into play.
You may be asking: why the history lesson for Marvel Studios? Well, 2008 was easily one of the biggest and most stressful years for the studio. They released a film based on a not so well-known comic book character (let’s be honest, how many people actually knew who Tony Stark was before 2007?) starring a man who had recently run into substance abuse troubles and been in and out of rehab. On top of that, they decided to end the film with an after-credits scene promising fans what we’ve always been wanting: The Avengers. Anyone at Marvel Studios who wasn’t biting their nails when those prints were being sent out clearly didn’t understand how monumental this film was for the future of movie franchises. Luckily, the film was a massive success and from there the studio began to put together what I consider to be one of, if not THE, most successful and intricately planned movie universes ever created.
Ever since Marvel released Iron Man almost 6 years ago, they have continued to expand and maintain the popularity of this Cinematic Universe with what seems like no signs of slowing down. Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World each received substantial acclaim from critics and fans alike, riding the hype they set for themselves into the $2 billion global box office area. And with Captain America: The Winter Soldier featuring Falcon, The Guardians of the Galaxy, and Age of Ultron adding Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, AND Vision (more on that later) to their already giant Universes, Marvel is not only continuing to ride the success of existing property, but they are also expanding with each film they release.
So why the success? When you think about it, what Marvel has done with these past six years was not really a walk in the park. Without owning a majority of their well known characters (Captain America and Hulk being the exceptions) they managed to setup and successfully execute comic book film after comic book film, with each one bringing the world they’ve setup more and more together. Some consider the major factor to be Marcel’s ability to recruit talent: whether it’s in front of the camera with Downey Jr. and Jackson or behind the camera with Sheldon and Favraeu, the studio never shied away from recruiting talent. Conversely, they have also done a fantastic job making sure an actor fits into a role and not allowing past work to dictate who they hire, which allowed actors like Hemsworth and Hiddleston to truly shine and break out into the stars they are today.
While Marvel has been smart about this whole Universe so far, they also have not been completely against taking risks and surprising fans, which is one of the main reasons why I believe the studio has succeeded so far. Being in the position that they have achieved, the heads of the company could have very easily stuck with Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America sequels for the rest of their phases, bringing in a new character or two with The Avengers films and staying fairly safe. But rather than doing that, the studio greenlit properties such as Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, a series I didn’t even know existed before, as well as looking forward toward possible Doctor Strange and Black Panther films. They’re persistence toward taking risks and surprising fans has kept us on our toes consistently, and although it might not work out and be received the way they hope (Mandarin twist in Iron Man 3), it is generally well received and always appreciated.
Paul Bettany’s recent casting as the character Vision in the highly anticipated Avengers sequel is a prime example of Marvel’s intuition and ability to keep fans on their toes. Marvel’s inclusion of the Ultron-created character was, while speculated by a few fans, never confirmed by the filmmakers and company previous to the casting. And although seeming a bit out of the blue, when one delves deep into the mythology of the character and Bettany’s pre-existing relationship with the studio, it makes much more sense. With Bettany already the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S., his casting as Vision brings about much speculation as to where the Avengers sequel might be heading story-wise. This casting brings a bit more validity to the rumor that Ultron is going to be created by Stark as a super weapon for good but ultimately turned evil by a corrupted J.A.R.V.I.S., connecting Bettany to not only the individual behind the creation of Ultron but also the object of Ultron’s creation. Whether or not these rumors and speculation are true or not cannot be said, but Marvel’s intricate planning when it comes to this universe gives fans little nuggets of information like these and allows us to come up with these crazy theories, showing they’ve created a world that we exist in on more than just on a film watching level.
Another major factor contributing to the success of this franchise is Marvel Studio’s willingness to stray from following the comic book lore completely. We’ve seen it done in Iron Man 3 with the Mandarin, with the casting of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and will be continuing to see it with the major changes to Ultron’s origin in the next Avengers film. Being a moderate fan of comic books and their lore, it’s always sad to see the studios take stories that are close to the heart of many fans and change them, whether it be significant or not. However, Marvel understands what many comic book fans either don’t realize or don’t want to: some of the stories on the page just won’t translate to film. Their ability to take these stories and manipulate them slightly, bringing films that both comic fans and regular movie goers can enjoy together, is a testament to how fearless they are with the way they want this universe to unfold.
We’re seeing that now with the potential casting of Evangeline Lily as Hank Pym’s daughter and Scott Lang’s love interest in the new Ant-Man film. While some have been worried about all of the changes being made to the lore of Ant-Man to accommodate the Avengers and Ant-Man film, seeing how well the studio has crafted each of their films to fit within this Universe so far and their casting of Evangeline Lily, a geek goddess who’s coming off playing a complete badass in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, for me is just another reason why I feel like I can truly put my trust in this studio to continue producing quality comic book films for years to come.
The studio has come a long way since 2005 when Iron Man was officially announced as their first live-action feature, and it’s only getting bigger. With Captain America: The Winter Soldier poised to, according to producer Kevin Feige, set major events in motion that will transfer into The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and Guardians of the Galaxy heavily featuring the Infinity Stones and potentially being the major tie between Thanos and this Cinematic Universe, it doesn’t seem like the world building is stopping anytime soon. And as a moviegoer and comic book fan, Marvel continuing onto making bigger and more ambitious/risky things is really all I can hope for.
Article by Nick Franco