Monday, May 15, 2017
How Marvel Created a Big Screen Juggernaut
Ten years ago, if someone told you Marvel Studios would be running Hollywood in a decade, would you have believed them? Now, though? Tough to argue the point.
After the Robert Downey Jr. vehicle Iron Man wowed audiences, there was no doubt the big screen would see more of Marvel, but with each successive offering, more people outside comic book fandom were drawn in. Sure, there were a few “not so great” outings, but by and large, fans – even tough to please comic book purists – loved the big screen takes on The Avengers.
Then came Guardians of the Galaxy. When the news dropped that Marvel was making a feature-length film about a band of interstellar rejects, including a talking tree and a homicidal raccoon, even fans of the Guardians were incredulous. How could they pull off the magic of Guardians on the big screen? Would they overdo the camp and kill the drama, or would they unnecessarily burden what should be a fun space romp with undue subtext and heavy-handed ret-conning? Turns out, they did neither. Marvel managed to deftly slide Guardians into their overarching story as a central cog in the machine, all the while offering up some of the funniest cast interaction and one of the best soundtracks in recent memory.
Then, further cementing proof that Marvel knows how to do it right, they released a follow-up to Guardians that, while perhaps not quite as great as the first one, still won the affection of both fans and critics. With a trio of solo Iron Man movies, two Avengers films, three Captain America films and a string of successful standalones, Marvel has fully established itself as a hit factory on par with – and even surpassing – many bigger Hollywood studios.
Marvel took the crown by offering movie-going audiences the classic red meat of entertainment: escapism with clever dialogue, fun characters, and unabashed beefcakes, bad girls, and barbed comic relief. They made comic book movies the same way Bogie used to make detective flicks, and Eastwood made action movies. The right mix of smart and fun, with enough clever to make audience miss (or not care about) plot holes and general weirdness, and enough engaging content to raise the bar on what a superhero action flick could be.
And, really, they didn’t try to make superhero movies. They made genre movies starring superheroes: action movies, political dramas, war movies, heist films … the best of Hollywood’s golden age with a modern spin.
That’s not to say Marvel’s movies couldn’t be better. There are still some holes to fill. Not having the X-Men and surprise hit title character Deadpool under the Marvel movie banner will be problematic going forward. But after Marvel won Spider-Man back (finally), it seems they have a template in place to bring their high-grossing mutants back into the fold.