It’s no secret that comic book movies are not stuff at the box office right now and have been for several years, but let’s look at this realistically there’s really only one studio producing all the major hits- Marvel. So why are Marvel leading the way, I mean DC had success recently too but nothing compared to their counterparts successful market share. So let’s see what there doing that’s keeping them on top over and over again.
Marvel launched there first in-house produced movie with Iron Man in 2008, and since then have had hit after hit both in terms of box office success, critic support and fan support but what changed the game? Why were Marvel able to alter the shift from comic book movies being poor adaptations into the new Hollywood thing that were to be taken seriously- one real reason for this is faithfulness.
Marvel has often been criticised within the Comic world for making it difficult for new readers to get engrossed in a series straight away as all of their big characters have years and years of important back story to know and be aware of with each story arc that you read, but this devotion to their characters and to story telling is what they have faithfully transported across to the cinematic universe and boy has it been working.
Marvel have always made movies of their most popular characters throughout the history of cinema, however not aloft of these movies are considered must see until Marvel partnered up with 20th
Century Fox, Columbia Studios and New Line Cinema to start distributing and making movies based on some of their more popular characters. And this is what’s key to Marvel success right now, the level of success and control their partnerships produced. Fox acquired the rights to X-Men, Fantastic Four and Daredevil and managed to make a success out of the X-Men franchise but created a poorly received and constructing Daredevil and did an even worse job with the Elektra spinoff movie. Fox also seemed to make poor choices with Fantastic Four as they choose a great villain that was poorly used and then disposed of within 20minutes of being in combat before making a shocking sequel.
New Line cinema made the Blade movies and with the first movie made a great film that was accepted by fans outside of the comic book community as it was a good action movie and contained the right mix of adult themes and violence to really grab itself an audience. This meant two sequels were to follow, Blade2 was great but Blade:Trinity really wasn’t a great film- it played too much on the cheesy action that had worked in short spells before and moved too far away from Blades character to be a success.
Columbia and Sony however had more success with two great Spider Man movies, that drew huge crowds and huge box office numbers not to mention great praise for comic book movies and the comic book business as a whole- helping Marvel launch new lines and series (Ultimate universe) which helped new readers get on board with famous characters for the first time. However in Sony’s attempt to cash in on the success they made a third movie that was too chaotic and rushed, contained too many story threads and was rammed full of characters in an attempt to make future movies look possible and draw fans into more movies however this failed.
Marvel was keenly keeping a watch, and being less involved in each movie being made by the big companies and openly admitted they would do things differently with the characters, if they had the opportunity. To further fuel Marvels desire to make in-house was the poor receiving of Ghost rider which is a movie that barely resembles the source material and doesn’t even stand up on its own as a good movie in any way so it came as no surprise when Marvel announced they were going to start making their own films under Marvel Entertainment.
This is where the game really changed, no more would we see characters adapted to fit the big screen and a wider audience by changing the origins and the whole feel of a character (Joel Schumacher’s Batman anyone) but now we would see a team assembled from the ground up of comic book writers and editors given responsibility to oversee then development of a cinematic universe starring some of Marvels biggest heroes. Once Kevin Feige was announced as being the head of Marvel Entertainment you knew things were on the right track, as every interview he gave about the post exuded confidence and ideas that seemed right and just what the genre needed to be kept alive and maybe thrive in cinemas.
Iron Man was Marvel’s first project, one of their founding members of the Avengers and a big property but not all that greatly known by a wide audience outside of comics however with the great casting of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark things were looking good. Once the film hits cinema screens everyone’s hopes were realised, Marvel had made an origin movie for Iron Man that was both true to its comic books routes and brought into the modern-day without sacrificing why everyone loved the character. The company had stayed faithful to the character both in term’s of his presentation, his characteristics and his origin tale while proving they could make a very well presented movie that would draw at then box office. Iron Man was a huge success both in terms of critic scores and financially. What made this even more impressive was that Marvel choose to use Iron Monger as the villain in the movie, a lesser known villain for Iron Man. Many fans thought the Mandarin or Crimson Dynamo would be the main threat but Marvel pulled out a great story with characters that weren’t that well-known in the public eye and set out their stall early. But with one hit under their belts everyone wondered what they could produce next.
And later that same year we were treated to a huge adaptation of one of the Incredible Hulks best story lines, this was a sequel of sort to Ang Lee’s movie ‘Hulk’ but instead of going for artistic styling of substance (despite Lee’s attempt being ambitiously different) Marvel once again delivered a faithful stealing of not only the Incredible Hulk but Bruce Banner and the world he lived in. This movie was a huge success for Marvel and showed that the Hulk could produce a good stand alone movie that fans would go and see and love. One of the reasons this hulk movie succeeded was the direct translation of Bruce Banners pain and anguish from the comic books straight into the cinematic universe- there was no attempt to make Banner more physically imposing or capable, he was the smart but tragic scientist everyone loves. This was shown brilliantly in the conversations between ‘Mr Blue & Mr Green’ which were another faithful comic book adaptation that really showed what knowing your source material can do for fans. Add to that the fact that the first few Hulk appearances don’t feature a full view of the Hulk ( something done by Bruce Jones comic book run) that really helps add to the excitement of seeing the Green Goliath for the first time, so that when you do it’s a real marque moment. Add to this the post credit sequence featuring Iron Man and Marvel seemed to have a winning formula.
Marvel decided that Iron Man should get a sequel next, so in 2010 we got Iron Man2 hitting the big screen, which once again showed what Marvel could do with their own back catalogue of characters and villains not to mention years of stories. The most notable change in the sequel was that we got our second suit of armour, in the form of War Machine and Marvel upped the Nerd factor by including AIM (Advanced Ideas&Mechanics) into the movie without giving anyone the MODOK cameo we all thought would appear. However Marvel were able to deliver another hit, albeit slightly less successful one for critics than Iron Man but still a good movie that stayed true to characters and showed faithful recreations of great stories can work on the big screen. And just to make sure the post credit trend became a reality there was another cameo thrown in there, hinting at the arrival of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir and cementing the fact we would see the Thunder God next and his world would be the same as Tony Starks. Immediately it was clear that Marvel were going for the big guns down the line by launching the Avengers and people couldn’t be more excited.
2011 saw the realisation that Marvel was truly building a movie empire as both Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger hit cinema screens and drew huge crowds and money all around the globe, and both films were hugely revered despite being very different. Captain America focused on the origin story for Steven Rogers and his powers, all set against the familiar backdrop of WWII while fighting the infamous Red Skull and his Hydra organisation to prevent the world falling under his rule. Marvel continued to cast lesser known movie stars in their main roles, with Chris Evans taking up the mantle of Captain America and doing a great job. However what sold this movie to many was the possibility that this could be another piece towards the Avengers movie, and Marvel didn’t disappoint with a post credits scene that transported Cap to modern-day New York. This was so well done as the entire movie took place in WWII as it should have done, and then Marvel threw in the time change just as it happened in the comics and this attention to detail and truthful recreation pleased every one as well as introducing Captain America to a whole new audience outside of comic books while assuring they were hooked in for his next adventure.
Thor hit next for Marvel and was the riskiest property that they had tried to get onto the big screen thus far, as it was a the first movie that required fans to accept something outside of the known ‘Earth’ as Asgard was heavily featured along with a host of characters with God like powers. It was also the first Marvel movie to not feature the tried and tested origin story for the first outing of our hero. The movie did feature an origin of sorts with Thor losing his powers and being banished and having to then redeem himself to gain these but it wasn’t the standard formula- and this works wonders for Marvel. With no origin story to be told Marvel were able to jump straight into the story of two brothers who couldn’t be more different in terms of their characters and their desires for the world, and this faithful recreation of the Loki and Thor dissention not only provided the story for this whole movie but also set out the future star of the Marvel universe in Tom Huddleston’s Loki. The ability to once again transfer a comic book story to film in a true and accurate way had paid dividends for the ever-growing cinema giant. Add to that the appearance of the only missing Avenger (Hawkeye) in this movie was an Easter egg and everyone was sold on the thunder gods first outing as a huge success.
2012 arrived and all of Marvels hard work up to this point with their story telling and their planning was on the line, either the company was about to secure their future as a cinema giant that produces amazing comic book adaptations or everything they had worked for was about to crash down in flames. Despite the recent success of Marvel movies many people were worried that adding all of the characters together could lead to a hugely over populated spectacle that fell horribly short on character development and story, however Marvel cemented their place as a cinema powerhouse with the highest grossing movie of all time.
The film did almost nothing wrong it told a great tale, that focused on Loki as the lead protagonist which made sense given his earlier portrayal and the huge fan reaction his role had received and the fact that he is a god gave a great reason for the Avengers to be needed together. However the team coming together was also brilliantly done, as each character stayed true to themselves and this presented some growing pains for the team as would be expected and also allowed for Loki to slowly force them apart giving him the upper hand. However it was the portrayal of Hulk in this movie that really sold the film as his infamous conflict with Thor was shown in a great fight scene in the hellicarrier along with a really well done hero turn and Bruce Banner moment where he confessed how he handles the Hulk inside him. Add to that a great scene where he shows his power in owning a ‘Puny God’ and he stole the movie without question. However Tony Stark, Captain America, Thor and Nick Fury all had their own moments to shine aswell as showing what the Avengers are capable of as a team. The post credits sequence was a continued success in this movie too, as not only did Marvel finally reveal the big villain behind everything so far that even remotely related to the ‘Tesserac cube’ or ‘Hydra’ and even Loki’s insistance on taking over Earth but they made it the comic book fans favourite super villain Thanos! This moment of reveal was enough to set the comic book community off to a fever pitch as one of the biggest and most deadly villains the Avengers have ever faced was being teased as the over arching villain behind everything! Marvel had not only linked their heroes and their history together into the Avengers but they had shown they could link all of the stories together through one master plan of a villain just like they do in their monthly comic books and fans couldn’t have been happier, myself included.
Phase 1 had been a a huge success for Marvel, and I was personally worried that after such a great collection of movies and faithful adaptations of some of the best comic book stories they had to offer that the only way to go was to falter and fall at this point. The next film would be crucial to the continued success of not only Marvels comic book movies but also the entire industries as Marvel was now the standard-bearer for comic book movies (Nolans Batman Trilogy only got the greenlight thanks to the Marvel success) and a bad movie or less than the expected brilliance would only lead to a backlash against the inevitable cries of “Cash in” from the huge comic book fanbase. Marvel decided to launch their Phase2 movies with a familiar and successful face in the form of Iron Man3, and many expected more of the same lighthearted technology based hero saving the day but what Marvel gave us was an adaptation of one of the best Iron Man stories in the last 15years that gave Tony Stark time to shine and reminded us all why he is the hero- Extremis. Iron Man3 took Tony out of the armour for most of the film, and set him back to the genius we all saw in glimpse in his first movie appearance and forced him to be the hero he truly is without the suit, and this was a risky move as many fans only knew him in the armour so if you remove the armour you could isolate fans- yet Marvel delivered it brilliantly.
Marvel introduced the ‘Mandarin’ as the villain who attacked the now cocky and overconfident Tony Stark where he lived and causes the destruction of all of Starks technology, forcing him out on the run and having to think on his feet to survive. Add to this the fact that Marvel threw in the genetic enhancing compound know as Extremis for Stark to try to combat alongside dealing with the Mandarin all the while without his trademark Iron Man tech- and this story felt more grounded and emotional than any of the other Iron Man appearances to date and is a movie that is far superior to the second Iron Man film. The extremis storyline has been a fan favourite for a long time so to see Marvel do it justice on the big screen only helped to show that they are truly dedicated to producing true and faithful adaptations of their best material in the cinematic universe and really do take the job of presenting these characters to the masses in the best way possible. However the addition of Pepper Potts as Rescue and a host of twists, turns and never before seen Iron Man amours in this movie also helped to give it a real large piece feeling to the end of the movie that fans expected. The post credit scene was nice too- as without any spoilers it continues to show how relationships from previous films have grown and flourished while also explaining the need for Stark to narrate throughout the movie. This was another sure-fire hit for Marvel, and the praise kept rolling in.
IronMan3 was key to Marvel for another reason, not just because it was the first movie from Phase2 but also because the story of this film would be the basis of the upcoming television show to be based in the cinematic universe- Agents of SHIELD. This show would primarily focus on a team of agents from SHIELD, led by the supposedly deceased Coulson (Killed in Avengers) as they try to deal with and take down threats including the usage of Extremis to create super soldiers. Marvel had now created their own new and unique television property that would tie into the films, and would also introduce new characters- namely Coulson- into the comic books. Marvels faithfulness to story telling had now begun to cross over and work both ways and the company had never seen such huge success both in terms of new readers to the comic books and box office numbers for the movies. To follow this up we saw the release of Thor2: The Dark World giving us the next adventures of Thor and finally showing us what was the fact of Loki post Avengers.
Thor and Loki would both feature heavily in this movie, and the film was completely stolen by the performance of Tom Hiddleston as Loki who had a truly standout performance in what i feel was Marvels least successful movie. The reason this is possibly the worst of the movies is that it relies to heavily on the comedy that worked in the first Thor but unfortunately the tone of this movie didn’t fit for Thor to be light-hearted and comedic, nor did it fit for the Human Scientists to be so lighthearted in the face of Earths destruction. The story was also the first story to not be a direct translation from the comic books and it showed, as Marvel seemed unsure how to handle the characters and the action at times yet the redeemed the film with the ending and the post credits scenes. Now i wont spoil the ending, which gave us a great character moment for the films best character but I will spill the post credit scenes as they are important for everything to come. The first of the post credit scenes, showed two Asgardian warriors meeting with the ‘Collector’ to store and Inifinity Stone with him to keep it safe, and this is the first time that he has appeared or been mentioned but he is pivotal to collecting the infinity stones for Thanos- which it looked like would be a theme set to run for a while after the tease of Thanos as a villain too. This was the true link between all future Marvel movies bein laid out right before fans eyes, and it couldn’t have felt better or bigger. The second was Thor announcing to Odin (Or maybe not) that he was leaving Asgard to go to Midgard (Earth) to be with Jane Porter, and this should help to show that Thor has chosen Earth to be under his protection and his home even though trouble in the cosmos and closer to his true home is brewing and looming nearer.
This year also saw Thor2 link into Marvels Agents of SHIELD, with a cameo from Lady Sif and the introduction of an Asgardian villain in the form of Enchantress. This once again showed how committed Marvel were to creating a shared universe and viewing experience to keep people engaged with the universe and characters between movies- but this link was about to become a whole new level of insane.
2014 saw the release of Captain America2: The Winter Soldier which promised to deliver a truly faithful adaptation of one of Captain Americas best-loved villains and stories to the big screen- and obviously this caused a huge stir amongst comic book fans. Chris Evans was set to return as Captain America, along with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow for an adventure in the modern era that promised to continue the tale of both Steven Rodgers and his pal Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier). Marvel spared nothing with this movie, giving us our first extended glimpse at the skill set of Nick Fury, which was pleasant and welcome surprise that showed how he is the man he is in the universe- it gave us a good updated look at Batroc who is a true threat to captain america physically in the comic books and a great adaptation of the winter soldier that really showed how cool comic book villains can be when adapted faithfully from the source material. However what really stole the show was the tone of the movie, this was different to anything Marvel had released before as it felt more like a spy based action thriller than the regular comic book movie. Having Cap and his team spend most of the film trying to solve a mystery while fending off the forces of the unstoppable Winter Soldier was engrossing and unmissable and really made you feel like it was two Avengers, but more importantly an out of time Captain America again the forces of the world- only for the huge twist to hit and everyone to go “WHAT??!” The twist Marvel threw in was brilliant, as not only did it harken back to the original outing for the first Avenger but it also tied into the Avengers movie and the most recent Iron Man film and once again showed that forward planning for a film franchise can deliver not only great movies but consistently good story telling that truly creates a franchise where nothing can be missed, and every little nuance is important. This was truly the best Marvel movie since Iron Man, and proved that the company was here to stay for a long time yet. Add to that the infamous ‘Twins’ post credit scene and they were setting the foundations for Avengers: Age of Ultron while also giving fans like me a minor heart attack with such a short glimpse of two massively important characters to the Marvel cinematic universe, not to mention that the inclusion of these characters spells a huge development in their potentially story telling. This was another great tease that truly showed Marvel know what they’re doing here now and for the future.
Now I couldn’t leave this article without talking about the current hot property in cinemas- Guardians of the Galaxy and what Marvel have set to come in the future. So first things first, Guardians is a hoot of a movie from the moment it begins to the minute the post credit scenes end you cant help but enjoy everything. Rocket and Groot have become two of the fastest growing pop culture stars since the launch of this film, and Chris Pratt as Starlord couldn’t have given a better performance. This was easily the most risky property developed so far by the company, as outside of a small hardcore following of fans the Guardians of the Galaxy aren’t a well known or loved team of super hero characters yet Marvel have managed to turn this into one of their biggest box office successes. This is mainly due to that fact that they have consistently produced great movies with great characterisation and faithful story telling/adaptations that have captivated the hearts and the minds of the audience, but is there something else behind its success? Has Marvel managed to do the unthinkable and get people in to see a movie they know very little about based on what it may mean for the future appearances of the characters they do know and love? I mean it’s highly possible that given all the teaser and cameos of characters before, and the confirmed appearance of Thanos in this movie that many fans of the Marvel movies have flocked into cinemas to see how this movie plays out for future events, and at the same time have know that at worst the film will be good. Marvel have managed to create must see movies based on their previous success and the fact that all the movies link together brilliantly into one woven tapestry of movie making and are now reaping the benefits by being able to adapt far lesser know properties and still fill cinema screens with fans.
This is a great sign for Marvel who still have Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant Man, Captain America3, Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy2 in production or already announced, as it means that they can almost guarantee that people will go and see these movies if the predecessor for it has been good and the story continues to move forward serially in terms of the over arching threat of Thanos to the cosmos. Yet it appears Marvel isn’t staying to the tried formula as Guardians of the Galaxy left a huge thread open at the end of the last movie- with regards to Starlord’s father, and this wasnt even in question until the final 15minutes. Add to that the name dropping of Stephen Strange in CAptain America2 and the hint that we may not even get an origin story for him and it appears that Marvel are still trying to keep the genre fresh and exciting for its fans. Marvel at this point simply needs to stick to what brought it this far, truthful and faithful adaptations of its characters and their stories made for the big screen and I don’t see this success slowing down for a long time to come.
Marvel truly do own the box office right now, and its a great time to be a comic book fan. Nerds Assemble.