Marvel's Cinematic Empire: a look into how one of the world's biggest superhero franchises creates blockbuster magic
6 April 2019
Words: Tom Deehan
Just like any national holiday, the appearance of a new Marvel movie every few months is now a culturally accepted normality, and has been for the better part of a decade. Several critics complain that the superhero phenomenon has outworn its welcome, and with comparisons being made to the rise and fall of the Western genre, those same critics expect Marvel’s cinematic empire to topple in the near future. With the upcoming release of Avengers: Endgame, concluding multiple character arcs for our beloved heroes, it’s not difficult to understand why these assumptions are being made, but there are some key components to the success of Marvel that are being overlooked.
Unlike any other genre that has come before it, the superhero genre (and more specifically the Marvel franchise), has decades upon decades of content to adapt. For example, the blueprint comic for Avengers Infinity War (conveniently titled The Infinity War) has sat on the bookshelves of comic buffs since 1992. Sure, some of these movies have sought to adapt more recent material (see Captain America: Civil War) but the Marvel franchise has a back catalogue that dates all the way to 1939. If the Marvel franchise ever does falter, it certainly won’t be down to a lack of inspiration.
Also working in the franchise’s favour is the fact that CGI technology has finally advanced to a level where it can help conceptualise these fantastical stories exactly how they were imagined. If you want a better understanding of what I’m talking about, just watch 2002’s Spider-Man and then give 2008’s Iron Man another look. While there may be a mere six years between these films, the difference is palpable. And that excludes the style of comedy in these films. It says a lot about the current state of Hollywood comedies when the funniest line of last year came from none other than Infinity War (“Why is Gamora?”).
Eagle-eyed readers might be wondering why the DC franchise hasn’t had the same success, after all, do these points not apply to the likes of Aquaman and Wonder Woman? In theory, DC’s offering should be more than capable of attracting the same critical acclaim as Marvel, if only it wasn’t missing the most crucial component of all: a consistent narrative. Everyone was psyched for Avengers Infinity War because Thanos, the supervillain, was teased as far back as 2012, being presented as the ultimate threat on the horizon. I’ve seen every DC Universe flick to date and I still have no idea of where it’s all headed.
Marvel’s ability to steer an overarching narrative is reflected in the robust nature of its individual character arcs. Even Rocket, the talking raccoon introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy, has shown great emotional depth in his struggle to accept friendship and responsibility. This prevents each new film from feeling like just another sequel, and more like the next episode of your favourite TV show. With a bunch of new characters just waiting in the wings, the Marvel franchise won’t be going away any time soon.