Iron Man 3. The Avengers. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And soon, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
It seems that Marvel is just a runaway train of success with no indication that it will hit the brakes anytime soon. Having established itself as a household name and built a reputation of infallible movies after the first Iron Man, it seems that Marvel could literally produce any movie and the world will watch it!
However, this wasn’t always the case. Marvel hasn’t always been in control of its content, and this sometimes tarnished their brand and cinematic goodwill. Take Hulk (2003) and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007). These movies achieved a 62% and 37% on Rotten Tomatoes respectively. The action was there, but something was lacking. Once Marvel started to take control, cue The Incredible Hulk (2008), it still wasn’t able to always make the most of its incredible source material and create the amazing cinematic experiences we’re used to today.
Marvel realized what made it successful, and now nothing can stop it. But what was this special element? That answer was its characters.
Marvel has more comic books than I can count, and yet it still gains new readers every year despite the plethora of twisting alternate universes and character resurrections. The one constant in this whirlwind of content is its characters. No matter what happens in the latest Iron Man comic, Tony Stark will still be there. Same goes for Captain America, and most other heroes. Even though Thor is now a female, the character will still be a constant in the new stories moving forward. While the form of the character changes, the idea of the superhero will never go away.
This constant allows both diehard comic book fans and movie goers alike to find something in common to enjoy in the latest Marvel movie, but when the company losses sight of this, critical tragedy. Marvel got it right with Iron Man and cashed in on this with $585.1 million (US). More so, it was able to kick off the Marvel cinematic universe that is in full swing today.
Thor and Iron Man 2 though, moved away from character development and instead focused on musclebound Shakespearean story-telling and over-the-top villains respectively. As a result, these movies scored 77% and 73% on Rotten Tomatoes (a more honest score would have been 70% for Thor). While this isn’t a bad score when analyzed in isolation, it is poor by the Marvel standards of today. It seems that even when Marvel gets it wrong though, it still does quite well with both movies raking in millions. But when you compare the origin story in Thor to that of Iron Man, which focused solely on Tony Stark’s development and scored 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, there is proof in sticking to the basics: the characters.
After Marvel realized that the action and the muscle don’t make the hero, it focused on its characters with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (89%), and The Avengers (92%). All of these movies share the theme of character development, but above all share the issue of coming to terms with living in a changed world. Captain America faces being a soldier in a different kind of war, and the Avengers must grow to accept that they can no longer operate alone. This theme cannot be created through constant action or convoluted plots, but rather through character development that is supported by action and a straightforward plot. The character is the key to the movie, and it is why people keep coming back for more. As a kid, you never wanted to be Captain America in just one particular situation, or just Thor when he’s fighting. You wanted to be the character throughout the story, and have your own adventures where you can truly be the superhero you dream of.
While Thor still seems to be the sore thumb in the equation, what with Loki constantly saving Thor’s action-focus with periodic bursts of humour, the character is redeemed in The Avengers as we follow Thor’s development to a more three-dimensional character. Iron Man 3 also suffered from the convoluted plot disease, but was redeemed by its wit and a bit of character development, and became Marvel royalty with $1.2 billion (US) in box office earnings.
Only time will tell if Marvel can keep producing character-driven movies that can continue to succeed at both the box office and with critics alike. Now that it has established itself as a sure-bet, most future movies will have an audience guaranteed purely on the goodwill that Marvel has developed. Marvel hasn’t stopped taking chances though, and rather than stagnate with infinite sequels (though it’s getting close), the studio has brought in fresh movies. One such example is Guardians of the Galaxy, who critics thought would fail due to its space focus and not being grounded in reality, but instead succeeded due to its memorable characters (and Chris Pratt). With Antman on the list and the next four years already locked down with new releases, is there anything to stop Marvel from taking over the world?