DID THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE RE-IMAGINE HOW SUPERHEROES ARE PERCEIVED?
By Sathujan Manmatharajah
Since the turn of the millennium, the superhero genre has seen astronomical growth in popularity. Notable movies include Avengers Assemble, Spider-man and Guardians of the Galaxy. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a comic based multi-media world, although it is mainly associated with its films. It’s hard to ignore the massive impact it has had on the superhero genre and movie industry in the past decade. However, is it fair to give all the praise to Marvel, or do other producing studios deserve more attention?
When looking at box office figures, it’s hard to argue against the MCU. Currently, 4 of the top 10 international highest grossing movies of all time are produced by Marvel; Avengers Infinity War(4th), Avengers Assemble (6th), Avengers Age of Ultron (8th) and Black Panther (10th). No other ‘superhero’ movie breaks the top 10. Even though DC films such as the latter 2 instalments of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy have made about $1bn each, this is not near the magnitude and consistency that Marvel Studios achieves.
Even though numbers are a good indicator of popularity and reception, they are not able to tell the whole picture. One of the main reasons why modern MCU movies are so popular is because of the continuity they possess. There are currently 20 movies in the MCU, which are all interlinked and provide an overarching story. Furthermore, the studio has been releasing 3 movies a year recently and looks set to do so for the foreseeable future. Initially, the studio releases standalone movies where the audience is told stories of individual heroes. Lots of these standalone movies are released simultaneously, with hints and Easter-eggs, such as characters cross-overs, teasing the audience for what is to come. After several standalones and sequels have been released, the studio produces a ‘megamovie’ where all the individual characters merge. So far, Marvel have released 4 of these “crossover” movies: the three Avengers films and Captain America Civil War. This style of storytelling is something new, unique and refreshing to the industry. Many studios outside of the superhero genre have tried this formula with various levels of success, such as the infamous modern Universal Monsters’ Dark universe, which failed to take off after the failure of 2017’s The Mummy. Furthermore, Marvel movies aim to maintain a very accessible tone with a lot of humour whilst still expressing a wide range of themes. I.e. it has its own style, something other studios such as DC have struggled to maintain.
The MCU was not however a success all along. Many would say that Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, which revolves around DC’s Batman, is better than any MCU film. In fact, The Dark Knight released in 2008, currently sits on a 9.0 rating on IMDb. This means that it is considered to be the 4th best movie of any genre of all time, higher than any other Marvel movie. It also made over $1 bn at the international box office and was once the 4th highest grossing movie of all time. When looking at both these aspects, it would be fair to say that this trilogy is what truly changed the cinematic landscape towards the superhero genre. To be honest, that is not entirely wrong. The Dark Knight remains to this day as a shining example of what a mature superhero movie can be, and in that aspect, it helped to elevate the respect shown towards this genre. However, the Dark Knight trilogy was only 3 films. DC were unable to maintain this high quality and became inconsistent, gradually beginning to decline as Marvel popularity rose between 2012-2017.
Overall, it is difficult to pin the rise of the superhero genre to one studio. Although Marvel have seen a majority of the success, it would be unwise to not consider DC’s effect as well. Some love the new look of cinema, some have already grown bored to the monotony of the Marvel style. It will be interesting to see how cinema and culture evolve from this point. Is the superhero genre here to stay or just prolonging its life?