We are now just days away from what almost everyone is predicting will be one of the biggest movies of all time. With my anticipation for Avengers: Endgame at an all time high, I can’t help but look back on the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. And in doing that, I take myself all the way back to 2012.
I remember a conversation I had with my best friend, just prior to us seeing The Avengers. We discussed superhero movies and how, while we were excited for The Avengers, they weren’t really our thing. Neither of us were ever big fans of the pre-MCU superhero world. Sure, there were obvious exceptions like the Nolan Batman movies. But movies like the Tobey Maguire Spider-man movies and the X-men movies, while fine, were never going to make our favorite movies lists. Then we saw The Avengers and everything changed.
It is still my opinion that The Avengers was the first great MCU movie. It had gotten off to a bit of a rough start prior to that. Iron Man is really good, despite falling flat at the end. The Incredible Hulk is average at best and doesn’t even feel like it is part of the MCU and is followed up by an Iron Man sequel that was disappointing to say the least. Thor is one of my least favorite movies out of the bunch, and Captain America: The First Avenger is another perfectly average movie. But The Avengers put it all together in an incredibly fun, action packed adventure movie like I’d never seen before. It permanently changed my view on superhero movies and how enjoyable they could be.
The MCU hit another rough patch after that with what are widely considered two of the worst movies in the franchise, Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. Marvel was beginning to fall into the same trap as the superhero movies that came before it. All the movies were beginning to feel the same, with nothing new really being added. It wasn’t until Captain America: The Winter Soldier that I think the MCU really found its footing. I really enjoy that film and the ones that followed to close out Phase 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron (though this one would have been better and set up future movies better if it had kept the really dark tone of its trailer), and Ant-Man. And just as I was starting to really enjoy the majority of movies in the MCU, in late 2014 they announced their full slate of movies for Phase 3.
With that announcement, it became evident that the world was going to become overwhelmed with superhero movies. Marvel was going to be releasing 3 movies a year going forward, and that was in addition to what DC was doing with their universe and what Fox was doing with their Marvel properties. And while many of the movies sounded exciting, myself and many others asked the question “How long until superhero fatigue set in?”. The answer was… it never really did, thanks the Marvel doing several things to keep the genre fresh and make the movies appealing to a wide array of people.
The biggest way they did this, in my opinion, was by making movies that fell into more genres than just “superhero movies”. This really began with The Winter Soldier, adding a spy thriller and political intrigue element. Guardians of the Galaxy felt like it could have been just as much a part of the Star Wars universe as the Marvel universe and brought a lot more comedy into play. Ant-Man was really just a heist movie with a couple superpowered suits. Spider-man: Homecoming added a superhero into a John Hughes high school movie from the ’80s. Then you had movies like Civil War, which pit the heroes against each other in some of the best action set pieces ever, and Doctor Strange which was bizarre but visually fascinating. Plus there’s Thor: Ragnarok which took 2 things fans had been clamoring for, a good Thor movie and a Planet Hulk movie, and mashed them together with some amazing comedy to create one of the weirdest, most fun, and most surprising MCU movies to date.
Genre hopping wasn’t the only thing the MCU did to keep their movies fresh. The talent they were bringing in to make and star in these movies was also a big part of it. Sure, actors like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Mark Ruffalo were a part of it from the beginning but, for the most part, their careers have all been elevated by their roles in the MCU. While A-list talent has always been involved in minor roles, it wasn’t until recently that A-list talent began coming to the forefront on the MCU. The fact that 7 time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper has voices a talking raccoon in 4 movies should say something about the level of talent Marvel has involved with their movies. In starring roles as superheroes, they’ve brought in Oscar-nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange and Oscar winning actress Brie Larson as Captain Marvel. In roles as the main villain, they’ve brought in Oscar-nominated actor Josh Brolin as Thanos, 7 time nominee and 2 time winner Cate Blanchett as Hela, and Oscar-nominated Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio in the upcoming Spider-man: Far from Home. You also have to mention directors like Joe and Anthony Russo, James Gunn, Scott Derrickson, and Taika Waititi. 10 years ago it would have been hard to believe any of these people would be involved in these movies.
Going right along with bringing in amazing talent is Marvel diversifying to bring in characters for everyone to be able to relate to. I already mentioned Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, but the biggest example of this is Black Panther, which combines diversifying and talent. It features one of the best young directors in Ryan Coogler leading a star studded cast of Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, and Andy Serkis. While I find the movie a bit overrated, there’s no denying the diverse array of talent involved.
All of these things, the genre hopping, the talent, the diversity in both cast and directors, are all ways I think the Marvel Cinematic Universe has avoided superhero fatigue from its audience. Rather than losing fans along the way, it has only added them in large numbers. There are so many good movies in the 20+ that have been made that can be enjoyed by those who like superhero movies, as well as those who don’t. All of those movies have culminated in last year’s Infinity War, which is my favorite MCU movie to date and I hadn’t even mentioned it yet, and this week’s Endgame. The box officer receipts from last year and the predictions for Endgame, with many estimating a $300 million domestic opening weekend, just go to show that this is a franchise unlike anything seen before, and unlikely to be replicated in the future. While the MCU might look different post-Endgame, I don’t expect it to go anywhere. And I, for one, will be along for the ride.
See Avengers: Endgame in theaters this Friday, April 26.