In 1961 Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and many others began the creation of the Marvel Universe, a collection of comic book characters which has lasted generations. Within a few years, Marvel fans saw comics featuring Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, the Hulk, and even a collection of many heroes together as the Avengers.
For decades, fans longed for cinematic versions of their favorite heroes. There were starts and stops here and there, but nothing really good came out of the House of Ideas for the silver screen. At least not until 2008.
That was the year Iron Man appeared. Robert Downey, Jr., played the title character, and the producers could not have found a better fit for Tony Stark, the man behind the armor. Little did anyone know that Downey, Jr., would be featured in many more films in the Marvel Universe over the next decade.
Iron Man was finally that film that comic book fans wanted from Marvel. It portrayed a character that had been up and down in popularity in written form, but the movie boosted Iron Man into the public consciousness. Suddenly, it wasn’t just comic book geeks who wanted to read about him. The average moviegoer was interested in the character as well.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe just built steam from there. Films were produced for the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and even a sequel for Iron Man. Each film found a way to link to the one before and give foreshadowing to what was coming next. This culminated in 2012 with The Avengers, gathering all these disperate characters together in much the same way Lee and Kirby had done in 1963.
And it worked. That team movie grossed so much at the box office that it seemed Marvel had unlocked the key to a gold mine. The carnival ride continued to speed along. Another Iron Man movie was followed by sequels for Thor and Captain America. Then came Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie nobody expected to be as good as it was. And how exactly would the powers that be fit a group based in outer space alongside all the other characters on our planet?
The second phase of the MCU finished with an Avengers sequel and a quaint picture introducing Ant-Man to the superhero pantheon. Had Marvel finally reached the end of their ability to produce hits? Ant-Man didn’t make nearly as much as the other films, but people liked Scott Lang as the shrinking hero, and the reason behind making that film became clear as Marvel entered the third phase of their plan.
When the third Captain America movie arrived, it was apparent that we shouldn’t be surprised when the title character was joined by others from the various movies. This was almost like another Avengers movie with so many of those characters joined by Ant-Man and the best surprise of all – the introduction of Spider-Man into the MCU.
Doctor Strange got his own movie starring the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch. The Guardians received a sequel before Spider-Man got his own movie, even though it was basically a team-up with Iron Man. And that’s where we were left over the summer.
Here comes the third Thor movie, debuting this weekend. It also looks like a team-up since the Hulk is featured prominently in the trailers. And this is what makes the Marvel movies work so well. It’s seamless when they throw other characters into a Thor movie or a Captain America movie or any other. This was the basis of the popularity of Marvel Comics in the 1960s – the idea that all these characters were part of the same playing field. It would only seem natural that they might run into each other or join forces to fight evil. The movies are making this work too.
Much of what has been built deals with these powerful gems called the Infinity Stones, featured in many movies, which will reach a climax with the next two Avengers movies, set to arrive the next two Mays. Will there still be interest in Marvel movies after that? As long as they keep producing magical forays into this other world, I can’t imagine the train will stop anytime soon. Characters like the Black Panther and Captain Marvel are on the way to their own movies along with more sequels for the Guardians and Spider-Man.
It’s all so much fun. You can likely just sit and watch, say, Doctor Strange, and enjoy it because you like Cumberbatch as an actor without feeling compelled to watch all the other movies. This new Thor movie looks like a blast. Is it even better if you’ve seen the other Thor movies and some Avengers? It’s likely, but here’s another reason Marvel Comics took off all those years ago. You’d read an issue of The Incredible Hulk and see Iron Man stop by. You might want to pick up an issue of the Armored Avenger, but you didn’t have to. It made for a more enriching reading experience if you did, but that was it.
I know I’m loving every minute of every Marvel movie I see. I hope the magic continues in order to create a movie universe every bit as awesome as the comic book universe I grew up enamored with back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Comic fans, assemble!
Word of the Week: This week’s word is pedicular, which means lousy, as in, “The movie fan hoped the newest entry into the MCU wouldn’t be pedicular.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!