What is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you might ask? It’s the shared movie universe inhabited by all of the Marvel Studios movies – but not necessarily by the movies made by other studios. So in are the Avengers and their solo movies, and out are the Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Spider-Man. Kind of. And more recently, this is a shared universe also with two television shows, keeping fans entertained between movies.
In an era when so much of movie talk is about re-boots, re-makes, sequels, and adaptations, the Marvel Cinematic Universe just seems to blend right in. And there are plenty of folks who worry that the money the movies are making are going to kill the comics that they are based on – making the comics the secondary focus, rather than the primary.
So instead today, I want to approach this from the other direction. Because while on the one hand these movies might seem like they’re all something old, made new again to turn a profit – on the other hand, they are showing a whole new way of storytelling and franchise building, which has turned out to be both good and bad!
Piece by piece, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown. The little teaser moments connecting the movies, people like Nick Fury and Agent Coulson (first name Agent), were great for the fans. Sure, it also maybe left us skeptical, and the radical departure from the direction they were heading in Iron Man 2 shows that they are learning and adapting.
Since The Avengers, and its run as the third biggest box-office film of all time, their plans have really grown. At this point, we know what their films are going to be between now and 2019. And if that’s not enough, the TV shows have been getting better – with Agent Carter this year being a particular treat.
There have been shared universes before, between shows, between movies. Star Trek springs to mind. However, Star Trek had a pattern of TV show and then movies. And some periods of multiple shows on at once. Marvel is pulling off something different – a show springing from the movies, and then returning to movies, then back to show.
One of their perceived competitors, DC, is not trying this. They have a separate TV and movie universe going on right now (check out all the great Arrow reviews here on Sourcerer!). Totally different from one another. And then we’re seeing all sorts of other studios trying to create franchises that work like Marvel’s – with multiple movies being made at once, with different teams, in a shared cinematic universe. Shared universes are great and all, but Marvel’s doing something more.
They’re doing a complete, gigantic, all-in shared universe. It’s definitely influencing their comics. It’s definitely making them money. But it’s also definitely entertaining fans and generally just a great time. So while it’s something old, it’s also something new – something hard to duplicate, and so very fragile. Will it hold up over time, as these further movies come out? I guess we’ll all have to wait and see.
by Philip N. Cohen
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