With “Avengers: Endgame,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is coming to a momentous stopping point. It’s time to ask, “What has it amounted to?”, “What will come next?”, and “Why should anyone care about these movies?”
The MCU had simple beginnings but not exactly smooth ones. For those that remember, the first MCU movie was actually “The Incredible Hulk,” wherein the titular character Bruce Banner is played by Edward Norton and not Mark Ruffalo as is the current standard. Most Marvel fans place the beginning at 2008’s “Iron Man,” starring Robert Downey Jr. as the playboy billionaire Tony Stark and Gwyenth Paltrow as his overworked assistant Pepper Potts. After Stark came Steve Rogers and Thor Odinson and the others until we get to the big event: “Avengers.” The MCU has made its money off of this formula of having smaller movies capped by larger crossovers bringing all these characters together, sometimes even introducing characters in the big crossover movies.
It’s important to note that the formula that Marvel Studios has cultivated over its film legacy is not a new one, but they have been the most successful at it. The formula has been used in the exact medium that the MCU has made its bread and butter from: comic books. Since the early days of American superhero stories, creators have made smaller books to focus on individual characters and then, brought all these developed characters together to beat a big bad guy. This kind of storytelling alleviates the pressure from one artist/writer team and spreads the burden of creating a great and compelling story among many people. The MCU has done no different but unlike most comic book publishers, they don’t have any public stigma. Movies are considered to be “everyone’s art form,” whereas comic books often represent a counterculture in popular media.
Another big asset that the MCU has over movies recently released by Warner Brothers in their DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is that just like the comics, the MCU exists in a fictional version of our world. Conflicts happen in New York, Hong Kong, and London and in the DCEU, they exist in fictionalized versions of large cities like Metropolis (Chicago) and Gotham City (Boston). This disconnect often causes audience members to feel uninvested in the film because they know that it could never happen to them. The MCU shows stories happening in places that lots of people have been to or currently live in. In the “Avengers,” New York is attacked by alien terrorists who begin breaking down buildings by flying spacecraft into them. Anyone can see the parallel that director Joss Whedon was trying to make. While this kind of filmmaking isn’t specific to the MCU, it certainly resonates with audience members.
The MCU and the DCEU have been at war. On a date, one might ask if they prefer Marvel or DC. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. The two film franchises do compete for money, but they don’t have to compete for the love of fans. There are some people who don’t like either and that’s okay. Ultimately, movies are about bringing people to a point where they can see what they like and dislike and think about why they like and dislike the things they do.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe completes an almost 11-year journey with “Avengers: Endgame” on Friday, April 26. It’s certain to be a film no one should miss.