Guardians of the Galaxy movie was the 3rd highest grossing film of a whole box office year in 2014 making more than $700 million worldwide. If you had told me this would happen 10 years ago, I would petition for your admission to a rehab clinic for the drugs you were taking. The same goes for if you had told me that an Ant Man movie would even be thought about, talk less of us actually watching the movie in 2015. The movie industry has evolved in the last 10 years, and Marvel and Hollywood found out in 2008 with Iron Man that there was a lot of potential in the superhero movie genre. A genre in which movie studios had achieved some success but had few projects that had gained both critical acclaim as well as great financial rewards; with the obvious standouts being the Christopher Reeves “Superman” movies and the X-Men and Spiderman franchises from the early 2000’s.
As a kid who was immersed in comic books and superheroes from an early age, it’s unbelievably amazing to see the stranglehold that Marvel has on Hollywood. Iron Man was the first major project whose production Marvel was solely responsible for. It was a shot in the dark, considering that Iron Man (as well as the rest of the characters in the Avengers) wasn’t as popular as Spider-Man or the X-Men whose movie rights were being held by Sony and Fox at the time. Iron Man made $585.1 million worldwide and helped pave the way for the rest of the movies that would eventually form the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Avengers made $1.5 billion worldwide on a $220 million production budget. Avengers: Age of Ultron made $1.4 billion. There are 12 movies out with Marvel’s Phase 3 about to start and it appears that they have found the winning formula.
But at what point does it start to seem too formulaic? Marvel/Disney released 2 movies earlier this year, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man to end Phase 2 of their overall project. I remember asking after Avengers 2 if Marvel had dug a hole for themselves by over-saturating the market with some obscure superhero titles, as well as by trying to make sure that all or most of the movies have some sort of connection to each other. Tie in the TV shows on Fox, ABC and Netflix which are all supposed to be connected to the movies in one way or the other, and it can all feel a bit overwhelming. But even with all this, Marvel and Disney are still doing a pretty good job of juggling all these projects. How have they managed to do this? By keeping plots simple and making sure the movies and shows follow the same formula almost like a Law and Order procedural.
There’s nothing wrong with procedural television. They have an audience. But it’s mostly background television. Something I can have on in the background while I do my laundry. At best, with the Marvel movies, you may want to watch previous installments just so you’re completely familiar with all the characters that will be appearing. But the plots are fairly simple. Superhero fights, explosions, falling cities and some corny dialogue. In my opinion, Iron Man and Ant Man were pretty much the same movie but with different actors and different suits. I noticed it was formulaic because the comedy magic that makes Paul Rudd great was missing from his Scott Lang role in Ant Man. It almost felt like he’d been suppressed to the point that anyone else could have filled that role. It really makes me wonder what Edgar Wright’s Ant Man would have looked like if he’d gotten the chance to finish it.
With 12 movies out, I honestly doubt that the average movie-goer can give you the details of Thor: The Dark World or Iron Man 3 (because I can’t). Aside from the origin movies that introduced them and the big hyped team-up in the first Avengers movie, only 2 of them have a standalone identity. Those are Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, which felt like a spy thriller and a sci-fi comedy respectively. They stepped out of what we see now as the traditional superhero movie role and were able to have their own identities outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
By the time Phase 3 is over, we will have 22 Marvel superhero movies to watch. Twenty-two. Deuce-deuce. Talk about saturated. That’s not counting the TV and comic projects that also tie into the universe as well. It feels like there’s too much to keep up with. For now, of course, they’re going to keep milking it because it’s a cash cow with bursting udders. But I feel like without a change in writing that takes away the feel of a procedural, they will be unable to reel in new fans, and older ones will eventually get tired of the single hero titles and only watch the big projects (Avengers, Guardians etc).
The overall idea of the universe tying everything together was amazing. Phase 1 was done excellently and left fans wanting for more. At the end of Phase 2 I can’t help feeling that the reins need to be pulled back just a little bit. I’m unaware of if Marvel can see the writing on the wall. If they can’t, I don’t blame them. It’s hard to see stuff like that when billions of dollars are clouding your vision.