Starting with 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel have released a whopping 23 films as part of their cinematic universe. This summer’s Black Widow, delayed from 2020, will be their 24th. Many cinemagoers express annoyance at the volume of superhero flicks dominating Hollywood right now, but Marvel films seem set to continue dominating the cinema, with Avengers: Endgame breaking box office records and up to 14 more films currently in production.
It’s easy to understand the feelings of superhero oversaturation. Many of Marvel’s 23 offerings have indeed been very similar, and the films largely followed a cookie-cutter style both in aesthetics and story. However, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown and become a beloved feature of 21st century cinema, Marvel began to explore and innovate with their franchises, allowing them to breathe life into stale franchises.
The second Captain America outing, widely considered one of the best Marvel films, 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an out-and-out thriller flick with superpowers as an aside. Recently, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has picked up the pieces of two of its characters, a six-part thriller series exploring contemporary social issues and the traumas of its protagonists. Whereas the third Captain America is an Avengers-style romp and loses the thread, The Winter Soldier remains a breath of fresh air.
One of the films that completely changed the narrative (alongside James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy) series was 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. It was a complete turnaround from the rest of the Thor series, tired after only two films. Recognising that the Thor franchise had become stale, Marvel completely changed the tone, allowing the character to flourish. Placing Waititi at the helm also allowed Thor: Ragnarok its own uniquely colourful visuals and to explore more complex themes such as colonialism. Instead of focusing on the high, classical-esque drama of Asgard, Ragnarok completely transformed its central character and destroyed Asgard entirely, transforming Thor from a character you could find in Shakespeare in the Park, into a comic icon. By allowing the unique directorial voice of comedy director Taika Waititi to take over, Thor’s status transformed and he quickly became a fan favourite, the first character in the MCU to have four solo outings.
Exploring difficult contemporary themes, diverse characters, and different genres seems to be the direction of their television content. The first of their big-budget television series, WandaVision was a groundbreaking and incredibly successful experiment, travelling through decades of sitcom history before coming to its hotly anticipated super-powered finale. Its popularity and puzzle-piece storyline also drew in new audiences who might not usually be interested in superhero flicks. New genres and more diversity seems to be a key part of Marvel’s future – She-Hulk is supposedly a legal comedy, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be horror, and characters such as Kamala Khan, Shang-Chi, and America Chavez represent BIPOC and queer voices.
23 films and counting is not everybody’s cup of tea. However, if Marvel continues to work towards diversity of genres, characters, voices, and themes, there’s no reason for Marvel to feel stale anytime soon. Inviting in talented cast, crew, and directors, including the Oscar-nominated Chloe Zhao and indie darling Short Term 12’s Destin Daniel Cretton, Marvel’s Phase 4 has the opportunity to be the most exciting yet.
Image: Tom Mac via Flickr