Posted Mon Sep 15, 2014 at 08:01 AM PDT by Kevin Yeoman
Since the company took the reigns on its own cinematic destiny, Marvel has been on an unprecedented winning streak. The House of Ideas' in-house feature films have earned billions of dollars worldwide, selling mountains of theater tickets and Blu-rays alike. The success Marvel (and now its parent company, Disney) has experienced has spawned numerous sequels to films like 'Iron Man,' 'Captain America,' and 'Thor.' All of which are, most importantly, a part of an interconnected cinematic universe that feels more akin to the comic book world from whence they came, than the sporadic release of semi-connected feature films/sequels fans were required to put up with in the past.
To understand what a force Marvel's films have become, one only need look at the box office of an otherwise unimpressive 2014 summer movie season to see that the two highest grossing films were Marvel's 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' and the offbeat space opera/box office gamble/'70s music retrospective, 'Guardians of the Galaxy,' from director James Gunn.
Moreover, looking at each film's release date, it becomes clear that Marvel has ostensibly appointed itself the gatekeeper of the summer movie season, celebrating its commencement with a well-known property and more or less bringing it to a close with something that has a slight appearance of risk.
But it's not just the grosses that make Marvel's films such an integral part of today's cinematic landscape; it's the appeal of seeing beloved heroes and villains being made larger than life, and the increasingly likely prospect that, no matter how obscure the characters may appear to be (honestly, before this summer, how many people could tell you who Starlord was, much less his alter ego, Peter Quill?), they will someday come together and share the screen in a film destined to (for better or worse) redefine the term "event movie."
After Marvel more or less won the summer, and shows no signs of slowing down, High-Def Digest has decided to look back at the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far; look forward with what Marvel has coming down the pipeline; and look to the future, to speculate on what would make our Marvel cinematic dreams come true.
The Best So Far
5. Iron Man:
Marvel surprised everyone when they came out swinging with this incredibly entertaining effort that made Robert Downey Jr. the face of a multi-billion dollar franchise, and arguably the most indispensable facet of a multi-faceted empire that was, at the time, still something of a pipe dream. Despite rumors of constant script problems and tinkering, as well as the presence of a clunky villain – who was only salvaged by Jeff Bridges' performance – Downey and director Jon Favreau essentially birthed a cinematic universe on sheer charisma alone.
Tony Stark's origin story took a cocky, entitled genius, and made him a cocky, entitled genius with a suit of armor that gave him the ability, and, more importantly, the desire, to be a hero. It's thin in spots, but the overwhelming magnetism of Downey's performance and the film's amiable tone – which favored action-oriented entertainment over dour grimness – kicked off a franchise, while serving as the Big Bang for an improbable cinematic universe.
4. Iron Man 3:
After 'Iron Man 2' and 'The Avengers,' it was time to throw Tony Stark – and the entire 'Iron Man' franchise – a curveball, and see if the swaggering billionaire could hit that out of the park, too. What makes 'Iron Man 3' so different isn't the special effects, or the upgrades to Tony's armor, or even his relationship with Pepper Potts. Instead, it was the way writer-director Shane Black stepped behind the camera to air out ol' Shellhead's suit by getting into the head of the man who created him. To that end, 'Iron Man 3' played as the next step of Tony Stark's evolution by taking him out of the suit for most of the film, to explore how the heart of the hero is more complex than the arc reactor keeping his heart from failing.
The film again utilized Downey's on-screen charms as its biggest weapon, but this time put them up against the ramifications of what occurred during the 'The Avengers,' as only the man who wrote 'Lethal Weapon' could do. That made 'Iron Man 3' an interesting amalgam of directorial vision and corporate interest that somehow found a way to work, without sacrificing the needs of either.
If the first 'Iron Man' was a gamble, then James Gunn's 'Guardians of the Galaxy' must have looked like Marvel was betting the farm on a three-legged horse. But, in what has been an unprecedented string of box office success stories, the rag tag team of intergalactic screw-ups turned into the highest grossing domestic film of 2014 (so far, although it seems unlikely that anything will top it), while also garnering generally positive responses from critics.
While 'Guardians' is incredibly fun and funny, its success doesn't simply prove that Marvel can mix comedy with action; it proves that as long as a Marvel tag is slapped on a product, even obscure characters can haul in a truckload of cash at the end of the summer.
Moreover, despite being surrounded by a talking raccoon with a gun fetish, a walking tree that also works as a metacommentary on Vin Diesel's screen presence, and a very green Zoe Saldana, the film still managed to confirm Chris Pratt is in fact a superstar. If that's not enough to get everyone hooked on a 'Guardians'' very particular feeling, then nothing is.
2. The Avengers:
The biggest Marvel movie to-date is also one of the Universe's most entertaining – thanks in large part to writer-director Joss Whedon's snappy dialogue and ability to command an ensemble comprised almost entirely of characters currently carrying their own franchises. Managing that kind of star power and being equitable to each is no easy feat, but Whedon handled it with aplomb.
The film's success transformed the idea of what a connected universe could be, and upped the ante for what audiences can expect from the superhero genre. 'The Avengers' continues to be an outlier in terms of comic book films, because it required so much build-up in order to make it happen. The enormous payoff, then, not only created a challenge for Marvel in terms of what their plans for Phase II of the MCU would be, but also threw down the gauntlet, so to speak, as far as other comic book universes were concerned.
To make the leap from a nostalgic glimpse at gung-ho American patriotism and wartime jingoism with a sci-fi twist to the kind of sober world-weary paranoia seen in 'The Winter Soldier' is no easy feat. And yet the Russo brothers managed to take the Sentinel of Liberty and showcase him in a way that established the modern-day relevance of a man out of time, while still building the Marvel U. What's more, they did it by ostensibly tearing down the establishment that had been steering the narrative behind-the-scenes since the Nick Fury first made an unexpected cameo at the end of 'Iron Man.'
With its incredible action scenes, terrific special effects, and superhero-meets-'Parallax-View' style storyline that made terrific use of familiar characters like Nick Fury and Black Widow, and introduced Sam Wilson, a.k.a. The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), while successfully re-introducing Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. the sub-titular Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), this sequel set a new standard for the level of storytelling in the Marvel U.
The Five We're Most Excited For
5. Black Panther:
Details are scant, but Marvel movie wrangler Kevin Feige has gone on the record saying the eagerly anticipated film about the king of Wakanda is in development. And considering there is certainly no shortage of stars who would like to don the mask of 'Back Panther' and play T'Challa in a feature film, its safe to say that now would be the best time to center a film on the lesser known, but still beloved character.
For those unfamiliar with T'Challa and what makes him so special, imagine Batman, but instead of leading a company, he was the head of a fictional autonomous country known for rich its vibranium deposits (i.e., the stuff Captain America's shield is made out of) and its many technological achievements that, in some aspects, make it far more advanced than the rest of the world.
It's not hard to imagine the kind of world building that could go on in a 'Black Panther' film, and how those efforts would help expand the Marvel Universe by not only diversifying its character base, but by giving it a whole new realm to play in.
While it's a bummer that Edgar Wright is no longer attached to write and direct 'Ant-Man' – the film that would likely have out-quirked 'Guardians' – it's certainly not a lost cause. The film boasts an impressive cast featuring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, and Corey Stoll, and although he's not been tested in such waters, open-minded folks will understand that director Peyton Reed is, if nothing else, an interesting choice to handle the next Marvel franchise.
Moreover, Marvel has already proved several times that adding some laughs to the heavy action normally accompanying these types of superhero films can yield positive results. So having a seasoned comedy director like Reed at the helm – while also inviting Adam McKay along to help with some of the scripting duties – may yet produce the desired effect.
Right now, this may be the chanciest project Marvel has going, but there are enough positive signs still floating around it to make it one of the more anticipated as well.
3. Captain America 3:
The film that Marvel correctly figured could stand its ground against the combined might of DC's 'Batman v Superman,' 'Captain America 3: Subtitle to Be Announced' was a foregone conclusion after Cap's adventures in 2014 proved to be such an overwhelming critical and commercial success. But what makes the prospect of a third installment of the 'Captain America' franchise so enticing are the early the hints that the film's plotline will have similarly significant consequences for the world of the Marvel U, as was seen in the how events depicted in 'The Winter Soldier' led to the big S.H.I.E.L.D. shake-up that even found its way to TV.
And while far reaching implications of plotlines are a distinct advantage to having such a tightly knit universe, anticipation for 'Cap 3' is high simply because the quality of the filmmaking, the level of storytelling and its ambitions were raised so significantly from the first film to the second. That makes the 'Captain America' franchise something more than just another cog in the giant MCU machine; it proves that even though financial success is more or less a foregone conclusion, filmmakers are interested in achieving more than the adoration of a pre-existing audience. Anytime something successful is willing to change the formula to make it the better, the results are always increased demand for more.
2. Doctor Strange:
While the casting of the Sorcerer Supreme is still unconfirmed (Joaquin Phoenix still being the number one choice, apparently), the story of the oft-name-dropped Doctor Stephen Strange already has a writer and director attached, which means it would take an act of Dormammu to keep the good doctor of the Marvel U from bringing the Eye of Agamotto to theaters in the next phase of superhero films.
Marvel has seen some terrific action and has enjoyed some solid laughs, so, naturally, what the universe needs to do next is to get a little…strange. In fact, with the hiring of director Scott Derrickson ('Sinister' and 'Deliver Us From Evil') it sounds like things are going to get downright scary. While the tone of the film could definitely be removed from what Marvel has delivered so far, and something darker and more sinister (sorry) might well suit Derrickson's talents, the actual story of Stephen Strange is more akin to that of Tony Stark than anything else.
If Marvel is looking to help make 'Doctor Strange' stand out from his contemporaries by going a little darker than what's been seen before, then this will certainly be one to keep an eye out for.
1. The Avengers: Age of Ultron:
Every indication seems to suggest that Joss Whedon's follow-up to his record-breaking success with 'The Avengers' is going to be an improvement over what could be considered Marvel's most ambitious feature film to date. And that doesn't mean bigger, louder, and crammed with more special effects (because really, when James Spader is taking on the role of an evil sentient robot with daddy issues, all the CGI in the world won't be able to top the sheer awesomeness of that), as early indications from those who caught a glimpse of footage at SDCC have stated the look of the film is visually more dynamic than anything that's been seen so far. If there's a consistent complaint to the Marvel films, it's that they offer a somewhat bland visual palette. Perhaps the next biggest thing to hit theaters will also be one of the best looking as well.
'Age of Ultron' will not only see Marvel thumbing its nose at Fox with the inclusion of Pietro and Wanda Maximoff – a.k.a. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, respectively – it may also help assuage certain criticisms regarding the quality of Marvel's cinematic villains. Because, quite frankly, if a nigh-indestructible genocidal robot with a penchant for upgrades and replication doesn't fit the bill of terrifying villains, then what's the point in anything?
The Five We Want To See
YA films are all the rage right now thanks to the success of book-to-film adaptations, like 'The Hunger Games,' 'Divergent,' and even 'The Fault in Our Stars.' So it would make sense for Marvel to capitalize on the popularity of younger-skewing stories featuring younger characters by bringing Brian K. Vaughan's well-regarded super powered teens-on-the-run series 'The Runaways' to the big screen.
Although not as many people will be familiar with the nascent heroes, Marvel's past success with fringe characters shouldn't make them shy away from attempting something like this. Besides, when you have a young girl who can mentally control her pet Velociraptor, what more do you really need?
4. Captain Marvel:
With or without Katee Sackhoff in the role, a Captain Marvel movie (yes, the current iteration of the character) sounds like a perfect tie-in to the Marvel Cosmic Universe that was so well established in 'Guardians of the Galaxy.' Carol Danvers' complicated history aside, her role as the current Captain Marvel of the Marvel Universe was a gigantic step in the right direction for a more diverse comic book realm that didn't require gender specific names featuring descriptors like Ms., She, or Woman to define the character. Instead, fitting Danvers with the Captain Marvel moniker helped make the character more interesting than ever before.
Besides, with her extraordinary set of powers and her commanding presence, Captain Marvel would be, in more ways than one, a character unlike any that's been seen on the big screen so far.
3. The Inhumans:
With Fox currently in possession of anything previously slapped with the "mutant" moniker, Marvel was left looking for a team (or family, in this case) of strangely-powered characters that operated much like mutants, but were, in fact something quite different. Luckily, the House of Ideas had Jack Kirby and Stan Lee's 'Inhumans' to fall back on and the potentially endless supply of characters just waiting to be exposed to the Terrigen Mists, activating their dormant Inhuman cells, granting them super powers.
Sure, at a glance, the resemblance to the 'X-Men' is rather uncanny, but as far as potential fixes to a licensing problem, it works out wonderfully.
Besides, the royal family that includes Black Bolt, Medusa, Karnak, Gorgon, Triton, Crystal, Lockjaw, and Maximus the Mad could be exactly the kind of universe expanding team that the MCU needs, especially now that it's ventured into the depths of space with 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and returned with such a handsome financial reward.
2. Black Widow:
In the past 15 months or so, Scarlett Johansson has proven herself to be more than a sultry-voiced singing partner of Pete Yorn; she's a bona fide A-list star who can propel a summer release not based on a comic book or existing franchise to the number one spot at the box-office. She's also proven herself invaluable in art house fair like Jonathan Glazer's spectacular 'Under the Skin,' as well as providing her voice in Spike Jonze's 'Her.'
If nothing else, 'Lucy' provided irrefutable proof that Johansson could headline a female-led action film, and ensure its financial success. From a purely financial standpoint, aside from Angelina Jolie, Johansson is the most bankable female star on the planet right now. If Marvel wants to diversify its cinematic offerings (and it absolutely should), and continue its winning streak, then there is no more sure a thing than letting the already established Black Widow be the main act of her own film.
1. The Infinity Gauntlet (a.k.a. The Avengers 3):
This is a no-brainer. The bumper at the end of 'The Avengers' hinted that some version of this event was coming, and the Infinity Gem-centric plot of 'Guardians of the Galaxy' all but confirmed it. Since Thanos has been working behind-the-scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for quite some time now, and all that he's managed to do is look imposing on his great floating chair, adapting the classic crossover event 'The Infinity Gauntlet' would not only give the Mad Titan his day in the sun, but it would also provide the perfect storyline to combine the galactic and the Earth-bound segments of the Universe.
Sure, an event like this will be missing components like 'Spider-Man' and 'X-Men,' but Marvel has proven time and again, how strong its non-mutant, non-irradiated-spider-powered characters are. And with its ever-expanding cinematic universe being filled with memorable characters from Rocket Raccoon and Groot, to Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Dr. Strange, it seems like any enormous conflagration of properties is going to be a smashing success the likes of which even the Hulk would be impressed by.
So those are our picks. What are yours? Please click the link below to join the discussion in the forums and tell us what you think.
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