After eleven years of build-up, the biggest Marvel movie has finally arrived. We’re in the Endgame now. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t review it as I have all the Marvel movies before it. I’ve decided to wait a while for the crowds at the theaters to die down a bit, so I can view it in the best possible conditions for the best possible review.
It’s kind of hard for me to talk about a movie when all I can think about is how angry I was about the kid screaming and/or snoring on my row.
Instead, I want to take a look back at the cultural significance of the MCU up to this point. How did a movie about one of Marvel’s least popular superheroes spiral into the most ambitious project to ever hit the silver screen? How did Marvel change the cinematic landscape? And finally: how will it change now that this eleven-year-old era is over?
All this and more in today’s issue of ‘Jonah Tries to Make Himself Seem Smart’. I should give every essay I’ve ever written that title.
The Poisonous Bog: Superhero Films Before the MCU
When it comes to Superman movies, it’s hard to look back on what came before Iron Man 1. That, along with the Dark Knight, completely transformed the landscape of what superhero movies are like. Now, having lived in a world with those movies for over a decade, it’s incredibly difficult to go back before them.
Nowadays, you can’t go more than three months without a new superhero movie coming out. Be they a Marvel movie, a DC movie, or a completely independent project, you can’t go a day without seeing one of these. They simply print money unlike any other genre in film, aside from horror movies.
But when you have a budget of ten bucks, it’s not hard to make your money back. But I’m not here to rip horror movies apart. Yet.
If you go back to before 2008, you’ll find a completely different cinematic landscape. Superhero movies weren’t the indisputable kings of the box office. They were the poison that actively killed it!
Sure, you had the good ones sprinkled in there. The first two of the original Spider-Man trilogy, Superman 1/2 with Christopher Reeves (RIP), X-Men from the glory days of the team (god I miss those days), the first two Blade movies and del Toro’s Hellboy series are all good examples. But then you get movies such as: Daredevil starring Ben Affleck, Catwoman, Blade: Trinity (which I love for all the wrong reasons) Batman and Robin/Batman Forever, Superman 3/4/Returns, the Fantastic Four (which is still bad to this day), Elektra and more.
The good superhero films were a dime a dozen back in the day. But the stinkers weren’t just bad movies. They were some of the worst movies ever made! From their visuals to their scripts, nothing in those movies worked on any level! And the whole world knew it. Hence, superhero films were considered completely toxic to the box office, as well as the careers of everyone involved.
Then, in 2008, that would change forever. The first Iron Man movie was released in theaters. Thus, the landscape of cinema began to transform.
Cleaning the Bog: The Rise of the MCU
The first Iron Man movie took the world by storm. Sure, it wasn’t as critically received as ‘The Dark Knight‘ (even though that’s not a fair comparison, as the Dark Knight is one of the best films of all time). But it’s success was more than enough. The seeds were planted for the greatest success story in cinema.
And it all started with a single scene. The post-credits scene that made it law that every movie ever have a post-credits scene. Or two. Maybe three.
Damn you Marvel.
However, despite the strong start, the MCU had a rough first few steps. ‘The Incredible Hulk‘, ‘Iron Man 2‘, ‘Thor‘, and ‘Captain America: The First Avenger‘ were all rough movies to watch, even when they first came out. Before the first Avengers movie came out, all seemed hopeless. This ambitious project would fall completely flat.
Then it happened. A single movie came out that would completely change the world. ‘The Avengers‘ debuted in theaters.
After that, Marvel seemed unstoppable! The movies only got better and better, even with the missteps throughout the story (cough cough ‘Thor: The Dark World‘). Expectations kept being subverted left and right! Guardians of the Galaxy? Who cares about that? EVERYONE NOW, THOSE MOVIES ARE GREAT!! No one thought we’d ever get Spider-Man in the MCU! Then bang! Everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood superhero leapt onto the scene with a massive BOOM! Civil War is going to be awesome, just like the comic! Then bing, bang, bozzle! We got a film completely devoid of tension or-
Even when they were starting to lose steam, Marvel showed us that they were far from done. Just as everyone started saying “Yeah, I’m done with this.”, they released one of, if not their strongest, films to date. ‘Avengers: Infinity War‘ debuted at last.
Just like that, Marvel was in the spotlight again. Thanos became a household name, cementing himself as a villain as iconic as Darth Vader himself! The whole world was engaged in Marvel yet again, as if a light switch had been flipped over! Everyone sat on the edges of their seats, waiting for the debut of the second part. They had the world by the balls for a whole year! And given how ‘Endgame‘ has been received, it’s clear that they still have them tightly in their grasp.
The Death of a Series, and the Birth of a Cinematic Universe: The Marvel Formula Craze
The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is completely absurd! Each film makes millions, if not billions, of dollars each. Hell, Endgame has only been out for three days as of this post’s release, and it’s already made over a billion dollars in the box office! The Marvel formula prints money unlike any other project to ever hit a theater!
Naturally, everyone else has tried to copy this success. Once upon a time, a film franchise would be repeated over and over again through constant sequels until it was run into the ground. Now, it’s all about cinematic universes, baby! If you’re film doesn’t connect to some other film and build up to a cross-over, then get the fuck out!
DC has attempted this with their superheroes. Sure, it’s still mostly bad, but they’re starting to get better! Legendary has started doing the same thing with their monsters, starting in 2014 with ‘Godzilla‘ and continuing this year with ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters‘, which will build up to the 2020 remake of ‘Godzilla VS King Kong‘. Universal tried their hand at the Marvel formula with their ‘Dark Universe’ and ‘The Mummy‘.
Which ended about as well as Christopher Reeves on a horse.
But none of them have even come close to achieving the same success as Marvel has. Practically everyone has tried it. Yet despite all their efforts, only one has succeeded. Only Marvel has managed to make the formula work.
But can they keep it up?
After the Endgame: Has Marvel Killed It’s Own Luster?
‘Endgame‘ feels as though it is just that. The end. The final film in the MCU. But it’s abundantly clear that Marvel is far from done. Between the planned sequels and the acquisition of all of the X-Men and Fantastic Four characters, it’s clear that the Marvel money train isn’t going to stop anytime soon.
But can it maintain the same level of success as they have now? After all, they’ve been building up to ‘Endgame‘ for over a decade! People have stuck with these movies for the hope of seeing the story end, and that end has finally arrived! Will they be able to keep everyone hooked, even though the main driving force of the whole series has come and gone?
The answer is simple: we don’t know. It won’t be possible to know until we see what they have up their sleeves. Regardless, I doubt anyone would be able to judge you harshly for stepping off the Marvel train after ‘Endgame‘. Whether it satisfies or not, it is at the very least an ending.
Marvel’s first major story has ended. Now, we’re back where we started. Will it be able to survive now that it’s stepping away from what we’ve built up so far? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Over the course of eleven years, Marvel has completely transformed the landscape of Hollywood. It’s possible that it’s altered it forever. Whether that change is for the better or worse is up to you to decide.
Regardless, Marvel has cemented itself as one of the most groundbreaking cinematic franchises in the history of cinema. It’s taken the world by storm over and over again for over a decade, and those riots have only gotten louder and harder to ignore. It has ushered in a new era for cinema. Now that era is coming to an end.
And I, for one, can’t wait to see what they’ll do for the next one.