Marvel Studios is not just playing the long, game. They are playing the long, long game, and they’ve been playing it for a long, long time. Avengers: Age of Ultron has debuted seven years after the debut of Iron Man in 2008. Since then, nine films, three TV shows, and numerous shorts and tie-in comics have been released building a complex world. All building up to the big endgame Avengers: Infinity War Parts I & II, to be released in 2018, a fitting ten years after that Iron Man post-credits scene started it all.
What’s unique about the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the world of movies, is the number of disparate films and TV shows all telling one continuous story. This presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities. In order to tell this ten year long, unprecedented film saga, Marvel has to balance story, contracts, actor availability, and a heap of copyrights. Most importantly, they have to keep things fresh. Thus, the evolution of the Avengers.
As popular as the Iron Man films are, audiences aren’t going to pay to watch Robert Downey Junior beat up baddies with Pepper Potts, and Jarvis at his side forever. The series has lasted for three films already, maybe it’d survive a fourth, but eventually people get bored.
Film franchises don’t last by doing the same thing over and over again. The James Bond franchise fell into the box office dumps in the 1980s because the series was getting stale, leading to a modern-post cold war reinvention in 1995 with GoldenEye, and then a post 9/11 reinvention in 2006 with Casino Royale. Likewise, the Batman films had a dark and gritty reboot at the hands of Christopher Nolan after the critical and commercial failure of Batman and Robin. However, Marvel Studios is still telling one continuous story, they can’t “reboot”. So what do they do instead? They develop their characters.
MAJOR Age of Ultron Spoilers Below
The single most important example of this development is The Vision. Paul Bettany’s introduction as Jarvis inIron Man was fun, and he became a neat and reliable supporting voice in the Iron Man films, and on into Avengers Assemble, but by evolving him into a physical character in Age of Ultron, Marvel has signalled that the story will move forward. While Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World may have dealt with the fallout of the events of Avengers, the status quo never really moved. By taking a fun little voice like Jarvis, and making him a major player in Age of Ultron, Marvel is signalling that characters will evolve.
Character development is important, because even though major events have occurred in the MCU (The Battle of New York, the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D.), we haven’t really seen a character change until Vision. This terrific action is build upon by the ending of Age of Ultron, which introduces the “New Avengers”. Since Captain America: First Avenger, the lineup of the Avengers has been pretty set in stone. For four years, whenever film Avengers were talked about, the lineup was Black Widow, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, and Hawkeye. Even before the film came out, everyone knew it. At the end of Age of Ultron, everything is different. Thor goes to space, Iron Man retires, and Hulk is missing.
For Captain America: Civil War audiences will see a very new Avengers lineup. Scarlet Witch, Falcon, War Machine, and Vision are all ready to step into the spotlight and be Avengers. This means Civil War and Infinity War and whatever comes after won’t just have new story-lines to explore, but new characters, and new ideas. How does , Colonel James Rhodes, War Machine approach a situation as opposed to how Tony Stark does it? Wanda Maximoff has a completely different outlook on life from the rest of the Avengers, her perspective on future challenges facing the team will be radically different.
Fans after all these films, know how the old heroes respond to a challenge. Tony Stark likes to invent new technologies to save the day, Hulk and Thor like to smash, and Captain America likes to give orders. What we don’t know, is what these new characters will do, so there isn’t any loss of excitement. We know how Stark will respond to Thanos, but what’s Scarlet Witch going to do? New Avengers breed new possibilities, and new possibilities keeps a franchise fresh.
Of course, this is all without even adding Ant-Man, Black Panther and Captain Marvel to the mix.
By moving its characters around, adding new ones, and allowing old ones to grow, the Marvel Universe avoids the risk of growing stale, because something new is always happening. I, for one, am very excited for the future of Marvel Studios.
What do you think the future holds for the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!