John Ostrander on the Mighty Marvel Movie Monster
In a few days the new Avengers film, Age of Ultron, will be opening here in the States. It’s already opened in some overseas markets and, by all accounts, is doing very well. Seems like a good time to look back at the output in general of Marvel Studios.
Not all of Marvel’s characters’ appearances onscreen have come from Marvel Studios; stalwarts like the Fantastic Four, The X-Men, and Spider-Man have been made elsewhere (although Spidey’s next appearance will be coordinated with Marvel Studios and, in fact, will probably be in the next Captain America film). Those appearances have been, shall we say, a bit spotty in quality. The two FF films were anything but fantastic.
However, by and large, the output of Marvel Studios has been first-rate. There have been a few hiccups, such as the second Iron Man film and the second Thor film as well, but I’ve been dazzled by the rest. The studio has gone from strength to strength lately. They did it by staying true to the concepts and feel of the Marvel Universe.
When Marvel first emerged back in the Sixties, several things marked the upstart newcomer as different from its “Distinguished Competition” (as it referred to DC in those days). All its characters inhabited the same universe; events in one comic could influence events in another. The characters might pop up in each other’s comics at any time, even if just for a panel or two. The characters were not “squeaky clean” – they had hang-ups and foibles. The heroes and heroines often didn’t like one another and sometimes worked at cross-purposes; a hero was as likely to slug another hero as a bad guy.
While all this has become almost a cliché these days (i.e. the perennial existential question of “Who is stronger – the Hulk or the Thing?)” all this was very new and different when the whole magilla started. While the movies may have changed bits and pieces, they’ve stayed true to the overall concepts.
A good example of all this was the first Avengers movie. It brought together not only the main characters of the previous films, it also included many of the supporting characters. And they did not all like one another. Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) could barely stand each other. Thor and Iron Man come to blows early on and the Hulk and Thor had more than one dust-up in the course of the film. They all came together eventually to defeat Loki and his army and to trash much of New York. This is all very much the Marvel Universe as it was created. The film is true to its roots.
It was good enough to make me decide to see Guardians of the Galaxy which I wasn’t certain I was going to do. I think it’s now my favorite Marvel film and it too is cut from the same cloth; questionable beings who may be ethically challenged come together and, for most of the film, can barely stand one another. There is sacrifice and, by the end of the film, the team has come together to defeat the Big Bad. Classic Marvel.
There’s a common thread running through all these films and it’s not Sam Jackson as Nick Fury. It’s Kevin Feige, who has produced, co-produced or executive produced all of the Marvel films, including the ones I haven’t been so crazy about. He’s having a hell of a run right now and I’m thinking of him as the Stan Lee of the Marvel cinematic universe. (Stan Lee is also a part of the Marvel cinematic universe, but that’s not what I’m talking about.) I don’t know the guy but I get the sense that he really knows the Marvel comics universe and knows why it works. They’ve got me looking forward to Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Captain America: Civil War, and Black Widow, and Doctor Strange, and even Ant-Man.
Ant-Man. I can’t believe I’m writing that.
Enjoy it while it lasts, kiddies. Nothing lasts forever. At some point, Feige will get a better offer or move up at Disney (Marvel’s parent company) and someone else will take his place. The writers and directors and even the actors now playing the characters will move on or just get too old. Marvel Studios will put out a clunker. Things will change. Things always change.
But for right now, I’m strapping in and enjoying myself.
Excelsior, True Believers.