Looking back over my old and abandoned blog posts its safe to say that prior to 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers Assemble (…awful UK title) I was still somewhat of an MCU skeptic. My own fandom suffering years at the hands of studio missteps (Hulk, Blade: Trinity, Elektra, Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider etc.) and some Hulk and Thor shaped teething problems from the MCU’s first foray into an expanded universe; I braced myself for a let down when The Avengers first graced our screens.
Oh, how wrong I was.
We had already seen the neat little ties being brought together throughout Phase I. From Samuel L. Jackson heralding The Avengers Initiative at the close of Iron Man, to the mention of Captain America’s super soldier serum in The Incredible Hulk, Hawkeye’s appearance in Thor and Agent Phil Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. deftly woven throughout the first five films. 2012 saw all of these elements in place, conducted masterfully by Joss Whedon, an orchestra of joyous geekery.
Film-wise, Phase II excelled in both refining the formula and taking calculated risks, with only the obligatory Thor adventure managing to miss the mark yet again. Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 may not win over many die-hard fans, but if you happened to love Lethal Weapon or Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang you were in for a treat. Both The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy became major critical and financial successes having brought in directors who perfectly encapsulated the tone of their specific Marvel movie genres. Even the problematic Ant-Man proved naysayers wrong by daring to be an entertaining shrinking man movie, feeling like a Phase I feature with the benefit of Phase II’s bells and whistles.
From Thor’s home video release in 2011 to Thor: The Dark World’s home launch in 2014, fans were blessed with a series of Marvel One-Shots; Short films that continued the numerous threads within the MCU. While the final film was seemingly offered up as fan appeasement for the “mistreatment” of an antagonist in Iron Man 3, both Item 47 (an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. type story) and Agent Carter acted as pilots to future television projects over on ABC.
Soon after Iron Man 3 arrived on the big screen, ABC aired Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that spectacularly underwhelmed in the opening episodes of Season 1. The premise may have been pretty darned super but the execution sadly was not. Despite appearances from Nick Fury, Deathlok, Bill flippin’ Paxton and a mesmerizingly kick-ass Ming-Na Wen, the first half of the season lacked direction and fans of the movies set expectations unrealistically high in the belief that the show would offer cameos of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye etc. The first attempt at a “cross over” with an MCU film would be a damp squib as the titular agents open an episode pretty much cleaning up the rubble in the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World
The series most definitely shifted gears in the second half of the first season as Captain America: The Winter Solider’s plot carried gargantuan ramifications for the television show, altering the premise and shaking up the story with a slew of twists and revelations. Finally, it appeared that Marvel’s TV division had begun delivering on the promise of cohesion with the wider cinematic universe, even if the results were reactionary. Season 2 and beyond has seen links with ABC’s Marvel’s Agent Carter, introduced the concept of Inhumans and is about to drop the mic with their own version of The Secret Warriors.
Not to be bested, Netflix announced 13 episode seasons of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and an 8-episode superhero team-up in The Defenders. We’ve already witnessed the second season of Daredevil, which gave us the MCU versions of both Elektra and The Punisher. These shows are considerably more maturely themed than the ABC shows, but the through threads remain with companies such as Roxxon appearing on film and in ABC and Netflix shows, passing mention to the New York incident from The Avengers and a more mystical side of the MCU which will later flourish in both Doctor Strange and Iron Fist.
I find it pretty incredible that Marvel has been on the ropes so far as a commercial enterprise goes, on more than one occasion. In fact, the whole reason we had such a run of middling Marvel movies from the 90s onward is due to the company selling off the film rights in order to stay afloat. This is the reason we’ll never see X-Men in the MCU, and why it takes a team of lawyers to chorale Spider-Man, Hulk and potentially Namor onto the big screen. It’s also why Marvel Studios opening gambit was an Iron Man movie. They simply didn’t own the rights to their larger characters at the time. Through an admirable approach to film production and marketing Kevin Feige and Disney have created a blockbuster behemoth that shows no sign of letting up.
In a couple of weeks I’ll be sat in a darkened theatre watching Captain America: Civil War, the after effects of which I’m sure will have a lasting effect on not only Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but the numerous Netflix series also. Beyond that we have Avengers: Infinity War and several new series appearing on both television and streaming services. Although we’ve seen no evidence to support this, I can only hope that we see some reconciliation between the various arms of the MCU. Some interconnectivity between the movies, ABC and Netflix would certainly solidify that sense of an all-encompassing sandbox of colourful characters.
As someone who’s affection for this genre was waning less than a decade ago I can’t help but find Marvel’s intricate weaving, dealing and patience in their craft utterly commendable. From the brink of bankruptcy and the relinquishing of most treasured assets, to a billion dollar franchise with an assured future, this is a resurrection story that appeals to my geekdom. Seems silly to put it that way but it’s true. Let’s face it; we can all do with some good old fashioned escapism sometimes.
Captain America: Civil War opens in the UK April 29th.
I’m calling it now… Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel to arrive at The Inhumans original release date in July 2019.
You heard me speculate that here first!
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