Tom Jolliffe looks back at the MCU’s success to this point, and wonders whether they can repeat the formula again…
So the dust has settled. A whole slow building 11 year phase of Marvel films (it’s had splits in among those, but everything stems all the way back to Tony Stark’s first outing). Attempting to fathom how many billions the films made would be difficult. Innumerable (almost). Everything has culminated in Avengers: Endgame, which in itself brought to a close a two part story about finger snaps. Further though, it closed the book on several MCU characters like Steve Rogers (who has now been replaced as Captain America), Tony Stark (who might be replaced as Iron Man, potentially even by an alt-dimension version of himself) and the Black Widow.
My own interest in the MCU has flitted in and out. The singular films provided different levels of anticipation for me. I was never going to rush out to see Ant-Man or Captain Marvel. I caught the former on Netflix. Likewise, Spider-Man: Homecoming, given it was the third version of Parker in 10 years. That being said, the films are never less than enjoyable. Even in a solo outing, the cross pollinating has been an aspect most have enjoyed. Almost no solo movie happens without a prior introduction (often during the post-credits) in someone else’s film. Indeed Thanos himself, with his looming domineering threat and distant presence kept on making cameos, almost to the point there was a danger of getting bored of the big purple bastard before he’d even appeared properly.
Then everyone came together for the big ‘Avengers’ event films (additionally Civil War which was an Avengers-lite I suppose). They’re big, bold, insane, fun and despite often being labelled as cinematic masterpieces, incredibly messy. I dug Infinity War (more than I thought a Marvel fatigued 36 year old would). I also dug Endgame (37…). Here’s my issue though. If I take some of these films as a separate entity, they’re difficult to dive into if you’ve missed anything. Yes, the overriding, capture stones, stop the end of existence is easy enough, but the little stories within that. Endgame was lost on my Mrs. who missed Infinity War, though she loved the spectacle. For me, every little call back, some that call back 7-8 (maybe more) films ago, in a foggy haze of Marvel (and lets face it they’re all pretty formulaic) had me scratching brain trying to remember the context of certain relationships, things which happened. Then further, those films I hadn’t seen, would be referenced and you find yourself excluded from a character moment or a gag.
Still, most people won’t care because pew pew, zap, pew, etc. Maybe my film student brain/critical analysis instinct starts rating it objectively as a standalone cinematic piece. Of itself, the spectacle is superb. Character moments are great (but many rest on a long library of prior films) but the fan service makes the whole thing a bit of a mess. The film breaks pace to cram in cameos and reappearances. Tony’s send off was a great ode to however many films he’s appeared in. As part of a serial its warranted. As part of a single film, it was just a bit drawn out and overdone. This film has more endings than The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
These big films have all pushed towards three hours. Endgame finally hit the mark. Again, much of that is to cram in as much as possible which is often more of an indulgence than a necessity. If I look then at these films I can rate them as very good but not great. The fact that by Endgame you’re pressing and condensing the history of 11 years of MCU films and putting them into a massive 3 hour finale is heady, and the MCU die-hards who know every point to a tee obviously loved it. Here’s the thing…is it disposable? Can you do it again? Many of those past films have become a hazy fog of forgettableness. People remember the first Iron Man because it was the first and still ranks as one of the best. Then look ahead, maybe up until the first Avengers. I barely recall any of those films. Maybe there’s a die-hard Thor: Dark World fan out there who’ll disagree. Does anyone remember Avengers: Age of Ultron now? In comparison that film pales hugely to the first Avengers and the final two (not least because it’s a pretty bad film all told).
Is it possible we’ll see another 10 year span of cross pollination, inter-mingling, superhero swingers, all then come together to battle the (new) biggest threat in the Universe? Probably. I just wonder if Endgame has been Marvel’s peak and now set a bar that can’t be reached. Will fans want to go through it again? In five years will these films still be in vogue with the next generation of fans? Probably, but you never know. When that next huge event comes, will people still think Infinity War/Endgame was the best thing since sliced bread? I think we’re getting into an age of more disposable cinema. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if that Thanos gauntlet gathers dust in favour of Ubertron’s Codpiece (copyright me) in the new Avengers finale in 2029. To do all this again. To tie so many films, so many characters together again, and stay coherent, still maintain the interest, will be extremely challenging (though I don’t doubt Kevin Feige is up for it).
The intricacy of piecing together all those stories, with complex relationships was ultimately well planned, even if Endgame was like the holiest, most cheesy piece of plotholey swiss cheese in many a year (still if you want logic in spandex wearing superhero films with talking Raccoons, best go elsewhere buddy). I don’t even know how much bigger a blockbuster could get as far as characters and set pieces. If you do it over again, the danger is it could become boring. Despite Captain Marvel raking in a cool billion, it still fell a little short of expectation and reviews were generally reasonable rather than rad (rad? Totally tubular man).
There are still countless Marvel properties to adapt. There are a lot of characters who had second arcs in comics with replacements. That again offers possibility for rebirth. If people think Ubertron is lame (copyright) then they may decide that Iron Man needs to return under a new guise. We also saw the handover towards Steve Rogers’ replacement at the end of Endgame with Falcon taking the shield. The flip side is always comparison though and topping Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, or Chris Evans as Captain America will be very difficult.
Such is the exhaustion fans feel at this point, particularly those who have invested 10 years into however many films it’s been (I’ve run out of fingers to count with), maybe it’ll be difficult to do it all again. Lets not doubt Kevin Feige et. al. though. Undoubtedly there will be a grand plan to keep things fresh. Whilst the promise of cultier characters is boosted by the huge popularity of Guardians of the Galaxy… just how many times you can go back to the well, remains to be seen.
Has Marvel peaked with Endgame? Let us know your thoughts In the comments below or on our Twitter page @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has three features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal sites you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions