Hey there, dear readers!
Happy Memorial Day to those of you in the US! And to the rest of you, Happy Monday! As I’m sure many of you may know, I am a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Marvel has accomplished nothing short of a miracle bringing so many of their properties to the big screen, intertwining them together to form one large, interconnected tapestry of stories. Captain America: Civil War was the kick-off for what is know as Phase Three (Phase One was Iron Man to The Avengers and Phase Two was from Iron Man 3 to Ant-Man). To celebrate this awesome milestone, my fellow movie blogger, Rob from MovieRob, and I had a discussion about our love of comic books and comic book movies. Rob is a reviewing powerhouse, at the time of this post having reviewed 2250 movies on his site. And that number is only growing! If you don’t already follow him, go check out this reviewing madman’s site. Now, let’s get to it!
I know that you read comic books when you were younger (or do you still?). How excited were you when you found out Marvel was trying to create an expansive shared universe with their heroes?
Yes, I was a huge comic book fan as a kid. I remember when I was about 7 or 8, we had a HUGE box of comics in the basement that I would spend my spare time going through. It had all kinds of titles there and I would read and reread them over and over. Two of my favorites (that I can recall) were The Empire Strikes Back comic book adaptation and a Spider-Man vs. Hulk deluxe comic.
As a teen, I once again got very much into comics but usually only read war or army titles like Sgt. Rock and GI Joe.
When I saw the Armageddon 2001 series that came out in 1991, I got hooked on DC superhero comics. Because it was a DC crossover series featured in all of the annuals of that year, I got a great taste of all of the different DC titles.
This actually started my love for the DC universe of superheroes and my perchance for reading Marvel titles here and there was abated.
For the next few years, I became obsessed with DC comics and amassed over a thousand titles. When I moved out of the states, it made it more difficult to keep up and I eventually just stopped collecting. When my folks sold their house a few years later, they sold my comics to a local shop (with my permission of course). I kept some of my favorites though.
I somewhat regret that decision to sell the remainder, but looking back, I still know it was the right decision.
When I got divorced in 2006, my ex threw away my comics and told me that she couldn’t find them, so I now have no comic books to my name.
For some reason, after all these years, I still have that preference in my mind between DC and Marvel even 25 years later.
When they announced the MCU movies, I was happy, but since we just had The Dark Knight come out, I thought that no matter how good the MCU will be, it’ll never be able to be better than what Christopher Nolan brought us with his TDK series.
I still dreamed that one day, they would make a Justice League series featuring all of my favorite heroes from the DC universe, but knew it would be too difficult to get such an array of stars to join in.
As I read more and more about how they were planning to do the MCU, I realized that they were essentially trying to do for Marvel what I had always hoped would be done for DC.
It’s been slow going since then because it obviously takes much more time to build a movie universe than a comic book one. Since they only can make 1 or 2 movies a year (maximum 3), it has taken nearly 9 years to get to where they are at, but it’s been a great ride so far.
The fact that they could make origin movies for the top superheroes (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America) and then bring them all together in an Avengers movie within just a few years really adds to the impact of each of those characters. The MCU keeps expanding yearly and I for one can’t wait to see where it’s all going especially since they keep adding more solo movies to the fray which will make things even better as we keep going forward!
What about you? What is your comic background?
I started getting into the comic book superheroes in the 90s. My Saturday mornings and time after school were usually spent watching the animated Spider-Man, X-Men, and Batman series, as well as Justice League in the late 90s / early 2000s. So I’ve always been exposed to the characters but I really didn’t start reading comics until about ten years ago. When I was in high school, the collectable card game Yu-Gi-Oh was in its heyday and I would participate in weekend Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments at a comic shop not too far from my house. Later in high school, I was doing some fundraising for an out-of-country trip with some classmates and went into the comic shop to see if they would donate some money for an event we were hosting. While I was in the comic shop, the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #539 caught my eye. This was around the time of Spider-Man 3 *shudders* so of course Marvel put Peter back into his black suit for a short time. This particular issue had a this awesome, full body picture of Spider-Man in his black suit as the cover. Now, the black suit is my favorite Spider-Man outfit, so I picked it up and enjoyed it and started reading the Amazing Spider-Man series. A few months later, Uncanny X-Men hit their 500th issue so I picked that up and began reading Uncanny X-men. Then the rest, as they say, is history.
My preference has always been more towards Marvel than DC. The characters are more relatable, or at least as relatable as one with superpowers can be. They feel like they deal with more everyday people problems than DC. DC heroes are more larger than life, which I know is some of the appeal to some people, just not to me. However, I still enjoy both and I keep up with the DC characters, whether that is television series, movies, or even catching up on comic story arcs using Wikipedia.
When the MCU started with Iron Man in 2008, I had no idea it was going to be as expansive as it was. At that time, staying until the end of the credits for an extra scene wasn’t really a thing yet but luckily my buddy and I did. When Nick Fury shows up and says “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative,” I got SUPER excited. Here I was thinking that this was going to be an isolated franchise, like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films or the X-men movies. But no. Marvel was actually going to bring together the Avengers on screen. I was ecstatic to say the least.
What would you say are the MCU’s strengths?
That’s actually quite funny. You gave away my answer in your final thought on the differences between Marvel and DC.
I think more people can relate to Marvel characters BECAUSE of the fact that they are flawed humans with super abilities as opposed to the Larger than life super heroes of DC.
Most of the Marvel heroes are men and women who got their powers through some kind of freak accident, but still retain their human emotions and problems.
The members of The Avengers are just that…
Captain America was a skinny patriot who was given a super soldier serum
Hulk was a researcher who got zapped by gamma Ray
Spider-Man was a teen bitten by a radioactive spider
Iron man was a weapons manufacturer who created a suit to keep himself alive after a freak accident
The fact that each of the main Avengers got their own origin movie plus a few follow ups, gives us a much clearer picture as to who they all are and we get to also see their human emotion in almost everything that they have done.
I think that really is the strength here; the emotional character development of the characters.
This development made it much easier for us to understand the individual character decisions in the recent Civil War film.
Because we are more emotionally connected to the characters, we want to see how they work together as a team and also on individual levels.
The fact that they have also included other characters that aren’t directly related to the Avengers (i.e. GOTG) is also great because they really are trying to create a whole new universe for us to embrace.
What has endeared you to the MCU?
Haha Sorry about that. I couldn’t help myself. 😛
That’s exactly what it is. I remember in collage a friend of mine sent me an article about why the article’s author preferred the DC heroes over the Marvel heroes and every point they listed on why they preferred DC were all the reasons why I prefer the Marvel heroes (I can’t remember many of them besides them being larger-than-life I mentioned before). In the right hands, any hero can be a part of good story. However, fundamentally, Marvel heroes are better characters, mostly falling back to all the points you just listed.
I tried not to make any comparisons to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in my review of Captain America: Civil War, but they are too similar not to. I think the character developments you mentioned are the reason Civil War was so much better than Dawn of Justice. There was no character build-up prior, or even during, Dawn of Justice. The headlining fight between Batman and Superman had no emotional weight behind it so as the audience, we didn’t much care about what the fight meant. On the other hand, we spent so much time with the characters on both sides of the “war” over the last eight years that we were invested in the conflict between these heroes and friends. That’s not to say that Batman and Superman each needed years of build-up before finally clashing. Dawn of Justice just needed to be trimmed and more focused instead of trying to cram in so many plot lines for future movies. I feel like I’m getting off track so I’m going to end that rant there.
What I have enjoyed most about the MCU is how lighthearted it is. It can still be serious but it never becomes so dark that a few quick one-liners can’t draw out a laugh. I think much of that is a unique combination of the writers and excellent casting. Actors like Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Pratt and Paul Rudd are great comedic actors to begin with and might not seem like superhero movie material but Marvel somehow made it work brilliantly. Even in movies with a serious atmosphere, like The Winter Soldier or Civil War, there is still plenty of humor to prevent it from becoming too serious. Marvel perfected this balance in The Avengers and they have been very successful in replicating the mix of action and humor ever since.
What do you think are the MCU’s weaknesses? What can Marvel improve and do better?
Great point about the lightheartedness.
The comics of DC are more humorous, but the movies take things a bit too seriously.
I’m a huge fan of Pratt and Rudd and definitely would never have thought of casting them beforehand, but now they feel like the perfect choices.
Well, even though the MCU films are all quite good, there definitely are some weaknesses.
The fact that we have been introduced to so many new characters movie after movie, it feels that when they do get together for an ensemble movie, most of them still get lost in the crowd and are relegated to what would seem like just cameo duty.
Take Civil War for instance.
It’s supposed to be a Captain America film, but due to the bigger storyline, they need to include lots of Avengers, new and old and then we lose focus on most of them because in just two and a half hours, they need to establish a capable story (which they do), but also highlight over ten different superheroes.
I believe that this is part of the reason that Thor and Hulk are absent here; too many characters that they needed to send them off on other quests in order to not have two more main characters with little to do but fight each other.
This is the main reason it’s so hard to do this as a movie series as opposed to a TV show or comic book. In a TV show you have 22-24 episodes a year in order to lay out your plan of attack, develop the players and then execute the final confrontation. If each episode is roughly 45 minutes, that gives them between 17 and 18 hours to tell a full story arc a year instead of just 2.5 hours (maximum).
I haven’t yet seen Dawn of Justice, but from what I’ve heard, they try to cram too much into such a short span of time that things get entirely lost. Civil War as a similar runtime, but they have already used so many films to build things up that it doesn’t feel as wasted.
With a comic book, there is even more flexibility to create a greater story arc because there are titles that have 50 comics a year and something like this would allow for crossovers with the added bonus of not having to pay actors high salaries to appear for 5 minutes of screen time.
Another problem with the MCU is that the general arc feels focused, but until Infinity Wars, we won’t know the full extent of it all and that is frustrating that one must wait over 10 years; Frodo and Sam did it in 3.
What do u think the weaknesses of the MCU are?
I am disappointed that WB is keeping the DC TV shows and movies as separate universes. I have always said for the last couple years that they should be shared. The TV shows could be use to build the characters, then the films used for crossovers and their big names, like Superman or Batman. That would help with the problem of needing to fit the characters’ development into 2+ hours. Plus that would make it feel very comic book-y, where each episode is an issue and each film is a crossover event. At least for DC.
For me, I’m really looking for Infinity War’s payoff. The big picture has been teased for so long now I can’t wait to see what all of it has been building towards. The only thing I am worried about for beyond Phase Three, though, is how do you top a galactic conflict like the Infinity Gauntlet storyline? I feel like the scale of anything after Infinity War is going to feel so small compared to it. There is a long way to go until we get there so I’m not losing too much sleep over it… yet.
I liked the way Captain America: Civil War balances all the characters. The two core aspects of the film are Steve and Bucky’s relationship and the conflict between Steve and Tony. In both of those, Steve is a part of it, making it the Captain America movie it should be. Excluding Black Panther and Spider-Man, we have already spent time with the other characters so there wasn’t a need to see a lot of screen time from them for development since that happened in their own movies. As for Black Panther, he received the development we needed to see why he would enter the conflict and gave us just enough of him to be excited for his upcoming film. Spider-Man was the only one that remotely felt shoe-horned into the movie.
The biggest weakness I see with the MCU after Phases One and Two is that there is only one significant villain: Loki. Not all movies need deep, Magneto- or Loki-style villains. For example, Guardians of the Galaxy was just fine with a very flat villain. His sole purpose in the film was to bring the team together and he accomplished that. I have heard many people talk about the lack of good villains in the MCU films for a while but it didn’t really bother me until Ant-Man. Darren Cross was in the perfect position to be an evil mirror to Scott Lang. He and Scott could have been two sides of the same coin. With Cross’ history with Pym, he could have been this deep(ish) villain, showing what could happen to Lang if he is not careful and building on Pym’s character with his past mistakes. Instead, Cross was evil for evil’s sake and that bothered me for the first time since the MCU started in 2008. If we can get more villains to stick around going through Phase Three and be developed more, that would make me so happy.
What do you hope to see out of Phase Three?
Your DC crossover idea is great. It’s not easy to do a movie/TV crossover but that could actually work well and serve the greater good… too bad it probably won’t happen.
I also agree that after Infinity War, it might be hard to go grander, but I guess we need to hope (and pray) that they know what they are doing and that Phase 3 won’t kill the whole thing.
I liked the intros that Spidey and BP got in Civil War, but we’ll have to wait and see how they are developed further in the future.
I think the lack of great villains is on purpose because they are all supposed to just be pawns in a huge game of chess. Thanos is basically the supervillain playing the puppeteer in order to get what he wants, the Infinity Gauntlet, so the lack of great villains doesn’t bother me as much.
I think the DC universe has better “minor” villains than Marvel and I would love to eventually see some of them in future DC movies; Monarch, Eclipso, or even Hal Jordan’s transformation into Parallex.
Regarding Phase 3, I can’t say I have much expectations either way. I’ve liked the path that they have taken so far, and I think we need to rely on the fact that they know where they are going with all of this and that they will continue to entertain us along the way.
My biggest concern tho is that since the MCU movies have so far been spread out over a decade and the end is still not in sight (thankfully), I wonder how they plan to keep the same actors for so many years (both contractually and physically). Yes, The Hulk has so far been played by 3 different actors, but that’s one character, to start changing them all might be more problematic. The comics have been around for decades, but drawings don’t age, actors do…
What do u think would be the best way to continue the continuity of the actors and characters over another decade of movies?
That is a good point about Thanos being the puppeteer. But that doesn’t mean all the other villains need to be flat. It’s not like Thanos is directly manipulating them like he was Ronin in GotG.
The easiest thing for Marvel to do to continue for a decade or more of movies is to cast younger actors, like they have done with Tom Holland. However, the most practical thing for them to do is when the actors become unable to play the parts, pass the mantle along to another character, and therefore another actor. Mantles are being passed on all the time in comics so it wouldn’t feel out of place if it happened in the film. Recasting actors that we have become so ingrained to us as these characters would not feel right. Plus it would take away from this thing they are doing where the MCU timeline occurs in real-time if they bring in a younger actor for the same role.
To wrap up, what are your top five MCU films so far?
I know that DC hands off mantle’s but I’m not familiar enough with Marvel to know who has done that. But that does seem to be more prudent than just recasting the characters with younger actors.
Here’s my Top 5
1. Guardians of the Galaxy – This is actually the only MCU movie I regret not seeing in the theater (I’ve actually seen none of them in the theater). I loved the characters and the way that they created a whole new populated and “lived in”. Can’t wait for the sequel…which I plan to see in the theater!
2. Captain America: Winter Soldier – Cap has always been my favorite Avenger due to his honesty, bravery and patriotism. This film showcased it all when he had to battle Hydra lingering within SHIELD.
3. Captain America: Civil War – Great addition to the MCU because it gives the characters a moral dilemma that they must decide which of two sides to join where neither is really the wrong choice.
4. Captain America: First Avenger – Being a HUGE fan of Cap, I loved his origin story that was told so well for us to understand what he went thru back in the 1940’s and then his arrival in the 21st Century.
5. Avengers: Age of Ultron – This was the movie that ignited the whole Civil War storyline and they helped introduce is to some great characters who would have a larger impact on the MCU moving forward.
How does ur Top 5 pan out?
That’s a lot of Captain America! My top five are:
1. The Avengers – The big payoff after four years of set up, bringing all the characters from Phase One together. It had humor, action, and drama all together and well balanced and was simply a ton of fun.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy – This is probably the funniest of the MCU films. It showed that Marvel can do great with even their lesser known properties. GotG is how you do an ensemble origin story.
3. Iron Man – The one that started it all. Robert Downey, Jr. was spot-on casting. Like GotG, this is the perfect superhero origin story.
4. Captain America: Civil War – The Civil War comic is one of my favorite events from Marvel. Marvel adapted it very well, keeping the elements that made the story great even with the smaller scale. Not to mention the airport fight scene is one of my new favorite action pieces.
5. Ant-Man – By the end of Phase Two, the MCU films became very intertwined. Ant-Man establishes itself in the universe but is able to maintain a certain level autonomy. Paul Rudd was an unexpected casting choice but he could not have been more perfect. Plus Michael Pena as Luis alone is worth the watch.
Thank you so much for the discussion, Rob. The MCU is one of my favorite film franchises so this has been great to talk in depth about it.
I’m so happy this worked out. This was lots of fun!
Many of the points I talked about I have said in discussion with my friends but I haven’t written them here on my blog so this was a great way to finally share them with you all.
How about you? What are your thoughts on the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Its strengths? Weaknesses? Things you like or didn’t like? Favorites?