Film

The Marvel Universe Is About To Turn On Its Head And I Am Ready For It

What happens when they kill off the Avengers?

Avengers

Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind the sprawling and overwhelmingly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, has hinted at a huge shakeup for the franchise after the fourth Avengers film, which is currently being filmed.

In a cover story for Vanity Fair this week he foretold, “There will be two distinct periods — everything before Avengers 4 and everything after. I know it will not be in ways people are expecting”.

The producer and President of Marvel Studios didn’t give away many concrete details about what the future of the MCU will look like, only saying the release of the as yet untitled fourth instalment in the Avengers series will “bring things you’ve never seen in superhero films: a finale.”

In a genre that’s been traditionally obsessed with origins, the future sounds like it could be about finally finishing those stories.

The Films They Are A-Changin’

While vague prophecies of potential changes in 2019 isn’t exactly breaking news, there’s a concrete reason to why we can expect a transformation of the franchise as we know it. The sexy answer is contractual obligations.

Several big name staples of the films — most notably members of The Avengers — are up for contract renewal after the fourth film. That includes Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye).

Combine this with persistent rumours of both Downey Jr. and Evans wanting out of the franchise (although Evans has since confirmed he’s in for the long-haul), it’s more than likely that this “finale” Feige is talking about could end with the deaths of some of Marvel’s biggest superheroes. Or maybe even all of them. That would be a bold move.

Ending a franchise within a cinematic universe is relatively uncharted ground, with a notable exception being this year’s LoganHugh Jackman’s Wolverine was given a dramatic and beautifully told final story, as he’ll no longer be appearing in any of Sony’s X-Men or standalone films. The fact that Feige is potentially thinking about doing this with the Avengers is a good sign.

I’d rather get closure on characters’ story arcs than have them all hang around on retainer, waiting for the next blockbuster to rake in easy cash.

10 Years of Superheroes

Not every film has been a slam dunk for Marvel over the years, with sequels especially failing to live up to expectation (think Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2). But it’s fair to say the franchise is only growing in popularity.

Next year we’ll celebrate the tenth anniversary of the first MCU film — the 2008 hit Iron Man. This is even more impressive when you think of some of the more experimental and risky films which have reached critical and commercial success since. The vibrant Guardians of the Galaxy seemed to finally hammer the last nail into the coffin of the ‘grim-bleak’ genre of superhero films, and the goofy comedy of the recent Thor: Ragnarok followed suit.

Our notion of what superhero films are is changing, as it should after more than ten years of them dominating cinemas. While some people are always going to view the genre as fairly static and two-dimensional — or as just base-level bad — the fact is that the success of the movies means there’s room for variety. New kinds of stories can sit beside simple punch-em-ups.

But even the originals were relatively revolutionary in their day. Robert Downey Jr’s wise-cracking, traumatised playboy made Iron Man a risky film; one that looked and felt different to its precursors. RDJ wasn’t a traditional depiction of a hero. We were given quips and goatees instead of thick necks and flapping capes.

Even the director of Iron Man, Jon Favreau was nervous about the movie’s success, having been involved in movies like the awful Daredevil. ”I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” he said at the 2008 premiere in LA, not yet realising that it would create the environment for the entire MCU to grow.

If the MCU continues to grow and experiment, it could be a particularly smart move to consciously uncouple with their more legacy heroes from The Avengers, such as Iron Man.

What will the universe look like without an Iron Man? It should look extremely different. If they’re really serious about creating a ‘finale’ in the Avengers franchise, we get to think about what they’re going to do to fill in that gap moving forward.

Cool Stuff That’s Already Happening

Marvel hasn’t simply focused on risk-taking within the genre; they’re also rolling out some actual diversity, after a particularly egregious length of time. Next year’s highly anticipated Black Panther is the first MCU film with a black actor as its lead, and it also features a mostly black cast.

After that, we get their first female-led superhero film with Captain Marvel, played by Brie Larson. Not only is it ridiculous that it’s taken 10 years to get a film with a super-lady at its helm, but it must be significantly embarrassing to Marvel that they were beaten to the pip by their main competitor with Wonder Woman. The film absolutely smashed it out of the ballpark with its box-office attendance.

A lot of the conservatism at Marvel Studios is rumoured to come from Marvel’s chairman and former CEO, Isaac Perlmutter. Vanity Fair report that he held outdated opinions about casting, budget and merchandising. It was Perlmutter who was supposedly behind the decision to not focus on Black Widow merchandise — the only female member of The Avengers — because he didn’t believe “girl” superhero products would sell. A management re-structure in 2015 has sidelined Perlmutter, and put Feige more firmly in control of the development of Marvel.

So What Comes Next?

I hope Marvel makes a clean slate to focus on experimental and diverse stories. Risky superhero storytelling is already paying off, including hits outside the studio such as the ‘R’ rated anti-hero Deadpool, or the noir-inspired end to the Wolverine franchise Logan. There’s no real reason to stop now. It’s time to push the envelope of what constitutes a superhero film.

Look at the success of Thor: Ragnarok: after suffering from a rather unexciting and staid movie in Thor: The Dark World, the franchise was revitalised by taking the risk on a relatively unknown director in the delightful Taika Waititi. He brought a strong vision with him and a love for the genre that Marvel should be commended for recognising.

Importantly Waititi took a defined, prominent character from the shared universe in Chris Hemsworth’s beefy god of thunder, and transformed him. By the end of the (truly excellent) film, both Thor and his story have changed from what we expected from the character when we first met him in The Avengers. both narratively and even physically.

THAT HAIR!!

As much as I enjoyed the first Avengers film, that doesn’t mean I want to see the same story ad infinitum. Just look at the forever resurrected Spiderman franchise. Fans don’t want the same story told again and again in the same way.

Hopefully Marvel will also see that there’s a craving for these films to be told from perspectives outside the anglo white male superheroes of tradition. We want diverse heroes, diverse stories, new points of view.

Marvel are already laying the groundwork, but there’s scope for so much more. After all, Marvel Studio has the rights to over 7,000 comic book characters, meaning the possibilities for each and every kind of story are limitless. By the time Avengers 4 comes out in 2019, the MCU will have made 22 films under its belt, and there’s no sign of stopping.

“We’re 22 movies in,” said Feige, “and we’ve got another 20 movies on the docket that are completely different from anything that’s come before — intentionally.”

Avengers: Infinity War is in cinemas May 2018.