Yesterday, I posted my thoughts on the Marvel movies themselves, in the form of a list of bests and worsts. For today’s final Marvel Movies Project post, I’ve put together a few ideas on comic book adaptations in general.
For me, this rewatch prompted some thoughts on superheroes and intellectual property, and on the nature of the comic book universe developed over several decades by the many different creators who’ve passed through the Merry Marvel Bullpen. It’s a massive story world which is now being translated to a new medium, with varying degrees of success. The complex interweaving of all these characters’ stories in the comic books makes for some challenges in adaptation.
At first, with the Marvel Universe having been sold off piecemeal to various different studios, the approach was to focus in on one small part of that universe and pretend the rest doesn’t exist; for example, in Fox’s Daredevil movie, Ben Urich’s employer is the New York Post because the rights to the Daily Bugle name went with Spider-Man to Sony. This is a small detail, but it serves to illustrate how the scope of the films had to be limited.
Now, with Marvel Studios in business, we’re seeing Marvel itself attempt things on a much bigger scale, building a film universe that could conceivably grow to mirror the comic book universe. Phase One has been remarkably successful in every sense — the movies are all good, they tie together extremely well, and they’ve made huge piles of money — but it remains to be seen whether Phase Two, consisting of six movies (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers 2, and Ant-Man) to be released between now and 2015, can continue to grow the universe in a sustainable way.
Right now, a casual viewer can watch The Avengers without having seen Iron Man 2 or Thor and probably not be too confused (although really, I think seeing Thor probably helps … plus, Thor is awesome and everyone should see it). Will this continue as more movies are produced, introducing more characters and presumably more and more backstory? There may be a reason the world of comic book movie adaptations has so far focused so much on origin stories, to the point that Spider-Man has already been remade only 10 years after its release.
It is interesting to note that four of the Phase Two films are sequels, which means more building on already established characters and stories. Having fewer new characters to keep track of might make the MCU simpler and easier to follow. But I’m inclined to think things will rather become more complex as Thor and Captain America and Iron Man’s backstories become more and more detailed. (Of course, it’s possible any of these characters could be killed off. That’s one way of wiping the slate clean.)
The studio then has to walk a fine line between making the continuity overly complicated and keeping it meaningful. Before The Avengers, it made sense to use Agent Coulson, Nick Fury, and SHIELD as roving elements to tie the various movies together. Now, though, The Avengers have all met and worked together, and I’m not sure things can be quite so separate anymore: if the events of The Avengers have no impact whatsoever on Iron Man 3, it cheapens the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe idea. The tie-ins have to matter. They just can’t matter too much.
With 20th Century Fox looking to create its own version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Warner Bros. possibly stepping into the fray on behalf of DC Comics, it looks as though Marvel Studios may have started a trend. It will be interesting to see what happens — whether it continues to work and we get more and more linked film series, or whether the trend burns out and the studios do what Marvel and DC have been doing for years: start over at issue #1.