One year after Avengers: Endgame, we look back at the blockbuster franchise that changed superhero cinema — and the moviegoing landscape — forever.
If Twin Peaks: The Return is a television show with the auteur stylings and consistent narrative vision of a motion picture, then the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a series of films that operate within the structure and methodology of TV. More than becoming one of the most successful film franchises of all time (and forever enshrining us in the era of the superhero), it fundamentally changed the fabric of the moviegoing experience.
No longer do we need our blockbusters to stand apart; they can connect with each other in ways beyond mere sequels. Characters can bob and weave in and out of each other’s narratives, and producers can expect the audience to keep up with everyone. And if they can’t, well, that’s fine. They can just stick around for the big team-up Avengers movies, the cinematic equivalent of sweeps-week two parters.
Over 22 films and twelve years of meticulous plotting, producer Kevin Feige and the people at Marvel Studios (both before and after their acquisition by Disney) pulled off the inconceivable: bringing the labyrinthine plots and outlandish characters of an entire comic book universe successfully to the screen. And what’s more, they do so with an incredible level of consistency and quality.
Now, opinions vary as to the ultimate quality of the films: do they tell a deeper story than punchmen in capes? Or are they nothing but mediocre entertainment? For our money, the accessibile consistency of the MCU is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness: while the stories themselves hold up to a basic level of entertainment value (and some films flirt with a deeper aesthetic or political significance), the constraints of following the Feige playbook often keep the MCU from taking real, interesting risks. Even the wackiest, most out-there Marvel movies (looking at you, Thor: Ragnarok) have to give way to a restoration of the status quo in subsequent entries.
Even so, these movies have left an indelible mark on the pop culture landscape, mainstreaming nerd culture in ways we couldn’t previously conceive. This month will mark a year since 2019’s Avengers: Endgame ostensibly capped off the story of Iron Man, Captain America and the original Avengers lineup, and Phase 4 is just around the corner (soon as civilization returns, of course). With that in mind, we’ll be taking the month of April to go back through the Marvel films to date, evaluating their strengths, weaknesses, and their overall contribution to this most intriguing of blockbuster experiments. Keep an eye on this space as we post our retro reviews and view the MCU with a fresh pair of eyes.
Read the rest of our Marvel Cinematic Universe coverage here:
“Iron Man” built a hero – and a blueprint for a franchise
“Iron Man 2” Offers Marvel’s First Stumble Out of the Gate
“Thor” Thunders Onto the Screen as Marvel’s Millennial
The Throwback Charms of “Captain America: The First Avenger”
Assembling “The Avengers”
The Enemy is Too Close to Home in “Iron Man 3”
“Thor: The Dark World” Feels Like MCU Filler
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Saw the MCU Grow Up
“Guardians of the Galaxy” Gave the MCU Its Identity
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” Blurs the Line Between “Good” and “Good Enough”
Is “Captain America: Civil War” More Political Thriller or Comic Book?
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Found Poignancy In Its Cosmic Weirdos
How “Spider-Man: Homecoming” Updated the Teen Film for the MCU Era
“Thor: Ragnarok” was a joyous punch in the face of colonialism
“Black Panther,” M’Baku, and reclaiming the savage
Avengers: Infinity War Review: Marvel’s Ambitious, Risky Magnum Opus
Ant-Man and the Wasp Review: Marvel’s Latest Shrinks the Stakes
Captain Marvel Review: Marvel Takes the Origin Story Higher, Further, Faster
“Avengers: Endgame” is nothing short of a miracle
“Spider-Man: Far From Home” forces Peter Parker to grow up
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