This past weekend saw the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the first film from Marvel Studios in 2014, the second movie detailing the Captain America story (or third if you count Marvel’s The Avengers) and the ninth film in Marvel Studio’s three-stage initiative to get a large chunk of their characters and universe to the silver screen. Marvel fans have even more cause for celebration this year as other Marvel franchises that have been purchased by other film studios are also seeing new films, and there is definitely pressure there to produce films of the same caliber as the wildly popular Marvel Studio’s output.
Columbia Pictures is bringing us The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in May, the second film of the rebooted Spider-man series to star Andrew Garfield, and the trailers promise not one, but three proper adversaries for Spidey to juggle with his web-slinging abilities. The trailer shows that like last summer’s Man of Steel, the fight sequences look more like a video game than live action, but I’d be hard-pressed to say they are anything less than spectacular. This might be a good candidate for the 3D screening. I’m particularly excited to see Jamie Foxx as the sinister Electro.
May will also see the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, which many fans are hoping to be a return to form for the franchise. While this is the seventh X-Men film from 20th Century Fox, it comes after two Wolverine side stories that seemed separate from the universe at large and X-Men: First Class, a prequel that, while entertaining, used its 1962 setting as an excuse to cast a host of younger actors into the iconic roles and didn’t do much to advance the stories of the characters. Days of Future Past sees the return of director Bryan Singer, director of the first two (and best-regarded) X-Men films, and the story appears to be super ambitious, involving two different times periods in which the iconic characters interact with past versions of themselves.
What I’m most excited for is Marvel Studios’ second offering of this year, Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s first foray into highlighting what we can safely call their B-list of heroes. I know there might be one or two fans out there I’ve just upset by that, but given the massive popularity of recent Marvel flicks, I think it’s safe to say that there were millions of film-goers who had never heard of Peter “Star-Lord” Quill and his team of intergalactic ne’er-do-wells prior to the unveiling of this film, let alone read the comics. A Marvel film that doesn’t take place on Earth has a certain appeal, but I’m also intrigued by the overtly comic tone of the trailer, and casting Parks and Recreation regular Chris Pratt as the lead only adds to the comedic potential. What has me really excited is the choice of James Gunn to direct. Gunn has done interesting twists on genre films before such as Slither and Super, but he will always have a special place in my heart as director of the cult hit of 90’s Shakespearean shlock, Tromeo and Juliet.
There are plenty of other Marvel properties to keep an eye on in 2014 as more details will undoubtedly surface regarding next year’s Ant-Man (set to star Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, with Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright at the helm) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (once again directed by Joss Whedon), as well as a rumored reboot of The Fantastic Four.
The Future for Marvel Studios
With all of this rapid expansion of the Marvel Universe in film, have they bitten off more than they can chew? That remains to be seen. So far, Marvel Studios has yet to have a major financial failure with any of these properties. Even the lowest grossing film from Marvel Studios, The Incredible Hulk, pulled in a respectable $134 million over its budget, and Marvel’s The Avengers grossed a whopping $623 million domestic and an additional $895 million internationally. One hallmark of this surge of popularity in superhero films has been the international appeal, and even critical consensus reinforces the quality of Marvel’s films. Thor: The Dark World has the dubious honor of receiving the coldest critical response, and even that garnered a designation of “Fresh” from Rotten Tomatoes with a 65% approval rating.
Audiences adore these movies, and they’ve created a new generation of heroes with which kids and adults can laugh, empathize, and admire. I think that until Marvel Studios manages to create a film that audiences just cannot abide, they are welcome to keep expanding their universe. Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are risky choices that don’t garner the same name recognition as characters like Captain America and Thor, but the Marvel universe is full of weirdness, and I think they have waited long enough and have enough people on board to say, “Well, how would you feel about a talking raccoon?” I’m sure that they will tailor the budgets of the riskier films accordingly, but I also think these risks show the respect that Marvel has for the breadth of its universe, not wanting to shy away from the less marketable aspects when they feel there is an interesting story to tell. Iron Man 3 was a blast, but I’d rather see them expand their ensemble of superheroes rather than get a fourth Iron Man flick in the next couple of years. What’s more, if these films bear out that people are on board for the stranger, more niche characters and Marvel has the foresight to keep funding these projects and placing them in the hands of inspired directors, I think they can push superhero films into brand new territories and genres.
One other thing that Marvel Studios has managed to do successfully is to connect their films to one another in a way that feels like a cohesive canon is being built. Sure, there are minor setbacks that require suspension of disbelief, such as the recasting of roles (Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo are basically the same, right?). They’ve become known for their mid-credit stingers that always tease plot details of upcoming films. Astute Marvel fans will find plenty of references that are tossed in for the initiated but never explained (Captain America:The Winter Soldier contains an offhand remark about the yet-to-be-introduced Doctor Strange). Thor introduced the character of Hawkeye, and Iron Man 2 introduced Black Widow, two primary characters in Marvel’s Avengers. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow also plays a large role in this new Captain America flick, and it’s enough to leave you demanding that she deserves her own vehicle — we need a superhero film with a female lead, and so far none of the announced films remedy that situation.
As a final note, I’d encourage everyone to get out and see the latest Captain America flick if you’re interested in the Marvel universe at all. It has some inspired action scenes that hit hard, and a twisty plot that borders on the edge of government conspiracy thriller. Robert Redford is a joy to watch as he chews the scenery as guy-we’re-not-sure-if-we-trust, and newcomer Anthony Mackie is a great addition to the team as the enthusiastic Falcon. How can you not love this guy after watching him react to his own film? The film strikes an interesting tone by making Captain America confront that the black and white, us vs. the Nazis tone of the world he came from is not the same world that he now inhabits, and that allegiance and patriotism aren’t always in line with what is right and just. The plot of the this movie also contains some major events that shake the structure of the established Marvel movie world, and while you’ll have to discover them for yourselves, I will only say that it spells major changes for how the Avengers will have to function in Age of Ultron. This may end up being my second-favorite superhero film after Marvel’s The Avengers, and I’m giving it a “must watch.”
What are your thoughts on the Marvel franchise thus far? Which is your favorite character? Let us know in the comments below, and share this article with your friends if you enjoyed ! For more about the founding of Marvel, a compendium of their characters, or a documentary on Stan Lee, click on the pictures below.