Generally speaking, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done a stellar job creating a shared continuity for dozens of characters to inhabit. There’s a reason that these movies are so widely praised, and it’s because they’re just that good. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. While there’s nothing that they’re necessarily doing wrong, if Marvel Studios wants to continue being successful, they need to grow. To change.
Part of what made the MCU so successful off the bat was the fact that they were doing things that hadn’t been done before. However, now that they’ve done that, it’s time for them to do more new and unique things. Fans will keep coming to the movies to see their favorite characters, but by making a few key changes during the current Phase Three, which kicked off with Captain America: Civil War,, they’ll be able to create new fans and keep things fresh into Phase Four and beyond.
More Diverse CastingTo give credit where it’s due, Marvel has done some of this already. Thor’s Heimdall is black, and Doctor Strange’s Ancient One, while getting some flack for making a traditionally Asian character white, did at least try fro diversity by making another traditionally male character a woman (Tilda Swinton). But there are literally zero limits to what they can do with this. The recent casting announcements/rumors that both Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong'o may be joining the cast of Ryan Coogler's Black Panther are proof that diversity is important to the studio. Interest in the Black Panther movie has spiked in a big way. Keep this up. It needs to happen in more than simply one movie.
Integrate Television In A Real WayWhile most eyes are focused on the theatrical side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the fact is that the television side has been doing amazing work, as well. Netflix's series alone are some of the most popular on any form of TV. When you watch those shows, you’ll occasionally hear Jessica Jones or Matt Murdoch reference the Avengers. How about one of the Avengers return the favor? We know that getting TV characters in the movies can be tough, but it’s worth it to make it happen, for the benefit of the MCU, as a whole. Characters don’t always have to appear themselves. What if Tony Stark had briefly considered trying to enlist Daredevil for Captain America: Civil War instead of Spider-Man? It would have only taken a moment of screen time, but it would have meant much more than that.
Create Truly Self-Contained StoriesWhile the shared continuity of the MCU is cool, and particularly fun for us geeks, not every movie made by Marvel Studios has to serve the larger story. What if some just told their own story? Everything we’ve heard about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 seems to imply that it won’t be dealing with Thanos or any Infinity Stones. This is a good thing. What if the Doctor Strange movie is just a Doctor Strange movie? The deeper the MCU gets, the more history every viewer needs to have. But by creating the occasional, separate story, fans can enjoy a good superhero movie without being afraid that they’re missing vital information.
Let New Characters Stand On Their OwnOne of the things that Captain America: Civil War did well was introduce both Black Panther and Spider-Man. Spider-Man, especially, was given his time to do what he needed to do, and then shown the door. It was simple and clean. So, why does Spider-Man need Iron Man to show up in his movie? He’s Spider-Man, for crying out loud -- one of the most popular comic book heroes of all time. If Doctor Strange doesn’t need Avengers backup, then neither does the wallcrawler. Let the new characters breathe on their own. If the character can’t get the job done solo, then maybe efforts should be focused elsewhere.
Be Brave And Remove Important CharactersThe day will come fairly soon that, either for story reasons or for contractual ones, the actors that we know and love will cease playing the parts that we love them for playing. This is likely to begin at some point during Phase Three. When that day comes, the characters need to stay gone. It’s common for "replacement heroes" to show up in comic books, but when that happens, everybody -- from the writer to the readers -- knows that the original hero will be back eventually. That’s not going to happen in the movies. When Robert Downey Jr. stops playing Tony Stark, he’s going to stop, pretty much for good. You might get him to come back for a cameo, but he’s not going to show up two years later and make five more movies. Time doesn’t pass in the same way in comics, but it does in real life. Use it.
Set Up Short-Term StorylinesWhen we first glimpsed Thanos for the first time at the end of Phase One, it was 2012. When the Infinity War finally comes to an end and wraps up Phase Three, seven years will have passed. That’s far too long. Similar to the need for stand-alone films, Marvel runs the risk of too many fans losing track of the plot if stories go on forever. Phase Three needs to start setting up storylines that will not take seven years to pay off. It only took four years and six films to form the Avengers. In 2017 and 2018, Marvel will be releasing three films in a year. This means that an equally sized story can be done in half the time. A little longer if we make one or two of those nice, separate, solo stories. Let's get on that, Marvel.