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If you’re an employee of Marvel Studios and haven’t had a glass of champagne in the last 48 hours then that’s something that needs to be rectified. Everyone involved with the production of The Avengers deserves a hearty congratulations for creating something magical: a movie that’s beloved by critics, beloved by audiences, and absolutely raking in the dough. It’s this universal bond that makes movies such an important thing in our culture.
But good things don’t always last and anyone who pays attention to the movie industry is well aware of that. Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films were some of the greatest the genre has to offer, but the third is a total mess. There are, however, ways that Marvel Studios can keep the good vibes going in their future films.
Below I have outlined five important steps that Marvel Studios should take if they plan to maintain the greatness that has come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far.
Looking closely at the villains of the five solo films that preceded The Avengers you begin to notice a pattern: all of them are just evil versions of the hero. This goes for Iron Man (evil industrialist in a special suit), The Incredible Hulk (evil drugged up, incredibly strong superbeing), Iron Man 2 (evil scientist in a special suit), Thor (bad Asgardian prince) and Captain America: The First Avenger (evil supersolider). While it hasn’t been so bad thus far, it’s a pattern that Marvel can’t stretch out for long without it becoming stale. The good news is that the films are already moving away from that: in Iron Man 3 the titular hero will be squaring off against a nanovirus. Given the great variety in both Thor and Captain America’s comic book past, it shouldn’t be too hard to break the cycle with those characters as well.
When it comes to scale of story, The Avengers stands a head taller than all of the five previous Marvel films. But guess what? That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Since the experiment began four years ago, the studio has used each movie as a stepping stone to the moment that all of the heroes came together (which most of you watched this past weekend). Until it’s time for The Avengers 2, however, there is no point in trying to continue escalation. Doing that would simply result in Marvel movies becoming the equivalent of Transformers movies: all style, zero substance. While I’m not saying that they should stop trying to create a spectacle (that’s what these movies are for), at this stage one-upmanship is pointless. Just craft good stories and hire the right people to tell them. Speaking of which…
Some could argue that part of what makes The Avengers such a great movie is that it’s obviously a Joss Whedon film. Everything, from the way that the characters interact to the way the story progressed, was purely recognizable to fans of Buffy, Firefly, Angel, Dr. Horrible and Dollhouse. Marvel was smart enough to recognize the talent that they had and let him make the movie he wanted to make. And who doesn’t want to see more of that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? To a certain extent this has actually already become a thing. Shane Black, who is directing Iron Man 3, co-wrote the script with Drew Pence, and the upcoming Ant-Man will be directed by Edgar Wright and based on script by Wright and his partner, Joe Cornish. That said, Thor 2 and Captain America 2 will be written and directed by different people (or at least that’s how things stand right now). There are many ways that Marvel should be trying to mirror the success of The Avengers and hiring a writer/director should definitely be one of their priorities.
This is somewhat taking a page out of Joss Whedon’s book, but looking at how great The Avengers turned out I feel that it’s a book that we should be looking to regularly. The point is that somebody big has to die. The big flaw of superhero franchises (and, really, any franchise) is that you always know that in the end the good guy is going to win over the bad guy in some fashion. Basically, if the hero dies that means no sequel and no more money. The way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is constructed, however, the story can continue even after one of the major characters is killed. Whether it happens before or after (or during) The Avengers 2, at some point Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, or Hulk needs to bite the bullet and prove that nobody is actually safe and you should fear for the lives of all the characters.
Of the entries on this list, this is easily the most crucial if Marvel Studios wants to continue having success beyond The Avengers. There is a distinct possibility that the executives could look at the success they’ve had so far and decide not to roll the dice and just continue gambling on the established winners. This, however, would go completely against the spirit of the epic project the studio began back in 2008. If you want to continue building the Marvel Cinematic Universe you need to add characters to it. For years we’ve heard grumblings about heroes like Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther, but thus far none of them have taken any real steps towards production. There remains an empty slot on Marvel’s 2014 calendar (on June 27th to be exact) and we’re actually hoping that it’s not filled by Hulk, S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Widow or Hawkeye. They need to bring the new early and often, even if it means doing them two heroes at a time.
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