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It used to be much simpler to make a superhero movie. Just take a beloved comic book protagonist, pit them against one of their greatest foes, throw in some emotional turmoil, occasionally some set-up for a sequel, and voila! Easy recipe. Then in 2008, Marvel changed the game with their shared cinematic universe, but in recent years, it's also become apparent that Marvel has subtly been moving away from the standard solo movie formula and been playing around with "team-up" scenarios, i.e. when another major Marvel hero has a significant, but not necessarily leading, role in another hero's movie.
Even ignoring when a character from another corner of the MCU pops up in a post-credits scene, think about some of the major "team-up" situations that have happened. Black Widow and Falcon worked with Steve Rogers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Scott Lang went up against Falcon in Ant-Man. Captain America: Civil War...need I say more? Studying the rest of Phase Three, it's clear this team-up trend isn't going away, which begs the question: when Phase Four comes around, should Marvel drop solo movies entirely and stick to team-up adventures? That's what we're here to discuss, and to be clear, this discussion won't apply to movies that are natural ensemble stories, like the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy flicks.
Why Solo Movies Are Still Effective
The easiest answer for this is simplicity. While many comic book readers get a kick out of seeing one hero work together with another hero outside of a team book, like Daredevil popping up in an issue of Spider-Man, the fact of the matter is that these movies are also supposed to appeal to casual moviegoers as well. To appease both sides, maybe it would be best if one hero be given the attention, just like in the old days.
Excluding Thor's cameo in the mid-credits scene and an Infinity Stone reference, Doctor Strange was one of the most self-contained MCU movies ever, and look how successful it was, both critically and commercially. The MCU turns 9-years-old this May, and with each passing year, the continuity of this franchise grows more complicated (especially when you account for television). When it comes to these solo movies, there's nothing wrong with keeping firm focus on one hero without another crimefighter trying to take some of the spotlight.
Why Team Ups Make More Sense
Marvel has a lot of characters in its library, and a fair amount of them are definitely worthy of being given their own movies. However, there's also a significant chunk who aren't as deserving of such treatment, but pairing two or three together can produce just as compelling of a story. If Marvel hadn't thrown secondary heroes into some of their solo movies, we wouldn't have players like Black Widow, Hawkeye and Falcon right now, so maybe it's wise to just be more explicit with these duos and trios adventures.
Take Thor: Ragnarok. Although this is primarily the God of Thunder's third solo story, The Hulk will also appear as part of a backdoor Planet Hulk story. Both The Incredible Hulk and the first two Thor movies, while not failures, weren't the most well-received MCU movies. Perhaps with Thor and Hulk together (along with the other supporting characters), Ragnarok can be something exceptional. If that happens, you can bet that Marvel will consider creating more stories like this.
Is There A Marvel Middle Ground?
The middle ground is tricky for something like this. On the one hand, it's easy enough to pair a major Marvel hero with someone minor to be used as support.Then there's a situation similar to what Spider-Man: Homecoming has to handle. Although Peter Parker is obviously the main protagonist of that movie, Tony Stark will appear, and since Robert Downey was first seen as Iron Man in 2008, the armored hero has risen to A-lister status. It's fine to see Tony Stark continue mentoring Peter, but since he'll be armoring up as well, do we need to worry about him overshadowing the Wall-Crawler?
It's a difficult balancing act, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier proved that you can have a "solo" movie with multiple heroes without taking focus off the main protagonist. I'd point out Captain America: Civil War, too, but the problem with that is while that was a great movie, it felt more like Avengers 2.5, with both Steve Rogers and Tony Stark as the main characters.
As a longtime comic book fan, I get a kick out out of seeing superheroes team up, whether it's on the printed page or the big screen. And obviously if there's a way to tell a story with multiple heroes outside of a direct ensemble piece in a natural way, then that's great. That said, it's probably not a good idea for Marvel to drop true solo movies entirely. Following the explosive events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4, Phase Four will be seen as a fresh start for the MCU. The history will remain intact, but old characters will depart, new characters will be introduced, and things won't be quite as hectic.
It would be better if Marvel moved back to basics and kept solo movies primarily focused one individual, not several. It's fine to have separate ensemble stories or secondary heroes from another hero's cast of characters (i.e. an Iron Man/War Machine dynamic), but in order to keep fans both new and old satisfied, don't lean so heavily on these partnerships. Maybe once every couple years would be fine, but not all the time. That way we can still enjoy the shared continuity without being overloaded with it.
Now that I've said my piece, I want to hear from you! Do you think Marvel should move closer to making more team-up movies, or is the studio better off continuing to have just one hero as the main focus? Let us know what you think in the comments below.