Critical Hit with Drew Nordman

It’s never been a better time to be a nerd. Nothing truly exemplifies this sentiment more than the proliferation of comic book to film adaptations of the past few years. Not only are these movies steadily increasing in quality, they’re also consistently making a killing at the box office, proving how worthy these stories are of admiration. Year after year, audiences show up in droves to see the latest installments of their favorite heroes gracing the big screen.

The folks over at Marvel have really dedicated themselves to bringing some of their most iconic characters to life by carefully crafting an astonishingly interwoven and ambitious filmic continuity that spans several different franchises, truly starting with Iron Man back in 2008. By gradually and subtly introducing such characters as Thor and Captain America, then giving them their own standalone films, Marvel has created an unprecedentedly unique series structure. This of course all culminated in 2012’s The Avengers, in which Marvel assembled Earth’s mightiest heroes to fend off an alien invasion in what was ostensibly a two hour long exercise in fan service. These movies fell under what Marvel called “phase 1.” With its second phase already underway, kicking off this year with Captain America: The Winter Soldier at the end of March and The Avengers: Age of Ultron coming sometime in 2015, Marvel is poised to own your movie-going dollars for the foreseeable future, with plans for “phase 3” and onward. 

Far more interesting than the inevitable Avengers sequel, however, is the upcoming August release of Guardians of the Galaxy. More of a sci-fi flick than a true superhero film, Guardians tells the story of a ragtag group of misfit mercenaries who have to learn to tolerate one another while saving the galaxy along the way. Oh, and one of them is a foul mouthed anthropomorphic raccoon armed to the teeth and voiced by Bradley Cooper. 

Maybe I buried the lead on that one, but either way it’s a movie to look forward to, as it takes place within the same universe as The Avengers, further strengthening the sense of continuity that Marvel has been working towards. But with no major name recognition (in stars or characters) Guardians is Marvel’s wildcard. If it does well at the box office there’s no limit to what they can do. The mere fact this movie is even being made is a testament to Marvel’s vision for its cinematic universe.

You may be asking yourself, “Wait, why weren’t Spider-Man or the X-Men ever mentioned in The Avengers?” Well, during the ‘90s, Marvel fell on hard times and had to sell the film rights to some of their most popular characters just to stay afloat. So for some incredibly frustrating legal reasons, we’ll never see Spider-Man team up with Captain America, or Wolverine rightfully take his place as an Avenger. So despite both having films coming out this summer, Spider-Man and the X-Men merely deserve honorable mentions. As great as these films may or may not be, the fact that they’ll never be integrated into the greater Marvel universe truly holds them back from feeling like they’re part of something bigger.

On the other side of the aisle, DC, a comic company which actually owns all the rights to its characters, has struggled in terms of creating a cohesive multi-franchise film universe. The best chance they have at doing so may come in the form of the sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel, tentatively titled Batman Vs. Superman, which potentially will lead to a Justice League film. This venture might end up nothing more than a rushed attempt to mimic Marvel’s success, though I hope I’m mistaken. It’s set to hit theaters in May 2016.

Drew Nordman loves geek culture. Follow him on Twitter @Anomalous1.

Published in Volume 68, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 12, 2014)

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