“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” has great relevance to the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, even if Aristotle didn’t foresee it. A series of interconnected threads, plots, character arcs and storylines meld into a coherent saga of life in an alternate universe where high technology heroes exist, extraterrestrial creatures wreak havoc upon the planet and mythical gods battle over the fate of the cosmos. The films provide solid entertainment on a macroscopic scale whilst the television shows set in the same universe flesh out its details.
The release of “Thor: Ragnarok” marks the addition of a seventeenth title in the mammoth Marvel Cinematic Universe, which kicked off in 2008 with the release of Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man.” Since then, there have been many origin stories and team-ups that first culminated in “The Avengers,” a risky venture stringing all of these lead characters into one story. Ultimately, it paid off. The film received critical acclaim and a strong word-of-mouth pushed it into to the box office stratosphere and Marvel into the upper echelons of pop culture.
Marvel has succeeded in world building, which is why it will endure in the years to come. The individual films were well made and kept audiences interested in the heroes’ journeys. The films have largely been noted as parts of distinct Phases. Phase 1 started with the release of “Iron Man” and ended with the release of “The Avengers.” Phase 2 was initiated by the release of “Iron Man 3” and concluded with “Ant-Man.” The storyline is currently in Phase 3, which began with “Captain America: Civil War” and is slated to end with the currently untitled Avengers film in May 2019. This Avengers film is expected to signal a significant change in the films going forward – the first post-phase three films will be headed by Spiderman and The Guardians of the Galaxy, shifting towards more cosmic storylines. Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston among others have contracts that tie them to Marvel’s films until Avengers 4. This suggests that post-phase 3 films will allow the exploration of newer, more diverse characters.
Having honed the ability to make B-list comic heroes into A-lister box office strongholds, Marvel’s truly tapped into something special – which is why it may reign king of the box office in many future ventures. Marvel has been building on audience goodwill, rewarding viewers with typically fun and family friendly films. They’ve also experimented with combining different genres to better serve the story. The first Captain America movie was a classic origin story, full of adventure. The second film was more of an intense spy thriller. “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a light-hearted space comedy romp. “Thor: Ragnarok” marks a great tonal shift from the first two Thor films in earlier phases – more fun, vibrant, and unique.
The long term plan for Marvel has been to dedicate attention to the components of films and television spinoffs. These individual blocks may have their problems, like the lack of a compelling villain for the most part or memorable musical themes like the ones from “Star Wars” or “Jaws”. Despite these potential flaws of the house that Marvel is building, each film is getting technically stronger and more variegated. Marvel has already gambled on their choice of superheroes and has earned enough goodwill to boost any character they decide to bring to life onscreen, phase 3 and beyond.
All this content appears to come with a drawback, however. There is so much going on in the Marvel Universe on TV, on Netflix and on the silver screen, that it can be difficult to truly be all caught up with everything that occurs. The separation between the multiple mediums is useful as easter eggs and references placed within the shows and films of the same universe — but these characters sparsely interact. Ultimately, this is best for the model Marvel has.
In a comic universe filled with hundreds of compelling characters, it’s simply unreasonable to craft all the details in two and a half hour chunks over several films. The bold 22-film arc plans to scale the dynamic between superheroes combating with each other over ideologies, themselves over their identity and extraterrestrial threats to the planet as well as the consequences for their actions. These films are the broad strokes of Marvel’s elaborate painting, and the supplementary TV shows are its pointillist injections of depth into the world. The potential for translating these comics to screen is unbounded — the only limiting factor is creativity, which Marvel has proven to have a plethora of.