2008 was an absolute monster year for comic book films. The underdog Iron Man kicked off what we now know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and The Dark Knight reminded us that Batman was indeed back with an even more epic successor to 2005’s Batman Begins.
Hollywood producer Kevin Feige had an idea. To bring together a group of remarkable A-list actors, to see if they could all star in the same movie, so that they could be in the movie event of a lifetime.
Feige was a familiar face within the Marvel ranks before he rose to notable prominence at the breakaway Marvel Studios. Feige worked with the “big name” Marvel properties at Fox (Fantastic Four, X-Men, Daredevil) and Sony (Spider-Man) before blazing his own trail and becoming the go-to guy in 2008.
It started with Iron Man, then The Incredible Hulk was made in cahoots with Universal. From there, Feige, fellow producer Louis D’Esposito, emerging visual effects connoisseur Victoria Alonso and a host of other invaluable, behind-the-scenes names and faces set into motion events that would change cinema forever.
Iron Man director Jon Favreau often recalls that, back in 2007 while filming the first MCU installment, they didn’t know what kind of impact the film would have. In fact, they were working night and day just to have a movie at all. Big-budget superhero films with photorealistic CGI and plots that didn’t cut cookies had proven to be a fallible business.
The X-Men franchise hit a bump in the road in 2006 when director Bryan Singer left Fox and Marvel high and dry to direct the mediocre Superman Returns. Two Fantastic Four movies almost soured future Captain America Chris Evans on ever playing another superhero. Daredevil was average, Ghost Rider a mess and Ang Lee’s Hulk was actually okay. But worst of all, Sony had tied the hands of Spider-Man director Sam Raimi and the third movie turned out to be the last that Raimi and lead actors Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst would do.
With all that said, the Marvel Cinematic Universe came in at a good time. Outside of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, the cinematic superhero battlefield was wide open. Especially at Marvel.
I barely remember 2008. I was in year three of a mental illness, year two of an official diagnosis and in and out of my third hospital. When I moved back home, I switched schools. My life as I knew it was turned on its head. In times of crisis, I turn to entertainment.
I was already a massive comic book fan, but I was only overly familiar with Spider-Man and Batman. I always thought Captain America was a rather preachy, Superman was way too perfect, Thor and Doctor Strange were impossible to understand, and as a 14-year old, I couldn’t really relate to Tony Stark’s alcoholism.
That all changed with Iron Man. Not just because it was one of the best movies I had ever seen. But when Nick Fury showed up at the end of the credits (an idea Favreau credits (pun number one) to almost Ant-Man director Edgar Wright on the Iron Man DVD commentary), it hit me like a Hulk Smash that the comic book world was even bigger than I had imagined.
I soon realized that Marvel comics had undergone a rebirth (pun two) in the 2000s. A slew of new, modern stories with contemporary dialogue and narratives hit the shelves after the turn of the century.
Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. Mark Millar’s Civil War and Old Man Logan. Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man. Greg Pak’s duo of Planet Hulk and World War Hulk. Then going even further back and discovering perhaps the most pertinent graphic novel of all: Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin.
A lot of things have fallen into place for me to become a true fanboy. There was always an admiration for these fiction heroes, but not until I really started to discover the limitless worlds that brilliant minds like Stan Lee, Bob Kane, Jack Kirby and other industry titans (third pun?) created did I truly fall in love.
21 films since 2008 have been the best parts of my life since I was 14. Over a decade later and I’m just as enthusiastic about the next picture in line.
Tentpole films are in just as a precarious spot as they were back then, with studios fumbling big properties left and right —Star Wars, DC, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter and Transformers to name a few— but the MCU is only getting better and better.
For that I thank Feige, D’Esposito, Alonso and countless others like Nate Moore, Jeremy Latcham, Stephen Broussard, Jeffrey Ford, Jonathan Schwartz, Patricia Whitcher, Lars Winther and too many more to count for doing the hard work that makes these comic book movies so damn good.
As the title implies, I also have to give thanks to the actors. The most important part of a movie is casting. If you get that wrong, you’re dead in the cosmos.
Favreau had to talk Marvel brass into taking the risk on Robert Downey Jr. I’d say it’s paid off. RDJ’s perfect Tony Stark/Iron Man portrayal set the stage for Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo via Ed Norton to form the original six Avengers.
It’s literally hard to believe how hard it was to attain that, yet here we are with multiple franchises and dozens of actors cross-pollinating the silver screen. It really is remarkable what’s been accomplished. We may never see it again. (Until maybe Avengers 7 in 2027.) Or perhaps it will kickstart a trend of competent filmmaking. There’s a a formula! (IT’S THE VITA-RAYS!)
So many directors have come and gone through what Downey calls “the coolest relay race in the history of entertainment.” Some were one-off’s but Favreau, Joss Whedon, James Gunn and the Russo Brothers, Joe and Anthony, have probably left the biggest imprint by getting things started, assembling the Avengers, breaking the mold with Guardians of the Galaxy, and delivering my three favorite (about to be four) and perhaps the most important MCU movies not directed by the former three.
The MCU has also benefited from some of the best music compositions ever paired with a film. Alan Silvestri’s Avengers theme has become as iconic as John Williams’ Star Wars score. Henry Jackman defined the sound of The Winter Soldier and Civil War, Brian Tyler composed Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Age of Ultron with an assist from Danny Elfman. Michael Giacchino delivered two of his best works with Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Gunn’s collaborator Tyler Bates nailed it with his Guardians’ theme. Christophe Beck showed his versatility with the catchy Ant-Man sound. Ludwig Göransson went full worldly with his Black Panther beats.
Every movie. Every single movie. They do it. It’s truly a Marvel machine.
But Endgame is TOTALLY going to be the first flop!
There’s so much to say. But i’ll settle for a simple “thank you.”