Why Marvel’s Cinematic Success is One of a Kind.

Yes, we're  doing this

                                                          Yes, we’re doing this

      Every time a new superhero movie is released there is always a lot of talk about audience “fatigue” and speculation about when the public will tire of these movies. The thing is, smart studios like Marvel have taken marketing cues from their source medium to make sure that even if these films dip in quality, they are still an event. If you know anything about the business practices of Marvel Comics, you’re aware that when Stan Lee was editor-in-chief he made sure to treat every single comic like it was somebody’s first time reading one of his books; this provided a low barrier to entry, making it easier to get invested in the characters. Additionally, Lee would include editor’s notes in certain panels of the story that required a reader to seek out another comic to fully understand the one they were currently reading. As a reader, things like this can be annoying. However, from a fiscal perspective, an editor’s note can boost, at the very least, interest, if not sales, of a failing book.This practice can be seen in Marvel’s big screen endeavors through story points from one movie that may, in some small way, affect the next movie. For example, the Infinity Stone/Gauntlet macguffin that runs through some of the movies.
Marvel Studios is succeeding because not only is it selling a familiar world and experience, it’s also selling anticipation, one that triggers an almost Pavlovian response in its audience. What Marvel has done so well is the cinematic equivalent of putting a carrot at the end of a stick. Yes, the audience wants to go see what’s happening with Capitan America, but also wants to speculate about how the events of the movie they are currently watching will feed into the next Avengers movie, which they won’t see for a year or more
Some call Marvel’s production style pedestrian or too populist. These people think that the Marvel movies lack a sense of artistry and voice, which at this point eight years into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a dead horse of an argument. No one else has been able to successfully replicate what Marvel is doing. Sure, everyone wants to, because Marvel’s printing money hand over fist, and who doesn’t like money?
What people fail to realize is that, for close to 60 years Marvel’s success has always come with great risk. Nobody was doing a solo teenage hero until Spider-Man. Comics really didn’t have a sense of continuity before the editor’s notes I talked about earlier became a thing. Nobody was hiring Robert Downey Jr. when Iron Man came around; he was an addict who nobody would insure.
Once the risk takers have come in and established the audience, the vultures begin to circle. It has taken a long time for Marvel’s closest rival to begin to attempt to replicate Marvel’s cinematic success. The same thing happened in the comics world to back in the 70s. Here’s the thing though: Marvel has interesting characters that, through film, have been transformed into cultural icons. DC comics, Marvel’s distinguished competitor, has icons they can’t make into interesting movie characters. From the sounds of it, what Warner Bros. wants to do with its DC comics properties is the filmic equivalent to eating dessert before you eat the rest of your meal. They’re going to start with some version of a Justice League story, then give us individual hero movies that will heavily rely on Batman or Superman. Here’s why that won’t work: the non-comic-book reading public has seen countless iterations of those two characters’ stories for 50+ years. They already have their ideas about who those two characters are; Superman and Batman are characters that have been done to death across all media. In their quest for cinematic superiority, it would behoove Warner Bros. and DC to take a cue from their television model and focus on B and C list characters and build fan interest from there. Or better yet, abandon movies altogether and focus all their energies on TV. What both are doing currently is the equivalent of going up against a squad of Abrams tanks with a band of a dozen or so poorly-trained militia men with muskets. It’s not a war they’re going to win unless they evolve.
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