I remember watching a pirated version of Iron Man at a friend’s home weeks after its release in 20018. I was baffled with what I had seen. Then I couldn’t even imagine that an origin story, which was unfolding in front of me would culminate in an epic franchise of 23 feature films, spanned over a decade.
Honestly, I wasn’t amazed so much with the special effect as I was with the presence of Robert Downey Jr. in the film. Having been exposed to Spiderman the animated series (1994) and its subsequent live-action film, if you’d have told me that Iron Man would impact the next generation of comic-book readers and drive the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the direction it has, I don’t think even Kevin Feige would have believed it. Looking back, what an absolutely wild ride it has been with Marvel Studios!
One of the many reasons Marvel Studios and the MCU is popular today is because of their attempts at telling a larger-than-life story with decency. Since 2008, the world has evolved more fiercely than ever and it brought a change at how we see characters from a critical viewpoint and as a reflection of the times we live in.
Spread across multiple phases, The Infinity Saga allowed the studio to flex a lot of muscle with themes such as patriotism and racism under the overarching umbrella of legacy. For instance, from refusing to give up his suit to the government in Iron Man 2, the character undergoes some radical revelations that lead him to work with the same government and signing the Sokovia Accords in CA: Civil War.
In contrast, Steve Rogers — the most patriotic of them all, rose from the streets of Brooklyn loving his country only to witness its downfall in both Winter Soldier and Civil War led by the government. The captain is way past asking permission because he’s now more aware than ever of the government’s wrongdoings. Both the character arcs have developed into this stunning juxtaposition and have been performed with such reverence. Marvel films have almost always shown us the critical side of the government, especially the one in the US.
The one person who has had the most impact on the MCU is Kevin Feige, whose roots go back as far as the first X-Men feature film. “We had huge expectations for Marvel when we acquired it, but the MCU Kevin and his team have built goes beyond anything we could have imagined. They have redefined superheroes for a new era, greatly expanding their relevance across gender, generation and geography — setting new standards for compelling storytelling. This kind of creative success is never an accident; it’s the result of talent, vision, passion and courage — and at Marvel Studios, that all begins with Kevin,” says Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Co. “
He has been sowing the seeds of a new and a more inclusive MCU for a while now. With Black Panther, we were introduced to the world of Wakanda with an all-coloured cast and Doctor Strange took us to Kamar Taj in the Asian country, Kathmandu. With Avengers: Endgame, the franchise gave us our first openly gay character portrayed by Joe Russo. A small nod that goes miles in establishing LGBTQ+ inclusivity. Recently, it was confirmed that Valkyrie played by Tessa Thompson is well on her way of becoming the first LGBTQ+ character in the MCU.
In a different and one of the most pivotal scenes of the film, Spiderman hands over the Infinity Gauntlet to Captain Marvel who is joined by Okoye, Valkyrie, Shuri, Pepper Potts, Gamora, Nebula, Mantis, Wasp and Scarlet Witch to take it across the battlefield out of Thanos’ reach. A small foreshadowing to the A-Force, but indeed a great moment of giving the women of MCU a center-stage to alter the odds.
Now, Marvel Studios is moving forward with its Phase 4 slate starting 2020 and is bringing a whole new roster of characters that are as diverse as it goes. Its plan for the next 2 years was laid out during the studio’s presence at the just concluded, San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) 2019.
Here’s how Marvel plants to bridge a gap between superheroes and the huge fandom.
It all starts next year with a solo Black Widow outing, something that has been much requested from the fans from quite a while now, let alone Scarlett Johannson. While Captain Marvel is MCU’s most powerful and badass superhero, Natasha Romanoff was introduced back in Iron Man 2 and has played a critical role in getting us to the MCU we have today. The First Lady of the MCU will tell us her story next year and we can’t wait to know more about the red in her ledger.
With The Eternals, Marvel will introduce us to the first deaf superhero in Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari, who’s a speedster in comics. But, its portrayed by a white and male character. Ridloff, on the other hand, is Mexican, of colour and is hearing impaired. Imagine the impact of a deaf superhero in the life of similar people across the world. When Ridloff takes the baton, her character will inspire more children and kids who are hard of hearing and maybe instill hope and a sense of belonging.
The Eternals is being directed by Chloé Zhao making her the first Asian director in the world to make an MCU film. Not to mention the A-list cast that has been brought into the fold for this project, which includes the likes of Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Don Lee, and Lia McHugh.
MCU Phase 4 will also give us our first Asian superhero in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Actor Simu Liu has been brought on to play the titular superhero role alongside Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s Mandarin. Yes, the real one this time.
Talk about representation and Marvel brings Thor: Love and Thunder where Taika Waititi is getting us the Mighty Thor in Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster. A character which has always been portrayed by a man was only recently taken up by a woman in Thor #1 (2014).
Mahershala Ali, a Muslim and an actor of colour has been cast as Blade in the MCU which is perhaps again, one the best casting decisions and a brilliant example of diversity across the slate. However, I suspect it won’t be until Phase 5 that we get to see him in those shoes.
With its new set of superheroes and characters, Marvel has set its foot strong and is heading towards a much more diverse and inclusive future. With a wider universe, it has a chance of engaging new generations, who theorize, talk and fan-ship the events of pop-culture, weaving it with the thread of our present reality to show us the world from their view.