Marvel Looks To The Past And Into The Future In Assembling a Universe

Photo: ABC

Greetings Agents and Marvel fans! In lieu of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tonight we got to enjoy Assembling a Universe. This mini documentary tracked the progression of Marvel Studios from its inception in 2006 to its present day status as a geek and box office juggernaut. If you missed this featurette, shame on you. Check out the recap here but then go see this awesome timeline of Marvel’s rise to cinematic greatness for yourself.

Clark Gregg described Marvel’s films best saying, “These are all chapters in a giant pop culture mythology, and I love that.” Let’s take a look at some of those chapters (minor spoilers ahead!):

Big Independent Studio: Back in 2006, the still-new Marvel Studios decided to try to create its own cinematic universe. They chose heroes Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk as their starting points. Though Hulk was well known, Iron Man was almost immediately lampooned by the media and critics as a second-rate character. At the time, bigger Marvel names like Spider-Man and the X-Men were tied up with other studios. After struggling to find a writer for the Iron Man film, Jon Favreau finally stepped up with a passion for the project. He cast Robert Downey Jr. because he saw the film as though it were any other independent movie and he wanted the best actors possible. Downey Jr.’s casting came as a surprise to many but also solidified Marvel’s intent: to make great movies with exceptional stories, characters and actors. The studio even reached out to let fans know, via a Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury cameo, that Iron Man was the start of an Avengers universe.

Phase One: Producer and head of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, knew that if they could pull off Iron Man, they could do the rest of the Avengers team and ultimately the self-titled film. This mirrored the approach Marvel Comics had taken years ago. New characters like Black Widow and Hawkeye were introduced in supporting or cameo roles and Nick Fury and Agent Coulson started showing up everywhere. At Comic-Con 2010, the full Avengers team assembled in Hall H in a surprise appearance that threw fans in attendance (including myself) into a frenzy. Then Captain America: The First Avenger introduced a new type of Avengers hero who was noble and moral. Loki was propelled into the Marvel universe as the character interesting and villainous enough to bring all of the heroes together. Continuity was paramount and the studio was diligent about connecting all the dots. It paid off when all of the pieces fell into place and Avengers became a worldwide smash.

Phase Two and Beyond: Beginning with Iron Man 3, Marvel kicked off their second stage of development. The personal stakes for each hero are upped after New York and we see this reflected in Tony Stark’s PTSD in Iron Man 3, Thor battling to save Jane in The Dark World, and (soon) Cap’s struggle with an old friend turned enemy. Marvel is banking on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which comes out April 4, to create the new world into which the Avengers reassemble in Avengers 2. The exclusive footage tonight for Age of Ultron revealed little except for a planned showdown between Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armor and the Hulk himself. More exciting was the first glimpse at Ant-Man with a tiny clip of the hero shifting sizes while taking down a nameless suit. Up next for Marvel though is their adventure into space with Guardians of the Galaxy, a film that brings a lesser known team of heroes to life.

First look at Ant-Man, courtesy of Marvel
First look at Ant-Man, courtesy of Marvel

Coulson: When Clark Gregg was asked to be in Iron Man, he knew his role would be small. He wasn’t even sure his Agent Coulson would end up in the final cut of the film. But he did, and then came Iron Man 2… and Thor. Marvel decided to expand its universe with a series of One-Shots, often starring Coulson, that intensified fans’ connection to the characters and helped tie up some of the threads in certain storylines. Then Gregg started getting really excited when he got the call about Avengers, until he learned that he would be the thing the heroes would avenge. He assumed this was the end of his run but we fans weren’t having it. So Marvel brought Coulson back for…

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: In a bold move, Marvel decided to give fans the chance to be a part of their universe every week, instead of always waiting for the next film. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was created, showcasing Coulson and his own Avengers (specialized S.H.I.E.L.D. agents) encountering heroes and villains on their own. The storylines all still harkened back to the Marvel universe. S.H.I.E.L.D. fills in between the films and, like the One-Shots, gives Marvel the chance to include characters who don’t warrant a bigger role in the films but are still fun and interesting.

Next week, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns with Deathlok on the attack and May’s loyalties called into question. Until then, Agent Coats out!

Stephanie Coats