When Marvel Studios released its first feature film back in 2008, no one knew that a massive cultural shift was about to happen. The success of the first Iron Man paved the way for the highest-grossing film franchise in history. The Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU has out-grossed the likes of James Bond, Harry Potter, and even Star Wars. Marvel has produced 13 films in their epic superhero saga and have scheduled films for release all the way until 2019. Marvel even turned their big screen success towards the small screen by bringing no less than seven television programs to various TV networks.
Marvel has enjoyed this unparalleled cinematic success through one simple ideal. Be true to the source material fans have loved for decades. By using that simple ideal, Marvel established an ever-growing universe where every character exists simultaneously. The events of one film can have repercussions that play out across multiple films or TV shows. The idea of one large interconnected universe began in the pages of the comics and now is the scaffolding that bridges every movie and TV show. This scaffolding brought readers in every month when a new comic was released and now it brings in movie-goers every time a new Marvel film debuts.
The ideal of being true to the source material stems from the mastermind of the entire MCU, Kevin Feige. Feige has executive produced every Marvel film and is responsible for steering the massive ship that is the Marvel Universe.As he has been quoted,
“…he has a map of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – past, present and future – all up on the wall. Said Feige, “It’s like looking through the Hubble telescope. You go, ‘What’s happening back there? I can sort of see it’… They printed out a new one recently that went to 2028.””
Feige may come off as overconfident by saying he has the next 12 years of blockbusters pinned to his office wall but it’s an overconfidence that he has earned. Marvel films are consistently some of the highest-earning films of the year with many of their films earning over $1 billion. The fan-base that has developed around the MCU is a devoted one. It’s almost cult-like status would make even Apple jealous. These Marvel fans turned up to every midnight screening in full costume to show their love and admiration for their costumed heroes.
The goodwill that Feige has built with Marvel fans has made the entire Marvel brand damn-near indestructible. Evidence of this can be easily pulled from the recent whitewashing controversy surrounding Marvel’s latest film, Doctor Strange. In the film, the titular character Stephen Strange is a gifted surgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident. Strange then travels the world in search of a cure for his hands only to be found by an character know as the Ancient One, who instructs Doctor Strange in the mystic arts. Traditionally in the comics the Ancient One is portrayed as an elderly Asian man. But in the film version, the Ancient One will be played by white actress Tilda Swinton. Upon the announcement of the casting, there was considerable outrage against the whitewashing of a traditionally Asian role. A lot of hate was directed at Tilda Swinton for accepting the role, as well as against director of the film Scott Derrickson for the casting, and Kevin Feige for approving the change. Derrickson has released a statement on the issue saying,
The casting of The Ancient One was a major topic of conversation in the development and the creative process of the story. We didn’t want to play into any of the stereotypes found in the comic books, some of which go back as far as 50 years or more. We felt the idea of gender swapping the role of The Ancient One was exciting. It opened up possibilities, it was a fresh way into this old and very typical storyline. Why not make the wisest bestower of knowledge in the universe to our heroes in the particular film a woman instead of a man?
While Derrickson and Feige have been in damage-control mode since the controversy arose, the Doctor Strange film is still on track to have a huge opening weekend. While many on the Internet have rallied against the film, the loyal Marvel fans have stayed true to their beloved brand. Marvel fans have offered a counter-argument in favour of the casting saying casting Swinton by saying the role gives more visibility to women in film.
The true test of the Marvel brand will come when Doctor Strange hits theatres and box-office results come in. But as of writing this, the Marvel brand has never been stronger. In just under a decade of existence, Marvel Studios has built an incredibly resilient brand by doing one simple thing. Staying true to their roots which fans have loved for decades. The goodwill that Marvel have earned through this thinking has created a fan-base that continually promotes the brand online while also coming out to every film release and spending real-world dollars to make them a success. The loyalty is so strong that even a serious issue that effects all of Hollywood wont detract them from their seeing their favorite heroes up on the big-screen.
Marvel’s fan loyalty is truly their superpower. And with that power, comes a great responsibility.
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