It still seems like yesterday when as a school kid I would make sure I became the reason for a mini infinity war at home unless I got the latest copy of my favourite superhero comic. While India had its own share of ‘desi’ superheroes and other popular characters who formed a major chunk of the comic industry scene in the country, ‘Gotham Comics’ made sure that Indian audiences were not missing out on the DC/Marvel front.
While DC is a name related to the purists brand of superheroes – Batman, Superman and their amalgamation with a handful of other caped and non-caped crusaders known as the Justice League; Marvel on the other hand had Spiderman at the forefront followed by a plethora of mutants (X-Men), guys and a gal on a space trip gone wrong (Fantastic 4), more space guys and guys who were probably not given much space in their multi starrer comic books, read ‘The Avengers’.
While DC formed the backbone of my comic book collection, Spiderman from Marvel was by leaps and bounds (and crawls!) my most loved accidental superhero, probably because as a school kid, I could relate to him on a higher level than some others. But even after growing up, it still fills me with awe how a comic book franchise can be developed into what I like to call probably the biggest success stories of the global movie industry – the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)!
I still remember seeing full page ads for ‘Iron Man’, ‘The Hulk’, origin stories of the ‘X-men’, ‘Thor’ and a host of other heroes when they were about to be introduced (in some cases reintroduced) to the Indian readers as fillers in my Spiderman comic books. Not many had me interested though, until I stumbled upon a copy of the Avengers and another issue (which also turned out to be my last Marvel comic as for some reasons, I ceased to find any more Marvel comic anywhere in my city after that) named ‘Marvel Comics Presents’.
These two issues were quite unique for me as for the first time I came across the Avengers, Spiderman, the Fantastic 4, Daredevil, the X-men, the mad titan Thanos and a few other popular and some names yet unknown (to me) together in the same issue! That knocked the daylights out of me. And this was a good couple of years before Marvel was about to try out this idea on a massive scale with the release of ‘Iron Man – The Movie’ in 2008.
Yes, it was always present in the comic books and it was bound to happen sooner than later but what needs to be singled out and appreciated is the way this titanic project has been implemented given the fact that similar approach by DC has met with much ridicule save for the ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy and the ‘Wonder Women’ (That smile of Gal Gadot!). What DC tried to do in just a few closing minutes in Zack Snyder’s ‘Dawn of Justice’, Marvel invested a decade into it and the results are showing and how!
While most superhero films have a set audience to cater to, Marvel movies have successfully ventured out of that comfort zone and in some cases, like their most recent adaptation, ‘Black Panther’ have catered to a much wider audience who not only appreciated its central superhero theme but also warmed up to the underlying tone relating to the social and cultural fabric of the modern world. Marvel makes superhero movies the way it’s meant to be – Fun! While a Batman needs a dark tone to it, Marvel has much lighter stories to fall back on and that has worked wonders for it. Whoever it be – a millionaire showoff with an eye for science or a patriot who is transformed into a super-soldier, a God with a sense of humour or a scientist who would make the Go Green campaigners proud – everybody has a charisma that instantly strikes a chord with the audience. Add to it the (accidental) Guardians of the Galaxy and the sweet, little (tiny may be more apt!) superhero Ant-Man, and you have a group that on paper is stronger than the Indian batting line up (on home soil, of course!) What could have possibly gone wrong?! Actually, a lot of things.
The problem with having such an awesome line-up is that when you think of collaborating all of them into a single story, you need to give the audience a reasonable reason for which the ‘Kumbh Mela’ of these superheroes is happening and for that to happen, the linkages between the stories has to be very believable. Exactly what Marvel did so successfully. When Samual Jackson appeared in a post credit scene of the first Iron Man movie and mentioned for the first time, the ‘Avengers initiative’, I and I believe I speak for all fans when I say that hardly anyone thought that these post credit and later mid credit scenes would become such a vital cog in the development of the central storyline.
For instance, Thanos, the principal antagonist of the upcoming ‘Infinity War’ is making his first proper appearance in a movie, save for a brief scene in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, but even then, there’s a sense of dread and fear associated with him and all this by virtue of those mid and post credit scenes. When the entire theatre remains seated even after the movie has rolled over till the final credits are displayed ( and they are becoming longer and longer!) just to catch a glimpse of what’s forthcoming, you know you have created a brand that people trust. And to Marvel’s credit, they are not playing with that trust, rather reinforcing it with every single movie.
A decade and 18 movies later, Marvel is about to present what many call their most ambitious project till date. Given their record and the brains behind these projects, I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up bettering it! Having said that, first ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and now the even bigger ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ are not just make-release-earn sort of projects. These are films for which the producers and the creative teams have waited and given a considerable chunk of their lives for. These are films for which the seeds were sown years ago, at a time when no one could have foreseen what the outcome would have been or how the audience would have reacted to these films. When we stand up to give standing ovations to these projects, we must remember that it’s not only the actors but the entire team who dared to dream and make something on a scale which has never been attempted before who have made this possible.
Not very often does a Hollywood film open to advance bookings almost a week before its release in India and that too to shattering responses! Not very often does a boy who grew up on comic books (Figuratively! Of course I didn’t eat them!) and is now in his mid 20s decides that he needs to stand up and salute the people who gave an entirely new perspective to how comic book storylines can be converted into the most successful movie franchise the world has ever seen and at this rate, will ever see!
As Thanos says, ‘No matter how much we run from it, No matter how much we dread it, destiny arrives!’ Well, he’s right there. But as far as him saying, ‘The end is near’, for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even after 10 years of existence, even after 18 movies, I believe that somehow, this is just the beginning of a Marvel-ous era! Bring it on Thanos!!
By Sumit Das