In MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios, coauthors Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Gavin Edwards manage to reveal how the Marvel Cinematic Universe came into being—and all without using the Eye of Agamotto. The trio spoke with PW about what they've liked, and not liked, about the MCU, as well as what the future of the behemoth of a franchise may hold.
What's your favorite movie in the MCU, and why?
Joanna Robinson: I am famously ride or die for Captain America: Winter Soldier. Marvel has always tried to put a genre spin on its films. I really feel like they flexed with the genre lens of an espionage paranoid thriller that they put in Winter Soldier, that felt really sophisticated in a way that I have always really responded to. That movie also is funny, and has a really heartfelt relationship between the Winter Soldier and Steve Rogers at the center of it. So that is the full package as far as I'm concerned.
Gavin Edwards: For me, it's Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume One. I just went into it with the lowest possible expectations, and it exploded the notion of what the MCU could be, and was funny, and had heart, and most of these characters I didn't even know from the comics. It felt like the MCU could do anything. That was perhaps the single greatest surprise I ever had with the MCU in the movie theater, and I just have a lot of affection for it.
Dave Gonzales: Mine is pretty basic compared to those two. I like Avengers: Infinity War. Marvel had a villain problem for a very long time, with these one-and-done villains. I liked Thanos as the focus of that movie, and I liked the bravery of having half of the characters dying in the movie. I think it was a fantastic way to begin the culmination of everything they were doing, where everybody loses except for Thanos. I really appreciated that out-of-the-box storytelling for what the Avengers had come to stand for. Usually when the Avengers get together, there's nothing they can't stand against.
What about your least-favorite movie or scene?
DG: I think I understand why we had to see all three Spider-Men meet in Spider-Man: No Way Home, and I realize this movie made over a billion dollars. It's not a popular opinion that I have. But I also think that Tom Holland's Spider-Man deserves an end to his story that wasn't that everybody forgot he existed. I feel like Spider-Man is an integral part of the MCU. I hope he gets to meet Daredevil and Wolverine someday. But, in terms of one of the most popular Spider-Man movies ever, I still don't think that was a great idea.
GE: Which is why you're not running Marvel Studios.... I'm a big Harry Styles fan, but I actually did not need to see him as Starfox [in the second post-credit scene of Eternals], nor do I think he's ever going to be back in the MCU as Starfox. It just felt really gratuitous, and it was the moment where the post-credit scenes became just sort of formulaic rather than delightful. So for me, that probably would have been better left on the shelf.
JR: I'm gonna give you a really basic answer and say Thor: The Dark World. It completely wasted the great Christopher Eccleston as Malekith the Dark Elf, who was so buried, under nine pounds of prosthetics, that no one could register his performance. The movie was just a waste of talent all around, especially when you see later what they could do with a Thor property.
What do you think accounts for the current perception that the MCU is past its peak?
JR: I think we mostly agree that there are a number of factors at play, including the Disney+ content demand. They've already said that they're gonna pull back on that, to all of our relief, because we want to enjoy it all. I would much prefer fewer installments that were fantastic than a flood of middling to sometimes downright bad content.
I think one of the knottier things for Marvel to untangle is the thing that made them so special in the first place—their interconnected universe has grown so big, with such a long tail to it, that if someone were to try to enter the MCU now, they'd have so many movies that they have to watch just to be on the same page as everyone else. When it starts to feel like homework, then that's never something you want people to feel about your film and television. I think they need to disconnect some of their properties a bit more.
When we asked people who had been working at Marvel from the very beginning, about what's going on now, the word that came up was scalability—whether the Marvel model is scalable to the larger content. Can they do this without [Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige? No, and they certainly can't do it without Feige's stamp on the films in the way that he had done before.
DG: I'm definitely the reports-of-my-death-are-greatly-exaggerated person of this trio. If you're looking at box office performance, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was at the top of the U.S. box office for several months. Thor: Love and Thunder, which is something from last year that sort of got critically lambasted, has become the most profitable Thor movie overall. They did Phases One through Three with increasing successes, then the pandemic hit, delaying Phase Four, and now the [SAG-AFTRA] strike hit two films into Phase Five.
For me, the MCU isn't dead until an Avengers movie comes out and flops, because that is the key property. I'm not worried about the Marvel Cinematic Universe because so far, even the bad ones aren't that bad. Are we going to talk about Marvel in five years? Absolutely. Even if that's the real end of Marvel, we'll still be talking about it.
GE: It could turn out that the secret upside of all of these various disasters—COVID, and the strike, and so on—is if it gets Marvel to tap the brakes, and say, we're slowing down the pace of things, we'll reconsider everything. I will add to what you're saying, Dave, that Marvel still has a lot of beloved properties in their pocket—for instance, there's a Blade movie coming at some point. At a certain level, they have to just make these things well, and I think people will come back. There's eventually going to be X-Men movies again. So, they've got some very big guns that they can bring out. But they just need to make sure that they're executing at a higher level, regardless of how integrated or not integrated they are to a larger MCU.