Safeguarding the marvel brand

Go and watch Guardians of the Galaxy. The most fun you will have watching a movie this year again comes from the Marvel stable. But this is different, this was a movie centred on characters the masses have never heard of. This is a case study of a successful movie studio that is nailing it by sticking to a plan.

Iron Man had some minor level of fame before it dominated the box office, Downey JR was a master stroke by Favreau that Marvel should keep paying for his large part to play in making it all possible. Captain America and Thor did great jobs at expanding on characters with famous names but little in proven movie fire power (original Captain America movie – . Avengers would have been a disaster if Joss Whedon had not put his foot down to rewrite the appallingly mediocre handiwork of “nobody seems to have noticed I can’t write” Zak Penn. What Avengers then did was set the tone for the Universe going forward; Joss gave Marvel a fixed direction, so they hired him to oversee the entire movie universe. Which means every Marvel film made, Whedon and studio boss Kevin Feige have the say as to how it fits into the universe. A studio making comic book movies the same way that they make comics, that time has finally come.

Disney bought Marvel at a value of $4bilion for a reason. “Guardians” is the validation to that reason. A galaxy tripping B-list team, even by comic fans standards, that got their own movie because Marvel no longer own the rights to the Fantastic Four – who would have been used to showcase what is happening in outer space.  Guardians just had an opening weekend of $94 Million, the largest non-sequel of the year – fantastic who?

 James Gunn was hired off the back of great indie movie success (and the Scooby Doo’s). Given his first big budget film and told – “No pressure, but this has to work and it needs to go big, go make something amazing. You have our support”. Expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the stars and beyond means every episode (Movie under the marvel umbrella) gets to up the ante with new characters and new locations, not just using the same characters in the same place with adding a new villain – like Spider-Man, that doesn’t seem to work anymore – audiences want something different. Watch DC copy Marvels method starting with Batman vs Superman.

This is all leading up to every hero in the Marvel universe fighting Thanos in what will be the largest movie ever (calling it now) in 2018. Until then you won’t have sequels or movies where similar plot lines are incurred, there is too much to tell. Marvel aren’t perfect, Thor - the weakest of the marvel franchises, needs to focus more on Asgard and the nine realms and leave earth to Cap and Iron Man. There is so much to explore other than Natalie Portman’s pointless love interest. Thor, she’s going to be dead in 50 years, you are going to still be the same age, don’t be sick.

What James Gunn did was a lot of research and some PR tactical genius. He kept those that knew the Guardian’s source material happy from the first announcement of the venture. Every week there was an update via social media, a tease here, a plot line here and a cameo here. The guy threw in Howard the Duck and perennial fan favourite Nathan Fillion – he knows how to make people happy, only good things news came off that set. Taking the successful space franchises and adventure films from his youth -Indiana Jones, Star Wars even The Goonies. He kept control of the new brand by keeping the end goal in mind; whilst emotionally making the nostalgia palpable. The Awesome Mix Tape is a character itself.

Edgar Wright is no longer on Ant-Man and I “blame” James Gunn. He managed to fit the Marvel mantra into his intended vision. Whereas yes, the Ant Man movie Wright would have made would have been stand-alone awesomeness. His idea to do stand alone doesn’t fly – it’s not Marvels methodology. Peyton Reed will have to deliver what Gunn has just done – fit it into the universe and greater story or we cite creative differences. Also, be as accessible as the actors who are in the movie – get a personality going. 

An ability to create a believable villain in Ronan the Accuser, easily more powerful than Loki, in one movie is worth the ticket price alone. Having characters establish themselves and their formation into a team in two hours is talent. Gunn played the media perfectly, assembling a team of the nicest people in the industry to do it. Chris Pratt, officially A-list, was a Downey Jnr level choice. Bradley Cooper makes Rocket a multi levelled hero you want to see meet the Hulk. Vin Diesel on board to say just 3 words is epic. Zoe Saldana perfectly continues her quest to be at every comic convention in the world.  They even found the only other WWE wrestler that can act, and his execution is brilliant.

Marvel took a risk here, it’s paid off. Ant-Man will be next; in fact every non sequel from now on will be a risk as Marvel expands the universe to keep us buying tickets. This is a movie studio that revels in filming blockbusters that run as a unit.  It means you can have a horror themed movie (Dr Strange), a heist epic (Ant Man), a space adventure (Guardians 2) or Bay level explosions in Avenger age of Ultron. Storytelling and humour are at the centre of these films, and they have so much more to work with.

A brand such as Marvel cannot allow a movie to fail. Seems like a lot of pressure and it surely must be if you have the goals Marvel do – which is one day to own all the characters they were forced to sell to Fox and Sony. You won’t fail if you keep the right people on board and make good movies. How they handle Ant Man – the first truly fan based negative press they have had, will be the next tipping point. Watch them do it with class because Marvel are not even halfway with the story they want to tell.