The MCU Doesn't Need RDJ Or Infinity Stones To Maintain Relevance

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Here we are, nine years, fifteen films and six television series later since formerly ostracized junkie Robert Downey Jr. revamped formerly b-list boozer Iron Man into the icon he is today, kickstarting the license to print money phenomenon so culturally ubiquitous even your mom has a favorite onscreen iteration of Quicksilver.

Fans, detractors and everyone in between are curious as to how something like this ends. Does it end? It stands to reason that a film franchise that has logistically modeled itself after comic books and their properties would keep itself alive by the will of increasingly convoluted plot threads and the addition of new characters to play in the sandbox. But despite how well the team over at Marvel has managed to capture the essence of the comics, movies just aren’t comic books. From the actors growing increasingly uncomfortable becoming synonymous with the roles they play, to the moviegoers refusing to see anyone but RDJ don the costume. There are many obligatory complications associated with continuing to make movies that, more or less, don’t have endings. Thankfully, Kevin Feige and company seem to have a solution.

In an effort to avoid telling the same kind of stories with the same kind of characters, Marvel comics has attempted to usher in “legacy” characters, to varying degrees of success. It’s a move that’s ostensibly (distractingly) political, in that a lot of these new characters come from various minority groups i.e women, muslims, blacks, latinos etc., and are taking up mantels previously held by white men. Point is, the whole “let’s keep these characters alive by giving them new paint jobs” seems to be trickling down into the movies as well. As the original band starts to near the end of their contracts characters like Bucky Barnes and Doctor Strange are being groomed to take more central roles in the films.

Assuming the tug-of-war Sony has been playing with Marvel over Spider-Man works out in the latter’s favor, a MCU that prominently features Doctor Strange, a Buck Barnes Cap and the Black Panther is only icing on the proverbial nerd cake. Tom Holland is a young, charismatic Peter Parker and there are a million places to take him that don’t involve infinity macguffins, saying nothing of the street level epics that are taking shape over on their Netflix side of things. After three failed attempts over a decade, we finally have a perfect comic to screen adaptation of Frank Castle in Jon Bernthal from Marvel’s critically acclaimed Daredevil (yeah, I loved Punisher War Zone too but I’m trying to make a point.) Frank is set to star in his own series later this year.

Nevermind the properties Marvel don’t currently have but will inevitably get the rights to like the Fantastic Four. And as for properties that are currently tied up in successful franchises of their own like the X-Men, well let me remind you of a team of dysfunctional mutants rising in popularity in the comics that are set to star in their own vehicle on ABC called The Inhumans. Wolverine? They’ve got a teleporting dog for fuck’s sake.

It goes beyond just the players though. The guys over at Marvel studios are preemptively silencing the mewls of doubt about them retaining the public’s interest after the Thanos plot wraps up next year, as well as assuaging the critics that insist on championing the whole super-hero fatigue nonsense. Yes, it is objectively true that if “superhero films” as defined by movies like Superman or Iron Man were to continue to get made year after year, eventually they’d go the way of the western and experience increasingly lower returns at the box office. But as anyone mildly informed could tell you, the best films of the genre do their damndest to defy conventions most commonly associated with it. Since the release of Guardians of the Galaxy back in 2014, Marvel has been cultivating a franchise that’s rigged for varied kinds of storytelling, be it space opera, high school coming of age film, gritty crime noir, blacksploitation, you name it. A franchise doesn't make a billion dollars solely off the backs of nerds. The MCU of subsequent years will be one furnished by galactic weirdness, flat out comedies, political thrillers and fucking Spider-Man.

Regardless of where you stand in the inexorable though ultimately piddling DC vs. Marvel  wrangle, the former owes a great deal to the latter. As blasphemous as it feels to say, there would be no Justice League film if movies starring tertiary characters like Thor and Captain America hadn't worked first. By that same logic we also wouldn't have a Monsterverse or the rumours of a shared Dax Shepard helmed Hanna-Barbara universe (and yes I’m aware that sounds like the kind of thing your snarky film major buddy might offer derisively as a sign that this phase is little more than a soulless cash grab) but that’s besides the point. What is the point? Like it or not the MCU is going to be around long after Thanos is dead.

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