Before 2008, many people weren't familiar with the Marvel comic book superhero Iron Man. DC Comics characters Superman and Batman had long been the two most famous superheroes, and no one was expecting a movie based on Tony Stark — a snarky narcissist in a metal suit — to be a mega-hit.
However, Robert Downey Jr.'s great performance not only rebooted the actor's own career, it also helped launch an impressive theatrical run for a line-up of Marvel superheroes, culminating in last summer's epic mash-up "The Avengers." Earning more than $1.5 billion worldwide, "The Avengers" established Marvel's dominance in the cinematic superhero universe, and now DC Comics is the one struggling to catch up.
Still, Marvel is hoping this is just the beginning. "The Avengers" completed the first stage of the film franchise, and now Marvel is preparing to launch what the company is calling "Phase 2," which features new movies about Iron Man, Thor and Captain America; an Avengers sequel; and a science fiction film about an Avengers-style team called "Guardians of the Galaxy." Personally, I'm very much looking forward to Marvel's new line-up of films, though I do have a few possible concerns.
Marvel currently finds itself in a very interesting position. All their work leading up to "The Avengers" was one of the most expertly-executed marketing campaigns in Hollywood history, and though some of their individual superhero films were more successful than others, none of them were true flops, and all contributed to the mounting excitement about "The Avengers" film.
The key for Marvel going forward will be to continue building on that excitement and to not fall into the trap of relying too much on past successes. Marvel has put together a formula that has worked quite well — a blend of humor, action and heart; however, Marvel now has to find a way to maintain that same tone but also create sequels that feel fresh, and help the audience to connect to the characters in new ways.
Iron Man is arguably the most popular member of "The Avengers," and judging by the amount of buzz "Iron Man 3" is generating, I think the movie (which comes out in U.S. theaters Friday) is an all but guaranteed blockbuster. If the movie is good — and early reviews are indicating that it is — it will be a solid kick-off for Marvel's Phase 2, and the excitement generated likely will carry into "Thor: The Dark World" this fall.
"Thor: The Dark World" (Nov. 8, 2013) and the upcoming Captain America sequel, "The Winter Soldier," (April 4, 2014) should both do fairly well at the box office, though I don't think they'll beat the new Iron Man film. Audiences responded well to the first films featuring Thor and Captain America, and I think people are curious to see what happens to these characters post-Avengers.
I'm glad to see that Tom Hiddleston is back as Loki in the "Thor" sequel; his performance was part of what made "The Avengers" movie so much fun. I'm also hoping the sequel will feature more action on Asgard, the fantasy realm Thor originally hails from.
I've haven't heard much yet about what the plot of "Captain America: The Winter Solider" will be. Marvel has an interesting opportunity with this film to explore what it's like for Captain America to adjust to life in a modern era. I'm also intrigued by the fact that Scarlett Johansson — who plays Black Widow in "The Avengers" — has joined the cast for the film. Will she have more of a cameo role, like Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) in the "The Avengers" lead-in films, or will her character be working closely with Captain America on a mission? I think these two characters are an interesting pairing, though I'm still holding out hope for a Black Widow/Hawkeye team-up movie someday — perhaps in Marvel's "Phase 3"? :)
As long as "Iron Man 3," "Thor: The Dark World" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" perform well, I think "The Avengers 2" (slated for release in 2015) will also be a hit. Marvel was smart to ask director Joss Whedon to return for the sequel (and really, they would have been crazy not to). The challenge will be to find some way to top the first "Avengers" film, which is admittedly a tough act to follow. Additionally, "The Avengers 2" will have to battle the hype surrounding the new "Star Wars" movie, which is also slated for release in 2015.
Still, the only real risk I see in Marvel's Phase 2 line-up is "Guardians of the Galaxy" (Aug. 1, 2014). Not as well known as the Avengers team, the Guardians of the Galaxy includes an interplanetary policeman known as the Star-Lord and Gamora, the adopted daughter of Marvel villain Thanos (who is rumored to appear in the second Avengers film). The Guardians of the Galaxy team also includes some more unusual members, such as Groot, a sentient tree-like creature, and a raccoon who is an expert marksman (the Internet Movie Database does not indicate these last two roles have been cast yet, or whether the characters will even be in the film).
"Guardians of the Galaxy" will be a true test of Marvel's brand and whether its name alone is enough to draw people to the theater. DC Comics' sci-fi superhero film "Green Lantern" did not perform well in 2011, and was overshadowed by Marvel's more traditional superhero films that year, "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger." Still, "Guardians of the Galaxy" does have a promising cast so far, including Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana, and Marvel could launch another franchise with this film. And the Marvel film universe will certainly survive even if "Guardians of the Galaxy" is a flop, though it could damage their bullet-proof reputation and put more pressure on future releases.
So, what do you think of Marvel's plans for "Phase 2"? What films are you looking forward to? Do you think they will all be box office successes, or do you anticipate a few flops?