We here at BookTrib don’t like to peek at spoilers, so we don’t know exactly what you’re going to see when Avengers: Age of Ultron opens on Friday. But whatever it is, it won’t be a superhero movie.
Will it be filled with costumed super-beings laying the smackdown on the bad guys? Yeah, it’ll have plenty of that. But what has made the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so brilliant is that its offerings go well beyond the adventures of the costumed crusader du jour. MCU movies aren’t really superhero movies—they’re movies from very specific genres with very specific messages that just happen to have superheroes in them.
The hero that kicked things off for the MCU is a perfect example. Iron Man (2008) was a cautionary tale about military industrialism. Iron Man 2 (2010) was a more personal tale, dealing heavily with Tony Stark’s alcoholism. And in 2013’s Iron Man 3, Stark had to perform much of his heroics without the iron tux, armed only with gadgetry that he literally cobbled together—think of James Bond versus the super-villains, with a combat post-traumatic stress disorder backstory.
The most super-powered hero in the MCU, the Norse thunder god Thor, has also starred in a pair of movies that defy the normal superhero genre. Thor (2011), features a king who exiles one son while a second son, wracked with jealousy, plots for the throne. It’s straight-up Shakespeare—it was even directed by noted Shakespearean master Kenneth Branagh. Thor: The Dark World (2013), with its evil elves and fantastical weapons and settings, had a much more Tolkien-ish flavor.
Coming back down to Earth, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) utilized many of the beloved tropes of the classic World War II movie to tell its story, while its sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) had all the flavor of a 70s-style spy film (it also examined veterans’ issues). Ang Lee’s Hulk, was, by its director’s admission, Greek tragedy. The Incredible Hulk (2008) was a monster movie during which two behemoths, in the words of Dr. Bruce Banner, “broke Harlem.”
Need more proof? The blockbuster hit Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was Star Wars-style space epic, and Ant-Man (opening in July) promises to be a super-powered heist film. Dr. Strange, due in 2016, will deal with the mystic and the occult, and Daredevil, currently one of Netflix’s hottest features, is classic crime film noir, a series that would appeal as much to fans of Breaking Bad as it would to those of comic books.
At first glance, Avengers: Age of Ultron looks to deal with the delicate balance between freedom and security. But after Marvel Studio’s string of hit films within its cinematic universe, we’re willing (did I say willing? How about eager?) to hand over our money on Opening Night and find out for ourselves. Excelsior—and have fun at the movies!
Relevant Reading: Marvel, The Characters and Their Universe, by Michael Mallory
To learn more about the compelling characters in the Marvel Universe, check out this in-depth look at a big piece of 20th century entertainment lore. It’s a fully illustrated volume featuring wonderful artwork and hundreds of photos from both TV and film, and we also get interviews with legends in the field, including Joe Simon, John Romita, Gene Colan, and of course, Stan “The Man” Lee.