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The heroes are on their knees, the city's a smouldering ruin and the villains are closing in for the kill. For Marvel, its darkest hour came in the winter of A company that had grown in stature throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s thanks to the often stunning art and storytelling in such comics as Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel's financial success had reached a peak by the early 90s. An ugly fight between a group of very rich investors followed, and for a while, the company's future seemed uncertain. Yet somehow, Marvel fought through all the corporate intrigue which dogged the company in late and for many long months afterwards, and emerged from the rubble a decade later as a film industry behemoth. A prophecy of doom In , while Marvel and the comics industry as a whole seemed to be in rude health, Sandman writer Neil Gaiman stood before about 3, retailers and gave a speech which few in attendance wanted to hear. In it, he argued that the success of the comic book market was a bubble - one brought on by encouraging collectors to download multiple editions and hoard them up in the hope that they'll one day be worth a fortune.
Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it.
In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. Indeed, the goal of Escape is not to permanently reject the real world, but to relieve oneself from the fight of actual life, however briefly a fairy tale is a moment in the race of life to catch one s breath, a temporary reprieve to seek comfort in the struggle to survive perhaps this is behind Tolkien s comment that his passion for fairy stories did not fully blossom until he was fully grown and it was quickened to full life by war.
Enter the Superhero. First born during a time of world wars and nuclear uncertainties in the early th century, the superhero has been revitalized in an age of terrorist threats, police brutality, governmental hyper-surveillance, and decades-long war. While the news brings one tragic story after another and role models are in short supply, millions of people are entertained by actors embodying the pantheons of our superheroic legends.
Graphic novelist and editor Grant Morrison asks the question best Could it be that a culture starved of optimistic images of its own future has turned to the primary source [ancient myth] in search of utopian role models?
Escape captures the age-old feature of fairy stories acting as comforting reminders that the Perilous Realm is tamable and, though here there be monsters indeed, there is no absence of heroes who stand against evil. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination.
What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. It would be a grave torment indeed to remove such heroes from an imagination that needs them, whether or not it belongs to a child.
Holdier increasingly commodified culture, what defenders are more popular than the ones whose talismans are emblazoned on everything from pajamas to keychains? Depressingly, fictional justice is far easier to come by inside the MCU than outside. It is no wonder why so many movie-goers, surrounded by injustice and pain, have Escaped by watching Tony Stark or Scott Lang take matters of justice into their own hands in a very real sense, many people likely wish that they themselves could do the same.
Moreover, mythic Escape is not merely distracting amusement, but thoughtful provocation that refocuses one s mind on the sorts of eternal truths that rise above the drudgery of mundane existence.
Fairy tales do not merely allow audiences to Escape the painfulness of the world, but to break free from the contingent concerns of their present lives to ponder timeless matters that should truly provoke concern Justice, Fear-Conquering, Sacrifice, Power the list is long. Not in an explicit fashion only rarely might Steve Rogers or Nick Fury stand up and offer a thought-provoking observation clearly designed to stick in the minds of the audience but the embodied demonstrations of duty, honor, and sacrifice are nonetheless apparent.
Similarly, as Tolkien s colleague and close friend C. Lewis pointed out, myths can generate a concrete experience of otherwise abstract concepts that are not only instructive but are also satisfying The moment we state [the lesson], we are admittedly back in the world of abstraction.
It is only Mythlore Myth cloaks truth in the cover of narrative entertainment, avoiding cold, propositional didacticism and making complex ideas palatable by dressing them up as a story, delivering to the reader not truth but reality and thereby allowing him or her to digest remarkable concepts often without realizing it Lewis.
Whether competing with mutants, super-friends, or a fantastic family of four for primacy in the hearts and wallets of contemporary audiences, the MCU s mountain of steady and sustained success is built atop its focus on precisely these two facets of mythopoesis and Marvel s ability to sub- create a rich and believable fictional reality. To be fair, Tolkien was skeptical of the possibility to depict Faerie visually pictures, he said, whether moving or not, depreciate the force of Fantasy In human art Fantasy is a thing best left to words, to true literature, he says [otherwise] [s]illiness or morbidity are frequent results.
He was especially hostile to the notion of bringing Fantasy to a stage, for he considered it impossible for such a production to honestly capture the otherworldliness of the narrative, instead inescapably degrading the imagery Fantastic forms are not to be counterfeited.
Men dressed up as talking animals may achieve buffoonery or mimicry, but they do not achieve Fantasy. However, much of Tolkien s skepticism lay in the technological incapacities of the special-effects mechanisms of his day, when stage directors did not have the wealth of options now available to those attempting to infuse their fantastic tales with visual verisimilitude. Had this been mechanically successful it would either have terrified the spectators or else have been just a turn of high-class conjuring.
When mechanism was not able to maintain the crucial inner consistency of the reality of the story, it made sense to curmudgeonly criticize its inability to portray Fantasy in a visual fashion. Holdier However, very little argument needs to be made that, though such technology can be frivolously overused, it has certainly advanced far beyond that of Tolkien s milieu.
Through set design, costume creation, and visual effects augmented by mechanical and digital abilities that are downright magical in their own way, modern movies are now capable of dropping an audience into the middle of a fictional world to a degree that Tolkien s criticism no longer obtains.
Like Tolkien s hypothetical mouse-ogre from On Fairy-Stories, the Hulk s transformation indeed intimidates audiences precisely because it seems so real something that Tolkien himself admitted To make such a thing may not be impossible.
I have never seen it done with success. For example, whereas shocking moments can certainly be revealed in prose, the visceral force of a sudden loud noise or unexpected scene change can provoke an emotional thrill far more immediate than the slow build of reading sequential sentences on a page. It is precisely because of the visually liberated nature of the film medium that several pages worth of prosaic information can be distilled down to a fraction of a second, phenomenologically adding emotional weight and an increased heart rate to the didactic content of the plot.
Such techniques only serve to further assist the visual storyteller in reaching Tolkienesque levels of creative Enchantment in a manner that might have fully surprised Tolkien himself. Indeed, in a changing world, culture-dependent fairy stories have likewise mutated.
In a world of screens, modern Mythlore Regardless, under the watchful eye of studio chief Kevin Feige, the crafters of the MCU carefully built each building block of the comprehensive Realm that is the MCU as Feige described in a retrospective interview in , [W]e never said, We re going to make a cinematic universe. We said, We want to make a great Iron Man movie.
We want to make a great Thor movie. We want to make a great Cap movie Han.
During the early years of what MCU called its Phase One, few people understood the long-term game Marvel was attempting to play as Feige explains I remember thinking, Wow, this is ambitious, this is great, and nobody talking about it. I was like, I don t think people really like, I think this is pretty cool what we re doing! That we re actually putting them all together! Had Thor not worked, things would ve been different.
Holdier ventures in Hollywood history Waxman. This world-building project proceeded with two crucial character- based steps firstly, each character was introduced into the continuity of the shared universe with their own film or, in the case of Iron Man, films , thereby allowing each individual to undergo character development and to give the audience time to understand and appreciate each hero in their own way.
Combined with the crossing over of certain tokens like Thor s hammer, Mjolnir, the once-shadowy organization S. Repeatedly in his essay On Fairy-Stories, Tolkien describes the framing of a fairy story as capturing a sub-section of Faerie, where most of the fictional world is left unexplored beyond the margins of the particular scene or story this is precisely what the MCU s near-casual reference to a wider continuity shared by each film achieves.
Mythlore Consider the repeated failure by Fox to reboot Marvel s Fantastic Four characters into a workable movie franchise McKnight it is difficult for a screenwriter to introduce four characters not including villains , develop each one individually and collectively together as a team, and tell a worth-while superhero tale all within the space of a single movie unlike the MCU which has devoted entire films for character introduction prior to working them all together into a team setting inside their mutually shared fictional world.
For this reason, much like what the MCU would later do with the character Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy, Fox s X-Men stories many of which have a dozen principle characters or more eventually honed in on the single character of Wolverine to helpfully offer a solid rock on which the audience might stand as dozens of other characters fly around them for several films.
For example, whereas the movies released by Pixar Studios have always contained small repetitive nods the bouncing ball, the dancing lamp, the Pizza Planet truck, etc. What this may indicate more than anything else is the contemporary public s hunger for sensible otherworlds wherein imaginations can run wild not simply for a single movie, but in and throughout each frame of Faerie and beyond.
One caveat remains early reviews of several nascent shared universes indicate that the success of the MCU may reign supreme for some time. Despite DC owning powerhouse properties like Superman and Wonder Woman, its rush to construct its own shared universe has been met with both critical and financial failures Hughes. Similarly, the tepid response to s The Mummy, Universal s first foray into its so-called Dark Universe, has led the studio to place the rest of its production schedule on an indefinite hold Lamble.
Few attempt such difficult tasks. To successfully create what Nietzsche called the higher possibility of existence and the attainment thereby of a yet higher glorification through art The Dionysiac Worldview , italics in original is not the sort of thing which can be rushed movie-going audiences can easily discern which films are successful and which are simply seeking to cash in on a popular trend.
For superheroes, though, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in particular, the current popularity of fairy stories should be unsurprising. No matter how far human culture may progress, it can never escape its oldest roots that part of the human soul that still feels unnerved when the lights go out and the little child inside everyone needs someone to come and save them.
Regardless of the advances humanity shall inevitably continue to make, the need for fantastical fairy stories will never die, for the Unknown that spurs the drive for discovery will always be personified in the imagination and, therefore, need some Hero to stand against its dark side. Fantasy is a natural human activity, Tolkien insists, It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity.
On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. In the end, Nietzsche s overman may be just another puny god, beyond the reach of reality, but that is not to say that sub-created superpeople will not perpetually play a vital role in human culture.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe s lasting contribution to that project will be its visual instantiation of Tolkien s concept of Faerie on a grand scale, filled with all the visceral richness that the imagination has always conjured.
There followed a bewildering power struggle which raged for almost two years. A stockholder named Carl Icahn tried to oppose Perelman, and the financial press eagerly reported on the very public spat which ensued. Perelman, Icahn argued , "Was like a plumber you loan money to get him started in business; then he comes in, wrecks your house, then tells you he wants the house for nothing. Other executives with ties with Perlmutter were also severed, including CEO Scott Sassa, whose tenure had, all told, lasted just eight months.
With the financial intrigue in the boardroom settling down, Marvel began to turn its attention to a target it had been trying to hit since the s: the movie business. Marvel on the big screen Israeli-born Avi Arad brought a gruff swagger to the toy industry.
Having risen to the rank of CEO at ToyBiz, and described by "the hottest developer in the toy business" by one contemporary, Arad's big career change came when Marvel bought a 46 percent share in the company in Arad had received a 10 percent share as part of the deal, and while he initially oversaw the production of Marvel action figures at ToyBiz, he quickly replaced the legendary Stan Lee as the head of Marvel Films. Arad served as executive producer on the hit animated TV series X-Men, and by the summer of , had brokered a deal with 20th Century Fox to make an X-Men movie.
For years, Marvel had struggled to get its properties onto the big screen: the rights to Spider-Man were stuck in a tangled web which wouldn't be unpicked until the late 90s, while 's Howard The Duck was a critical and financial disaster.
But now, it looked as though Arad's approach was going to bear fruit.
Then Marvel's financial woes began, and Arad struggled to convince Hollywood executives of the company's cinematic value. Things began to change in the late 90s, when Marvel began to find its feet again: Blade was a hit, and X-Men began to finally move ahead at Fox. The X-Men and Spider-Man movies were huge hits, but Marvel only saw a small percentage of the profits.
The birth of a cinematic universe In , a talent agent named David Maisel came to Marvel's Isaac Perlmutter with a proposal. Why not produce the movies under your own banner, and reap the profits for yourself?
And if you're producing your own movies, why can't the stories cross over with each other, just like they do in the comics? It was an idea that could, in theory, be worth untold millions: while Marvel's stock had bounced back since , Maisel argued that going into movie production could see it soar still further. The problem, however, would be convincing Marvel's board of directors and, just as vitally, gaining the requisite financing.
A major breakthrough came in , when Marvel managed to make a deal with Wall Street firm Merrill Lynch. The details of the deal sounded risky: Marvel was essentially offering up the jewels of its business - characters like Thor and Captain America - as collateral.
If the films didn't make money, those superheroes would suddenly belong to the bank. With their newfound clout, Marvel managed to reacquire the rights to characters it had sold over the years, including Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor and Hulk. Shortly after the deal with Merill Lynch went through, Marvel announced that Iron Man would be its first independent production.
Finally, a character who'd languished in development hell since the s Universal originally owned the rights, before they passed to Fox and then New Line was finally getting a shot at big-screen stardom.
While work on Iron Man began, Marvel made another important acquisition - one as important to its future success, perhaps, as the recovery of some of its most famous superheroes. Feige's love of comics was such that, despite his relatively young age, Feige landed the role of producer on Fox's production of X-Men - he was just 27 at the time.
Going on to produce other Marvel films thereafter - including Spider-Man, Daredevil and Hulk - Feige was brought in as president of Marvel Studios in Avi Arad insisted, with his usual bluster, that Disney had netted itself a bargain.