Another weekend, another blockbuster Marvel opening at the box office. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the latest episode in the company’s cosmic-mercenaries saga, predictably crushed the competition, grossing an estimated $425 million globally and perpetuating the studio’s multiplex dominance. If you’re looking for a secret to the company’s success, we’ll direct you to a 2014 comment from GotG director James Gunn. “I made a decision early on that I wanted it to be a hundred percent a James Gunn movie and a hundred percent a Marvel movie,” he said after the first film’s release. “I didn’t want it to be a compromise. I wanted to make a great Marvel movie that I wanted to see … that had my personality in it.” In other words, he was laying out a recipe for crafting the perfect superhero movie: make a film that pleases the suits and yourself.
In Marvel movies, misfits, oddballs and outsiders rule, and not just on the screen. For the studio’s filmmakers, satisfying the demands and pressure of blockbuster moviemaking while still expressing your own thematic obsessions hasn’t been a dealbreaker – it’s been a career-maker. Sometimes too “indie” for the studios, sometimes suffering through a commercial rough patch, sometimes not being able to find material that best suited them, the bulk of these directors weren’t obvious choices to helm massive tentpoles. No one thought they had a surefire win by saying, “You know who’d be perfect for Iron Man? The Swingers actor who made Elf!” Or: “Get me that world-renowned Shakespeare interpreter for Thor!” Or: “This needs the screenwriter from Tromeo and Juliet!” But these left-field decisions have paid off for the media conglomerate. Even better, they’ve often helped these artists produce some of their best work to date.
On paper, there’s something counterintuitive to that logic. Your average Marvel movie costs at least $200 million to make and is meticulously designed to cater to massive quantities of Earthlings around the globe. (Four of the MCU films have grossed over a billion dollars worldwide.) Marvel films are profit centers meant to enhance the value of the company’s intellectual property – where’s the art in that, you ask?
And yet, the 15 MCU movies released so far aren’t just huge moneymakers. The majority of them actually gotten good-to-great reviews; every one of them has a positive rating on RottenTomatoes, (yes, even Thor: The Dark World). They are considered the gold-standard of Hollywood franchises. But while Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige deservingly gets much of the credit for having the vision to create a serialized set of films, the film’s directors are adding something invaluable to the equation finding personal expression in these mammoth comic-book stories.. He’s the MCU’s guiding light. They are its MVPs.
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