Relaxing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and embracing the marvel of Marvel | Jack Marshall's column

The (numerous) Avengers (credit: Marvel)The (numerous) Avengers (credit: Marvel)
The (numerous) Avengers (credit: Marvel)
It’s 2008. You’re at the cinema, stumbling up those weirdly deep yet short stairs designed for absolutely no one’s natural gait. You pick a row, apologising as you knock people’s knees and kick over expensive buckets of popcorn.

The opening riff of ACDC’s Back in Black slams into you, joined by a wall of camouflage colour and American bravado as you’re transported to the Middle East where the outset of the film is set. Humvees, machine guns, sunglasses, imperialism.

You’re watching Iron Man. There have been superhero movies before - the concept dates back to the ‘30s - and, since the turn of the millennium, they’ve been everywhere. X-Men, Spider-Man, Hellboy, Batman, Fantastic Four. You know the drill.

But you don’t.

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You’ve entered the all-encompassing Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since that first Iron Man, the MCU has released a further 26 movies, each grossing an average of $933m. It’s made more than twice as much cash as Star Wars, the second biggest movie franchise in history.

It’s a big business, but it’s an overwhelming business, too. Since 2008, the only years which haven’t seen Marvel releases are 2009, when the MCU was in its infancy, and 2020, when there was a pandemic. Four new films came out in 2021 alone.

Frankly, it can be hard to keep up with the countless superheroes and cosmic storylines. The MCU is a vast world is knowing the Tesseract is also the Space Stone really that important? Is it not all a bit *hides behind the sofa*... childish?

This is the view I used to hold before logging onto my sister’s Disney+ account and gaining access to the MCU Shangri-la: all the movies in one place. One universe. Couple that with lockdown and a resolve to treat the films as what they should be (a bit of fun), and et voilà.

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I realised I’d fallen into the trap of thinking I either had to be invested in the MCU completely or not at all - either be the biggest fan or simply not one. That’s daft.

These films are glitzy and fun make-believe. Some are utterly gripping, some are decidedly meh (looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). The vast nature of the MCU can get you drunk on its scale, brainwarp you into thinking it’s something more because it’s so expensive.

But it’s not. It’s just a fun fantasy world filled with really good actors, pioneering CGI, and cleverly merged subplots from a dozen different storylines. The Marvel Cinematic Universe it may be, but it’s not the real world.

After all, no one looks as good as Thor in real life.

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