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Endgame - the movie event of the year?

Posted on 23 April 2019

As reviews for Marvel’s Endgame movie start to make headlines, an expert in television and film at the University of York’s Department of Theatre, Television and Film discusses what makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe so special.

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Dr Ed Braman, Programme Leader for Business of the Creative Industries at the University's Department of Theatre, Television and Film, said: “Endgame is the dream commercial and narrative outcome of Marvel’s sophisticated strategy of building its universe of interconnected stories and characters.

“Hugely awaited as a series finale - like the final series of Game of Thrones or the third part of Lord of The Rings - it is not necessarily the be-all and end-all that will leave millions of fans bereft.

"The film - and the story universe around it - already contains in Captain Marvel the starting-point for a new complex cycle of films - and probably more - stretching forward several years into box offices to come.

Digital convergence

“We’ve had film series before and we’ve had franchises before, but the MCU is unique in its capacity to renew and proliferate generation-after-generation.

“The Marvel Universe is probably the first media property to fully embrace the world of digital convergence where content moves across different devices from cinema to TV, from phone to tablet games console, and beyond.

“Big-screen Iron Man and Avengers Assemble link up with Agents of Shield on the broadcast TV screen; the same world stretches into New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and streams DareDevil and The Defenders onto Netflix.

Netflix regret

“The intellectual property that is Marvel becomes something more than the basis for a successful movie or stand-alone TV series - it becomes a major lever driving audiences across platforms in a process of constant reinforcement. And that makes it hugely desirable, commercially: Netflix may regret losing Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.

“The Marvel Universe - not least because its capacity to cross different media - has redefined the marketing and branding of media properties. This is more than a question of scale or ubiquity - although Marvel has both. It is about understanding the fervour of a fanbase that looks for clues in each movie and TV series - some of them deliberately placed, some of them imagined - and then embarks upon a huge social media conversation about them.  

“If Endgame is hugely anticipated it is not only because it is the culmination of a cycle, it is because the ‘net has been throbbing with speculation about who will live and who will die for months with fans crowding around each stray cast comment, and each frame or each new trailer.

Movie marketing

“‘Word-of-mouth’ has always been important in movie marketing, but Marvel has harnessed the power of millions of mouths on the net with a carefully managed feed of information into a geek-o-sphere that is poised to amplify every rumour, and every marketing trick.

“Marvel has underwritten the power of its universe by conferring a form of power of ownership onto its fans and audiences. The Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige talks about future movie plans - there are films planned well into the next decade - as if they are a form of service to a loyal fanbase.

“The fans themselves meanwhile are creating their own fictions around the Marvel characters, and are largely encouraged to do so unhindered.  To an extent therefore Marvel has extended its own Universe by, after a fashion, incorporating and conniving at a wider world of storytelling which not only appeals to, but actively involves, its fans.

Loyal audiences

“In some respects Marvel’s success has been about building this critical mass of involvement around itself, with stories crossing media, audiences, and ever-growing, empowering its audiences to own a lot of them. Any doubt? Look at how the fans dress up, and applaud at Comicon.

“The scale of the Universe has also allowed Marvel to ring the changes - building different audiences, new audiences and resorting to giving loyal audiences familiar fare.  So a comic Thor Ragnarok can sit alongside a more earnest Black Panther; a youth orientated Spiderman Homecoming can sit alongside a subversive Deadpool.

“Even when these films were made by different studios, they nonetheless developed inside the same wider universe - and created a sense that Marvel is the centre of a world of varied stories, not just a one-note franchise monolith.

Building a movie universe

“Marvel has reconfigured industry thinking about how IP is exploited. DC has followed and - despite a shaky Justice League start - has nonetheless started to build an effective universe of its own on America’s CW network (The Arrow-verse) and now on its own WarnerMedia DC Universe Channel with the dark, and critically praised, Titans and Doom Patrol. Swamp Thing follows soon.

“Universal has tried to build a universe around its 1930s horror movies. Expect interconnected series which exploit and extend IP to become a regular feature of channels and studios as they hope to share in some of Marvel’s glory.  

“Look at CBS Access which is banking on Star Trek, one of the original, but more limited, transmedia franchises, to drive its own streaming ambitions with Discovery and the much awaited return of Patrick Stewart as Enterprise’s Jean-Luc Picard.

Commercial endgame

“One of the final things to note is that the ultimate logic of the MCU - its power to leverage and drive audiences across media - has now reached its own commercial endgame. Marvel was already owned by Disney, but now that Disney has acquired Fox, all the Marvel assets are now under the same, hugely powerful and hugely wealthy roof. 

“Thor, Spiderman and Captain Marvel (to name but three) will be at the forefront of Disney’s new “plus” streaming service, so we should expect the story cycles Marvel is building to drive Disney’s long-awaited entry into the battle of the streaming services.”

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