It’s hard to believe, but we’re approaching ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Where has the time gone? With Avengers: Infinity War set to round the first decade off in May 2018, it’s easy to forget where things started. The next superhero team-up will arrive ten years after Iron Man raised the curtain and those humble origins almost feel like ancient history now. No one could truly have foreseen the phenomenal success that would follow, and Marvel Studios clearly aren’t done yet. The future slate looks as exciting as ever, as new characters are constantly being added from the immense Marvel roster and the possibilities for where things can go from here are virtually endless.
On the face of it, the continued success is attributable to numerous factors. Most important of these, however, is the huge cast that’s now been amassed – what’s not to like about that? Strong, inspirational heroes are being portrayed by charming and attractive people; could there ever be a greater winning combination? Impressive set pieces and large-scale battles are great for braindead viewing, but it’s crucial that we care enough about the characters to root for them. While not all of the casting decisions have been particularly inspired, the heroes that comprise The Avengers are all good enough that it doesn’t really matter.
One casting was perfect, however, and it was a crucial one. Getting Robert Downey Jr. in as Tony Stark for Iron Man was a stroke of genius, even if it does seem obvious now. RDJ has managed to carry not only the weight of his own character’s reputation, but also the heft of the MCU since day one. Both on and off-screen, he’s become the indoctrinated embodiment of progress in the franchise. His character has been at the centre of every story featuring Earth’s Mightiest Heroes thus far and has appeared in everything with the Avengers tag on it. And in the real world? RDJ’s conduct and candour in every press junket, interview or featurette has further ingratiated himself with the sizeable fanbase.
It’s true; the Marvel Cinematic Universe owes a heck of a lot to Robert Downey Jr. for getting it off the ground. At a time when DC were making superhero movies of a grittier nature and following years of Marvel’s own heroes struggling to make an impact after Spider-Man 2, there was no guarantee the comic book movie movement would take off the way it did. You’d think, then, that Marvel Studios should be doing everything in their power to keep ahold of their original ace card?
Well, no. In actual fact the time has now come for the over-reliance on Tony Stark and RDJ to end. While it’s always a harmless pleasure to see the character traipsed back out for some billionaire badassery, this easy way out is actually starting to do more damage than good. The presence of Tony Stark in the MCU has become a stifling factor that its newer heroes are struggling to break through.
Consider Spider-Man: Homecoming and Peter Parker’s full induction into the MCU. While most of the story was great and Tom Holland firmly made the role his own, the movie suffered by having Stark’s presence felt at every turn. Spidey was deprived the chance to truly shine until the final few minutes of the action had taken place.
Going back further still, even Captain America: Civil War felt more like a Tony Stark movie than a Steve Rogers one. As the conflict between Avengers team members draws its end, the story reveals Stark to be the key individual rather than Bucky or the titular hero. From some angles the connections seem impressively interwoven, but from most others the whole thing is just narrow-minded. In fact, it’s starting to feel like the powers that be don’t trust the rest of their heroes to carry the franchise the way RDJ has.
This is disappointing, especially given recent new films have added future Avengers who are more than capable of taking the centric role through the upcoming new phases. “Who are these,” you ask? Well let’s start with a chap we mentioned just a few moments ago…