Marvel Studios’ roster of interconnected movies is split into chunks referred to as phases. Ant-Man just closed out phase 2, sitting atop a decent financial return and a 79% ‘Fresh’ rating from its reviews. In essence, it’s not broken any box office records or offended anyone. Our own Sean Hutchinson estimated that its final domestic tally would graze $200 million, and it’s about $90 mil shy at the time of writing. Add in the worldwide takehome of $229 million, and it easily recouped its $109 million budget plus a nice chunk of change.
It’s good. But it’s no Avengers.
To evaluate Ant-Man under the same criteria as we’d approach the mega-blockbuster movie featuring Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is a pointless exercise. That’s never been the goal of Marvel’s riskier movies. Sending lesser-known titles into production lays the groundwork for future billion-dollar movies. Last summer’s Guardians Of The Galaxy was Marvel dipping its toe into new waters, seeing how general audiences would respond to the unknown. It made $775 million worldwide.
The studio’s risk taking strategy increases for phase 3. Alongside recognisable titles like Captain America: Civil War, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man, Thor Ragnarok and the two-part Avengers: Infinity War event, there’s four brand new entrants. That’s twice as many as Phase 2, so let’s have a look at those risky projects that ten years ago would have been laughed out of the board room.
First up is Doctor Strange, which focuses on the mystic Dr. Stephen Strange. One of Marvel’s most popular comics that strays into the supernatural realm, the adaptation looks set to corner a similar market. Scott Derrickson, who directed The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, is at the helm, and the script hails from Prometheus’ original screenwriter Jon Spaihts. If this weren’t a Marvel movie it’d be an R-rated chiller. For a studio that’s seen its fair share of creative spats - Edgar Wright and the Ant-Man debacle for one - the team behind this is surprising. Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead levels out some of the strange (guffaw), but throw in Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One (which she is likely to play as male) and you’ve got a truly unusual Marvel movie.
Pre-production hasn’t even started on Black Panther and it’s already stirred up plenty of column inches and digital ink. Selma director Ava DuVernay “entered early talks” with the studio but failed to reach a commonground with studio brass over story direction. The film follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the third person to adopt the titular mantle which belongs to whoever is in charge of the fictional African country known in the Marvel comic timeline as Wakanda. He later joins the Avengers.
Three straight-to-DVD animated movies and dozens of video games feature the character, heightening Black Panther’s familiarity somewhat. Plus, MCU devotees who dug a little deeper concerning Andy Serkis’ character from Age of Ultron will be acquainted with a little backstory of his hometown.
Marvel’s female badass gets her standalone flick 17 months after Wonder Woman’s solo outing hits screens. DC’s Amazonian warrior is a more recognisable character to audiences outside of comic fandom. Like Black Panther, Captain Marvel is a title ascribed to various characters. For the big screen version, it’s fan favorite Carol Danvers.
The risk for Marvel with this project isn’t in the attached talent (Inside Out’s Meg LeFauve and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Nicole Perlman are writing), but apparently the ridiculous comparison to previous female-led comic book movies that tanked. Admittedly, Elektra and Catwoman were both dire but there’s been just as many CBMs led by men that are of equally shoddy quality. The film’s only Achilles Heel is Wonder Woman.
Last out of the gate is Inhumans in 2019. Similar to the X-Men with one massive difference: Marvel still retains the screen rights to them. This bunch could easily be compared to the Guardians of the Galaxy as well, with their high misfit quota and lab-engineered origins. There’s four years ‘til the movie lands, and that distance is perhaps a deliberate decision to slowly introduce the brand to the public. Having appeared in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2 has already done the name favors, even when the movie will in all probability include a different group.