In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, Marvel Studios released its 18th film earlier this year. You could say it was pretty successful, and by pretty successful we mean it garnered over $2 billion at the box office. Now, judging the quality of a film by how much money it makes is a fool’s errand (Transformers: Age of Extinction made over $1 billion), but it does help measure its contribution to pop culture.
Infinity War was the culmination of a decade of trial and error, along with betting on horses who no one thought would win the race. Despite the massive global profit the Marvel Cinematic Universe has earned, their road to victory is somewhat of an underdog story. Back in 2008, Marvel rolled the dice by giving a character without the brand recognition of surefire money-makers like Batman or Superman his own film. The result was Iron Man, a film that not only revitalized the career of Robert Downey Jr., but also gave the character a level of relevance he had not experienced since being name-dropped on Wu-Tang Clan records.
For the next decade, Marvel Studios would produce film after film, slowly building their world, making each release feel like a component of a larger vision, even if they operated just fine in a vacuum. While films like The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War were huge, series-defining entries, Infinity War was what everything had been leading up to. Patience (if you could called releasing two or three films a year “patience”), it would seem, had paid off… literally.
The Friendly Competition
But what worked so well for the Marvel pantheon has not exactly led to the same fortune for their friendly rivals. Warner Bros. launched their own interconnected series of superhero films with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel in 2013. The film was successful financially, but proved divisive among fans and critics.
Despite the negative reactions, the studio pushed on with their series of films (which would become known as the DC Extended Universe) and three years later released a follow-up film, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which earned even more money while being ever more derided by moviegoers and critics. Still, they trudged forward, as if the act of producing enough material would be the catalyst for creating something audiences would get invested in with the same level of enthusiasm the MCU had garnered. Alas, this is not the case (broadly speaking, anyway).
For all the high points, like Wonder Woman or Ben Affleck’s amazing Batman costume, the DCEU has not been able to find a singular voice, which begs the question whether this cinematic universe can ever produce the DC equivalent of Infinity War. The short answer is, "maybe?" It’s never too late. Tons of film franchises have lifted themselves up from slumps. It’s easy to chide Warner Bros. for giving us too much, too quickly and taking an unnecessarily dark tone with the material, but what’s done is done. All we can do now is look to the future, to see what can be salvaged as things march forward.