2015 was an interesting year for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in that it was quiet movie wise but still managed to make significant strides with both the two films that were released this year’s and the game changers they put forth in the television spectrum. Let’s look at some of the highlights of the year, and how the MCU set the pace for years to come:
Avengers: Age of Ultron
This was the Marvel film that everyone was waiting for in 2015, the one to bring together the original Avengers from the Phase 1 and 2 films, and reunite our favorite squad. And although writer and producer of the first Avengers film, Joss Whedon, returned, the original cast stayed in tact, and the villain was portrayed by the always villainous James Spader, it just didn’t quite live up to the hype.
Many blamed the writing, more blamed Joss Whedon, and then there were some who just claimed that superhero fatigue had finally set in. Superheroes, like vampires and zombies, had to have some sort of shelf life and with the DC finally having thrown their hat in the ring, there are more superhero products than ever on film and television.
Age of Ultron is the film that made us question the blind faith many had when watching superhero films, it also allowed the audience to be vocal about what they did not enjoy or appreciate. Age of Ultron also showed us that no film is invincible (like The Hulk), that even though you might have a slew of well known actors, be part of a popular franchise and have a well loved director, it does not immediately mean success, and it also does not mean that you will get away with bad choices or bad writing. In essence, Age of Ultron was the wake-up call for Marvel Studios, especially after Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 showed that their fanbase is always willing to support them, AOS reminded them that they won’t always be willing to excuse them and they will be held accountable for their mistakes, it was a reminder to the studio to take care, and be wary.
In many ways, Ant Man was the antithesis of Age of Ultron’s expectations, as there were so many changes creatively to the film (writers, directors) that it seemed as if it had become a rush job, add to the fact that Ant Man was never the most loved Marvel hero (especially Hank Pym and his hard-handedness with his wife, but that’s a story for another day) and this just seemed like a movie that Marvel Studios needed to get out because they had been working on it for so long, and also so that they could add Ant Man (and perhaps The Wasp too) to their arsenal of heroes to be used in other films. But then it was surprisingly enjoyable…
Ant Man was a film that did not take itself too seriously, it didn’t pretend to be the next greatest blockbuster, it just worked within the refines, and played to the strengths of the actors, the writers and director. Instead of attempting to be an Avengers film, Ant Man just focused on being a heist comedy, and with a likeable comedy actor such as Paul Rudd as the lead, a great band of supporting actors, a legend like Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, and cameos from Hayley Atwell, John Slattery and Anthony Mackie, the film was a success.
Ant Man, like Iron Man before it, Marvel did not take themselves too seriously. The movie was only moderately hyped up (very small in comparison to Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Avengers: Age of Ultron) but the audience loved it, and learnt to appreciate it as a comedic superhero film just as it was intended to be.
Agents of SHIELD: Season 3
While Marvel was dominating the box office with their films, DC owned television – with Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, and now Supergirl – and before 2015, the only competitor that Marvel had on the small screen was Agents of SHIELD. After a rough first half of season 1, post-Winter Soldier, Agents of SHIELD found it’s feet and carries on being very self aware, and the show keeps improving, so that now as they are on their third season, they are better than ever.
With the introduction of the Inhumans, a wide spectrum of excellently developed characters and plot lines that keep us guessing, Agents of SHIELD has become exactly what we all wished it would be when it began – a three-dimensional show which is constantly improving itself. With Agents of SHIELD, Marvel proved that it’s never too late to improve, and that they are able to work with characters and their arcs for a long term, without ruining or betraying their characteristics. For more, on why we love Agents of SHIELD, check out our weekly reviews.
In January 2015, ABC and Marvel premiered Agent Carter in the break between season 2A and 2B of Agents of SHIELD. Agent Carter featured Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter and followed her struggles as a woman in a male-dominated society post-World War II and after the disappearance of her love, Steve Rogers.
Agent Carter was a risk. At this point, female-led superhero stories were still known for being toxic ratings and box office-wise. And the story of Peggy Carter is unique in that she has no superpowers, it’s set in the 1940’s and there is no romance between her and other characters. It simply follows her adventures living the double life as an intelligent agent, and working on the side for her old friend, Howard Stark, her dealing with the misogyny of her co-workers and her friendships with Angie and Jarvis.
The reason why Agent Carter was so well-received by the audience and critics was because it presented a nostalgic view of the period (with the fashion and the music), the sense of loss after the war while still dealing the struggles that women had to deal with in order to be taken seriously while drawing parallels to what women still have to face. And of all of this in a world where superheroes and aliens exist.
Superhero franchises are not known for their feminism, and the outcry of the way females are treated in Marvel films (this year with Black Widow in Age of Ultron and Hope van Dyne in Ant Man especially) definitely brought this home. But like it’s ’ predecessor Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter brought in a new type of hero, a strong woman who knows her own worth, and is willing to fight for what is right (now if only the movies will follow suit).
Daredevil was the result of the marriage between Marvel and Netflix and a contract which will see Netflix releasing 13 episode series of 4 of Marvel’s heroes before they are combined together into one show - The Defenders in 2017.
Although unlike many of the heroes that have rose to fame since Marvel Studios started churning out their films, Daredevil was well known thanks to the Ben Affleck film. But Charlie Cox and the showrunner Steven DeKnight brought a whole new Matt Murdock and company to the small screen.
On the best things about the Netflix experience is that they favor quality over quantity, it’s the best of both worlds - longer than a film but more concise and to the point than a series. Seeing a Marvel series that was so dark and gritty, with excellent writing and characterization, beautifully choreographed fight scenes, and top acting. With Daredevil, Marvel moved out of the realm of campy, fun superheroes and defined itself as a drama series that has the chops to be aligned with some of the greats.
Following the success of Daredevil, Netflix’s second Defenders series that they released in November was Jessica Jones, based one of the first purely adult comics that Marvel released. The subject matter is problematic in that it deals with rape, consent, abuse, abduction, but Netflix once again hit the ball out of the park in how they portrayed these issues. Like with Agent Carter, Marvel not only gave viewers a good series but important social messages as well, but Jessica Jones went even further that Agent Carter and pushed the boundaries about how to deal with issues such as rape and PTSD. For more reasons why Jessica Jones is amazing, read our article about it here.
After such a busy year, how will Marvel top in next year? How will remain fresh? And what new boundaries are they going to push? We’ll have to wait and see.
In film, there will be Captain America: Civil War in May, and Doctor Strange with Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton in November.
In series, ABC will feature the second season of Agent Carter in January and then season 3B of Agents of SHIELD in March. There were talks of an Agents of SHIELD spinoff featuring the characters of Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter but there has been no news of that lately.
Netflix will release the second season of Daredevil earlier in the year and then the Luke Cage series, featuring the next Defenders hero who was introduced in Jessica Jones, later in the year. There has been no word about whether there will be a second season of Jessica Jones yet.