Between Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel Studios is having a year for the ages. Both films are likely to be the highest-grossing movies of the year, regardless of how Ant-Man and the Wasp performs later this summer. Even though other cinematic universes have failed to ignite the same level of interest, Hollywood still seems eager to follow in Marvel’s footsteps. But according to Infinity War co-director Joe Russo, that’s the wrong lesson to take from the Marvel films.
Via Variety, Russo was asked about the advice he would offer to anyone attempting to make a cinematic universe of their own. His response was “Yeah, don’t do it. Not everything can be sustained through a cinematic universe.”
“The advice would be to continue to look for new ways to tell stories, because I think the audience is open to it,” added Russo. “I think this new generation is going to advance storytelling in a way we haven’t seen in a long time... And they like [long-term] emotional commitment, but there’s lots of ways to engender that that do not involve building out a universe.”
Last year, Universal’s Dark Universe and the DC Extended Universe both struggled to follow in Marvel’s footsteps. The Dark Universe lined up Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, Javier Bardem, and Angelina Jolie to star in updated Universal Monster movies, but Tom Cruise’s The Mummy landed with a thud at the box office. DC found success with its Wonder Woman film, but Justice League fell well below expectations.
The big problem is that Dark Universe and the DCEU lost sight of making the individual movies into satisfying experiences that weren’t just setups for future films. Wonder Woman aside, DC simply didn’t give audiences enough reasons to care about seeing the DC heroes on a single team. DC tried to skip the step of giving Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman their own movies before their inevitable teamup, and it backfired. Nobody cared about The Mummy, because they weren’t given any real reason to care. Now the Dark Universe may be DOA.
There are still a few other would-be cinematic universes waiting in the wings. Hasbro has been trying to unify its toy lines into a cohesive movieverse for years, but it hasn’t come together yet. Meanwhile, Vin Diesel is starring in a Bloodshot film that will supposedly launch a Valiant Comics cinematic universe. And perhaps it will. But not if casual fans fail to respond to it.
Russo was probably correct about emotional engagement being the key to retaining fans and expanding from there. Earlier this week, the Russos also shared a story about Spider-Man's most affecting scene in Infinity War, which demonstrated the way they got an emotional response from the fans. In the near future, we’ll see if anyone in Hollywood will actually utilize their advice.