Thanks to an early foreign premiere date, "Thor: The Dark World" was already a hit by the time it reached U.S. shores on Friday (November 8), but as audiences here found out over the weekend, it's also another success in terms of the quality of Marvel Studios, a company that has become shockingly consistent with its biannual releases.
After eight movies, Marvel has proven almost undeniably that it knows the superhero movie business and that it does it better than anyone else. It's no wonder that at least two of the rival studios producing films in the genre, Fox with "X-Men" and Warner Bros. with "Batman vs. Superman," have made moves to replicate the connected cinematic universe that Marvel has used so well to establish its dominance.
Achieving such overwhelming success while similar movies with even bigger budgets crumble into the red must make film fans and studio executives alike wonder what the secret is. And while we can't claim to have a full comprehension of the genius of Marvel Studios, there is a clear formula to what the company has achieved in just five years.
Can you remember the last big-screen hero as likeable as Steve Rogers or as cool as Tony Stark? Marvel finally cracked the Hulk in "The Avengers" because it offered the audience a man who they understood. From the very start of its shared on-screen universe, the emphasis has been on establishing characters that we are curious about and that have interesting choices to make. It's the reason "Iron Man" spends so much time with Tony in that cave. Without his decision to stop making weapons or Cap's early days as a scrawny kid, the explosion-filled endings would be meaningless.
This part of the Marvel blueprint has become more salient with Phase 2 (everything after "The Avengers"), and in a way, "Thor: The Dark World" cemented it. Marvel doesn't just make superhero movies. It makes fantasy movies ("Thor"), Shane Black buddy cop movies ("Iron Man 3"), political thrillers ("Captain America: The Winter Soldier") and sci-fi space operas "(Guardians of the Galaxy"). And then you have to consider that Joss Whedon has referred to "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" as a war movie and Marvel co-president Kevin Feige called "Ant-Man" a heist movie. Marvel simply takes these familiar formulas and colors them with characters that give them new life.
While the other two secrets can be chalked up to smart filmmaking, Marvel's release schedule of stand-alone movies that build to a crossover was truly revolutionary, but it also builds off the first point. Sure, bringing in the characters from separate films into one makes for a nice stunt, but "The Avengers" became the megahit that it was because of how the personalities the audience knew and liked from those movies interacted in a way that was interesting.
"Thor: The Dark World" is in theaters now.