And yet, the appeal for most moviegoers, and the brilliance of Marvel’s marketing strategy, is that they all seem like the same thing to the undiscerning eye. And even to the discerning one, there is a pat familiarity to the formula, story beats, and sitcom-esque ability to wink at the audience at its own silliness. Tonally, they all feel of one piece. Hence why the first Shang-Chi movie was gladly welcomed by the industry last month as Marvel’s latest blockbuster hit—a feat borne in large off it being the next Marvel movie, as opposed to a new original property without a built-in audience.
It’s an aspect to the whole series which caused Dune director Denis Villeneuve to suggest that some Marvel movies are “cut and paste.” It’s also a formula which aids the studio to force its millions of fans to see it “as all connected” and be encouraged to go see the Ant-Man sequel they might otherwise skip in order to discover how its post-credits scene will set up the deus ex machina for Avengers: Endgame.
And that aforementioned Black Panther originally had its protagonist introduced in Captain America: Civil War, an Avengers movie by another name. It’s also the only “Cap” flick to cross $1 billion because they stuck Iron Man in it. Similarly, James Gunn’s Guardians films are genuinely auteur-driven, yet they still worked as a years-long tease of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame’s big bad: Thanos. Hell, Infinity War’s biggest selling point in the trailer was seeing the Avengers and Guardians meet face-to-face for the first time.
The methods and talent being used to produce these endless sequels are far more sophisticated and entertaining than the hack work which produced Jaws: The Revenge, but then that’s why Jaws only lasted four movies and Marvel’s already mapping out its 30th “event” in the next few years.
This is not meant to only criticize Marvel, however. They are simply the most successful studio at exploiting their intellectual property in the 21st century. Universal’s own Fast and Furious movies aren’t half bad at that game, though. This summer just saw the 10th “Fast Saga” movie when you count Hobbs and Shaw. And while Vin Diesel claims the 11th main line Fast and Furious movie will be the last, you just know with its own Avengers-sized cast that Hobbs and Shaw will be merely the first spinoff franchise from “the family.”
Even Spielberg, who was reportedly never happy with the Jaws sequels and what they did to his first masterwork, has been much more ready to “open up” later successes like Jurassic Park. Considered a “smart” blockbuster entertainment in 1993 that inspired genuine awe from millions of moviegoers, that film’s fourth sequel (which was produced by Spielberg, like all the follow-ups) reveled in watching dinosaurs stalk around a haunted house, as if they were Frankenstein and Dracula. Next year’s Jurassic World: Dominion is supposedly intended to be the “final” film of the three most recent, Chris Pratt-led sequels, as well as another sendoff to the original 1993 movie’s cast. Yet it seems dubious that it’ll be the last film set in that “universe.”