The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a world of films inspired and taken from the Marvel comic-book world. Whether you like it or not, the MCU has become one of ​the​ most successful and popular franchises, earning around $17 billion for the conglomerate, Disney thus far.

The MCU dates back ten years to when the first ​Iron Man​ film was released in 2008, when director Jon Favreau took a very risky gamble hiring Robert Downey Jr., still somewhat haunted by his past with drug abuse. Thankfully it was a gamble that paid off, and with ​Iron Man,​ a whole filmic universe began to grow; which now encompasses twenty films and counting. So, with this year marking the MCU’s tenth anniversary I thought it apt to delve into what really makes the MCU so good.

With ten years worth of films, the MCU has introduced audiences to so many incredible characters, most of which fans have grown to love and care about. Sure most people automatically have an attachment to the main hero of the movie, but what about the villains? With the release of ​Thor​ in 2011 fans of the growing universe found a villain so good, they sympathised with him. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) was a mischievous, conniving, and altogether lovable villain. So much so that, fast-forward seven years on, with his death in ​Infinity War​ at the hands of Thanos (we’ll get to him in a moment) so many fans kicked up high-dudgeon as they watched the MCU strangle their best villain to death. Loki caused so much havoc in many of the films, beyond the ​Thor​ franchise and was a major role in the world. He had a past and a vulnerability that is so rarely seen in villains in superhero movies and was unmatched by any other villain in the MCU. Until; Thanos the big bad that had been looming over everything from the very beginning. Thanos (Josh Brolin) was the be all and end all of the MCU as we knew it. He had been built up so much that by the time ​Infinity War​ came around, fans were dreading what would happen to their beloved heroes, but also wondering would Thanos really live up to the hype of the last ten years? Yet again the MCU did not disappoint, giving us a villain that is both worthy of our hate, and our sympathy. With the villains thankfully not falling into the archetypal trap, the heroes also don’t fall into the typical ‘all strength and no weakness’ cliché. These movies can sometimes deal with very real and serious issues, like in ​Iron Man 3​ when Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) suffers from panic attacks after the events in the first ​Avengers.​ This is a fantasy world very much grounded in reality, and the fact that it shows these heroes as human allows audiences to empathise.

Another reason that leads to the success of the MCU is the fact that it is hailed as revolutionary, in particular with the release of ​Black Panther​ earlier this year, with its primarily black cast, and black director (Ryan Coogler). It was a celebration of African culture and contained ‘token white people’ instead of the usual token person of colour. The next step in the MCU’s revolutionary run is ​Captain Marvel,​ to be released early 2019, finally giving a woman the lead hero role after eleven years. Despite the fact that there have been no female leads in the MCU films (yet), they have given us multiple strong women that don’t hide behind the male superhero. These women fight just as much as the men and often look a lot more kick-ass doing it. Many of the women such as Black Widow, Hope Van Dyne, and Pepper Potts are human with no superpowers, except for the training or willpower they possess. There is a strength and a power to these women, some of which, as well as battling the bad guys, have normal jobs outside of that; both Hope and Pepper run businesses. The MCU is promoting great female role models and doesn’t do these women a disservice by creating them to merely be saved by the men.

As with most superhero films, you’re always guaranteed action, and this is just one among many things the MCU does brilliantly. With every film, the stakes get bigger, and the action gets better, and with so much money pumped into these movies, Disney does not compromise when it comes to the CGI used. It’s what allows us to believe, to pick one example, that a man can turn giant and green. Alongside the tense action is the humour that has become synonymous with many of the movies in the MCU. While some of the films take a serious tone, others somewhat flip the conventional superhero film, like ​Guardians of the Galaxy,​ directed by James Gunn, a bunch of misfits taking down the baddies, one joke at a time. This humorous style was later used in the ​Thor​ franchise when Taika Waititi breathed new life into the character with ​Thor: Ragnarok.​

There are so many directors dealing with different characters, and yet when they bring them together into one film they still manage to keep the integrity of each individual character under the helm of a different director. There is no better example of this than ​Infinity War​, a monster of a film, containing nearly all of the MCU characters we’ve met over the last ten years…and still the Russo brothers, dealing with such an intricate universe and many intertwined stories, managed to stay true to the roots of each character.

The MCU has given us a great ten years so far, from small beginnings to the giant that it is now. Over that time we’ve seen sympathetic villains, fallible heroes, powerful women, revolutionary films, action, humour, and so much more; but overall what makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe so good is the love and attention that goes into every single movie.

By Shauna Fox – Film Writer