Many people have their vices and their habits: drugs, drink, video-games, prostitutes, or many different other things. Mine, it seems, is the MCU. For the uninitiated, the MCU stands for Marvel Cinematic Universe, and comprises the twenty-plus films released over the past decade of various super-heroes. These include Iron-Man, Captain America, the Hulk, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and much more. I remember watching the very first Iron-Man in the cinema back in 2008 and was pleasantly surprised that the lead actor – a noted drug-addict – managed to put in a fantastic performance (yes, that man was Robert Downey Jr). Then, when the later films emerged it became evident that they connected to a wider universe, just as in the Marvel comics themselves. By the time The Avengers rolled around in 2012 I was hooked.
And why not: they are funny, engaging movies. However, for me, I have long looked at them as my addiction. Something that I continue to engage with via social media, but also something that I feel I should have grown out of by now. I only visit the cinema now to watch these movies and every-time I feel slightly ashamed that I have dragged my wife with me, especially when we see the remaining seats filled by kids and teenagers.
But it appears that the MCU has taken a more darker, mature turn in recent years. This can be reflected in the increasing critical claim (from both reviewers and from the public, as seen on IMDb scores) and in greater award recognition (Black Panther was actually nominated in the Best Picture category at last year’s Academy Awards). All of this has culminated in the last two Avengers movies of the past two years: Infinity War of 2018 and Endgame of 2019.
So, why the “confession”? It is a round-about way to get to this point where we can dive into this fictional universe and consider the impact of an event that happened with it. Of course, I’m talking about ‘the Snap’ that climaxed at the end of Infinity War: when the character of Thanos harnessed the power of magic-stones in order to erase half of life across the universe out of existence. This was picked up in the following film Endgame, with the MCU jumping forward five years and with Earth now dealing with the fall-out of the Snap.
I find these missing five years to be of interest. So far, the MCU has attached itself to the real world, however, with each movie it has stepped further and further away from reality. Iron Man (2008) was grounded in realism, however, by 2012 aliens had invaded, and within a few years new countries, new aliens, and new technologies has firmly separated the MCU from our world.
All of which makes the Snap (or “blip”) useful: the MCU now is not only detached but also has a chunk of time on which to base new distinct mythologies. This has been seen, in part, in the recent Disney Plus series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. As an historian I revel in the possibilities of this newly created “past”; Marvel could use this to establish new threats and create backgrounds to previously marginalised characters.
What I would truly like to see is the ramifications of these five years, in terms of impact on politics and society. Of course, I doubt that Disney will want to fully delve into that, however, the raft of future planned shows provides some possibility. I’m particularly intrigued in how an event of losing half the people on the planet might have had: would it have destroyed old ideologies and beliefs and perhaps replaced them with something different? Yes, there may been world peace, or there could have been greater divide.
The actual past may provide an indicator. The First World was shattering – politically and socially – and some clearly believed that it was “the war to end all wars.” However, its impact was so great that it actually led to what Hobsbawm called an “age of extremes.” It led to the outbreak of Communism and Nazism, and eventually to the Second World War. As such, the “blip” in the MCU could result in similar extremism. This wasn’t such a great thing for history, however, it bodes well for comic book fans: extreme characters will result in engaging storylines and action sequences.
However, the past also provides another indicator: the urge to avoid extreme action. The aftermath of the First World War established division in Europe, however, in the United States the country simply wanted society to return to normality. This is expressed most clearly in President Harding’s drive to return to “normalcy”; the war and the Spanish flu had been so disruptive that people simply wanted their lives to be as they once were before the madness. As such, if the MCU was to look similar to as it would before, then such a change is understandable (in terms of “head canon”… the reality may simply be an inability to express the consequences of an event such as the “blip” on the big screen).
So, what is my point in all of this? Well, there isn’t a particularly one beyond my expressing my interest in the possibilities created in this fictional universe. However, I hope that the MCU seizes on this opportunity to create new characters and storylines based on the impact of these missing five years, and that this leads onto interesting and engaging discussions in the years ahead.