The Avengers: Infinity War premieres this month and is poised to become one of the biggest movies of the year, in addition to occupying a pivotal place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)—the shared universe that comprises the Marvel movies, television shows, DVD shorts, and comic tie-ins.
The continued expansion of the MCU in both TV and movies extends the spirit of the Marvel comics universe, long established as an environment where the reader has control over what stories to read and how to read them. In a 1995 issue of Studies in Popular Culture, Carl Silvio wrote that a founding principle of the Marvel comics universe is the postmodern notion that “contests the idea of center as an organizing and totalizing principle” within a narrative.
For example, each Marvel comic title constitutes its own narrative core but can be enriched by reading other titles in the universe and participating in crossover events. Expanding this concept to movies and television has been phenomenally successful for Marvel Studios. Viewers can choose to watch only the Iron Man movies, or only stick to the TV shows. Alternatively, a viewer can choose to watch all of the movies and shows, forming a richer understanding of the characters and relationships within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Superheroes in movies and comics are “culturally valuable because they help us better understand our society.” Age of Ultron demonstrates this by continuing to address themes established in 2008 with the release of Iron Man—the intersection of humanity and technology, and how good intentions and technological progress can lead to terrible outcomes. In the new Avengers movie, Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Bruce Banner (The Hulk) create Ultron—a sentient robot who becomes obsessed with destroying the human race—as a global defense system after the alien invasion in The Avengers, without fully understanding its implications.
“The technology is just as much of a star in Iron Man as the man beneath the armor,” writes Hogan. “It is interesting to note that Stark has no special powers: he is a superhero because he knows how to build things.” Genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist Tony Stark reflects the moral ambiguity that surrounds society’s relationship with modern technology.
The expansion of the MCU with Age of Ultron, as well as its continued focus on technology and humanity, indicate that Marvel is upholding the values established by the comics over the last 40 years and that our superheroes will continue to reflect those values and concerns back at us from the big and small screens.