Why Marvel Trilogies Secretly Work
There are two major reasons why Marvel's trilogies really do work. The first is that Marvel has actually put in a lot of effort to ensure there's a thematic throughline in all of them, even when there isn't a straightforward narrative one. An Iron Man film, then, will always involve Tony Stark struggling to deal with his legacy; a Captain America movie will also involve Bucky, and a central theme will be one of sacrifice and loss; a Thor film will be all about two brothers struggling to prove themselves worthy of the throne of Asgard.
It's generally assumed that Marvel's newer franchises will all turn into trilogies as well, although it's worth noting that's far from guaranteed. After Ant-Man & the Wasp, will there be a third Ant-Man film? Ant-Man and the Wasp didn't perform particularly well at the box office, so it wouldn't be a surprise if Marvel shelved that franchise. Still, whether all these new series ultimately become trilogies or not, the fact remains that Marvel seem to be trying to continue that thematic throughline. Ant-Man and Ant-Man & the Wasp were both, fundamentally, explorations of the theme of family; Spider-Man: Far From Home looks set to have the same tone, style, and themes of Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Marvel is using the same talent for Black Panther 2 and Doctor Strange 2. The shared universe model is a lot more balanced than is generally thought.
At the same time, though, it has to be noted that the criticisms of Marvel's trilogies are exaggerated; in narrative terms, the trilogies aren't interrupted quite as much as is commonly believed. In theory, Marvel films exist in a shared universe where everything is connected to everything else. In practice, the overt connections only tend to happen in the tentpole Avengers movies. The events of Iron Man 3 have no impact on Thor: The Dark World, for example, and neither of those two films has any effect on Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As a rule, then, if a viewer wants to experience the cohesive narrative of a single trilogy, they just need to also check out the Avengers films. It's not as though audiences need to have watched all 20+ Marvel movies in order to understand the next one. So the problems with Marvel's trilogies are, frankly, overrated.
But will this continue to be the case going forward? Marvel's Phase 3 has worked slightly different, with Captain America: Civil War serving as the launchpad for Spider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther, and Ant-Man & the Wasp. That film was almost more of an "Avengers 2.5" than a traditional Captain America film. It even lifted themes from the Iron Man trilogy, with Tony Stark forced to deal with the fact that his parents had been murdered. But, even in Phase 3, that was the exception and not the norm. And, tellingly, there's as yet no evidence Marvel is planning anything on that scale again; all the films known to be in the works are sequels, or the beginning of new franchises like The Eternals. The truth is that Marvel's trilogies are a lot more closely-connected than is commonly thought, and that they operate perfectly well in the context of the shared universe model.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019