Marvel Studios has a reputation for long-term planning, but in reality the studio is a lot more flexible than most viewers believe, making quite a few course corrections in their 10 year history. Back in 2008, when Marvel launched the MCU with Iron Man, it was an open secret that everything was building up to The Avengers. But the studio was new, relatively untested, and idea of a shared cinematic universe had never been attempted on this kind of scale before. As a result, there were a number of stumbles on the road to The Avengers, and Marvel were forced to adjust their approach.
The rise of Marvel visionary Kevin Feige saw the studio begin to commit to long-term plans, most notably in the Phase 3 announcement back in 2014. An organizational restructure in 2015 finally pulled the film studio out from under Marvel's Ike Perlmutter, with Feige placed solely in charge of Marvel Studios, reporting directly to Disney. The controversial Marvel Creative Committee was shut down, bringing an end to the office politics that had plagued Marvel Studios since its inception. Under Feige, Marvel has given their directors a far greater degree of creative freedom than they previously enjoyed. This flexibility has, by its very nature, increased the number of course corrections along the way.
Over the course of this tumultuous journey, then, there have been a whole lot of course corrections. Here, we'll take you through some of the biggest in Marvel's history. Examples include Marvel's ever-changing plans for the Hulk, the decision to make Thanos the central villain of Phase 3, and the addition of Spider-Man into the MCU.
- This Page: Stumbles Along the Road to the Avengers
- Page 2: Thanos Causes Problems
- Page 3: Spider-Man Enters the MCU
The (Real) Mandarin As The Main Villain Of Iron Man 3
When Marvel released Iron Man back in 2008, the post-credits scene made it clear that the studio had a long-term plan in the works. Marvel was already planning to release an Iron Man trilogy, with Jon Favreau set to helm all three films. Favreau revealed this plan in interviews to celebrate the home release of Iron Man, even telling SuperHeroHype that the trilogy was intended to build up to the Mandarin.
That's why the first two Iron Man movies are chock-full of Mandarin references, most notably the terrorist organization known as the Ten Rings. Favreau envisioned the Mandarin as leader of the Ten Rings, the Emperor figure who he hoped would become an iconic and memorable villain.
"So the Mandarin, to have that kind of weight to him is really a matter of using all the narrative tricks to do it, but a dude running and jumping around in robes shooting these beams and rays that have powers that really, if you take them literally, would throw off the balance of the whole universe. So how do you do that and keep the whole thing together, but yet fulfill the expectations from the book?"
Unfortunately, whatever Favreau's plans may have been, behind-the-scenes drama led to his stepping down after Iron Man 2. His replacement, Shane Black, was interested in telling a very different story. "We quickly latched on to... the idea of the dual personality of Tony as an out superhero who is basically using his self-definition through the false face of Iron Man," co-writer Drew Pearce explained. They wanted a villain who served as a mirror for that theme, and so ditched the idea of the Mandarin as the architect of the Ten Rings. The Mandarin became nothing more than an actor - a fake terrorist hiding the activities of the real villains.
Critics loved the twist, but comic book fans of the Mandarin were furious. The pushback from fans was so fierce that Marvel actually made a one-shot, All Hail the King, that retconned this decision and revealed there is a real Mandarin in the MCU after all. "We all thought they’d eat it up because it never occurred to us the Mandarin is as iconic to people as, say, the Joker in Batman," Black admitted ruefully in an interview with Uproxx in 2016. "They just wanted to see the magic rings shoot lasers."
The Hulk As An Enemy, Not An Ally
Watch the first few Marvel movies carefully, though, and you'll immediately see another course-correction. The post-credits scene of The Incredible Hulk sees General Ross approached by Tony Stark. "I hear you have an unusual problem," Stark comments, "What if I told you we're putting a team together?" It clearly indicates that Stark and Fury intended to send the Avengers to track down the Hulk. That was an obvious nod to the Marvel Comics Ultimate range, where the Avengers' first mission was to stop the rampaging Hulk. Fast-forward to 2012, though, and Joss Whedon has abandoned that idea for The Avengers. S.H.I.E.L.D. seem to have known where Bruce Banner was all along, and recruit him as an ally.
This was a pretty sharp disconnect, and Marvel decided to fix it by shooting their first ever one-shot, The Consultant. This revealed that the World Security Council were pushing for Emil Blonsky, the Abomination, to be part of the Avengers Initiative. Given Blonsky was being held prisoner by Ross, S.H.I.E.L.D. figured they'd have to antagonize the General into refusing to play ball. That's why they sent in Tony Stark, "someone so inept that General Ross will refuse to release Blonsky."
Asgard Cut Off From The Nine Realms
Thor was another crucial step on the road to The Avengers, but the film ended in a sequence that caused Joss Whedon major headaches. The film saw Thor thwart his brother Loki's scheme by destroying the Bifrost Bridge, in effect cutting Asgard off from the rest of the Nine Realms. This was a crucial plot-point, but it left Whedon faced with an awkward question: how could Thor be part of the Avengers if he couldn't get back to Earth? Whedon explained it with a throwaway line to "dark energy," suggesting the All-Father had used his own magic. Even Whedon himself wasn't particularly happy with this solution, as he noted in the commentary track.
The Bifrost was swiftly restored for Thor: The Dark World, and it fell to an official Prelude comic to reveal that the Asgardians used the Tesseract to repair it. Amusingly, the idea of "dark magic" being used to trigger the Bifrost is actually revisited in Infinity War.