For the modern TV-viewing and moviegoing audience, Marvel Cinematic Universe is nearly impossible to ignore. Since 2008’s Iron Man, there have been no fewer than 80 films and series (counting the now-defunct Marvel Television productions) that comprise pop culture’s biggest-ever franchise. The new book MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios by Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Gavin Edwards provides a nearly complete accounting of how the Marvel Multiverse took over the box office and now streaming.

In 2021, The Story of Marvel Studios was a Disney-produced book full of interviews with producers, directors, writers, and actors. Meant to track the rise of the studio, it’s a corporately sanitized version of history. The Reign of Marvel Studios doesn’t skip over the firing of Terrance Howard, Edward Norton, or Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant-Man. The book doesn’t just consist of original interviews, but the authors also aggregate the most important and revealing interviews already published. From comments by Avi Arad and Kevin Feige to the Department of Defense’s liaison with Marvel, the book documents almost every angle about the development and process of making the MCU what it is today. MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios isn’t just an entertaining and informative story; it’s an essential chronicle of cinematic history.

The MCU may have started with Iron Man in 2008, but the book’s story begins in the 1990s with Marvel Comics’ acquisition by Ike Pearlmutter’s ToyBiz. In the early days, the films were meant to be feature-length toy commercials. However, once Kevin Feige took the reins from Avi Arad, Marvel Studios became something different. Feige and Pearlmutter fought often until the MCU’s continued success convinced parent company Disney to excommunicate Pearlmutter, first from the creative process and, later, from the company itself. What’s most interesting about the book’s opening chapters is just how precarious Marvel Studios’ position was up until Disney swooped in to purchase the company.

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Because MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios isn’t sanctioned by Disney or Marvel Entertainment, it is able to confirm some rumors while dispelling others. Perhaps most interesting is the confirmation that Martin Scorsese is right, at least about how Marvel movies aren’t the singular visions of their directors. The pace of production demanded that production designers, concept and visual effects artists start “directing” fight scenes and other VFX-heavy moments before a director is even brought on. Pearlmutter and his cronies in New York also put ridiculous restrictions on the films, believing films with women or characters of color in the lead wouldn’t lead to adequate toy sales.

However, the book also dispels rumors about how MCU films are conceived and produced. Writers and directors aren’t as hamstrung by Feige or any of Marvel’s creative committees as some fans might believe. The inclusion of Thanos, the “Big Bad” of The Infinity Saga, was added to Avengers on a whim by writer and director Joss Whedon. He and the Russo Brothers, who got their start in the more collaborative TV medium, appreciated the help from Marvel Studios’ in-house VFX teams to help direct big effects sequences.

The primary concern MCU guru Kevin Feige has for his universe is, beyond corporate concerns, to tell a good story. Writer of Doctor Strange C. Robert Cargill reveals Feige’s secret weapon for the MCU, which comes from Star Trek’s “worst” movie. In The Final Frontier, the movie begins and ends with Jim Kirk, Leonard McCoy, and Spock sitting around a campfire roasting “marshmelons” and singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Despite what some critics might say, Feige is adamant every film contains at least one “campfire scene,” which could more adequately be described as the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional and psychological experiences with one another.

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The greatest service the authors give readers of MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios is the book itself. Like it or hate it, the MCU is the biggest-ever pop culture franchise and a cinematic feat that defied Hollywood conventional wisdom. Warner Bros. executives dismissed the idea of a Superman and Batman team-up movie in the 1990s because audiences might be confused by how the characters knew each other. Yet, perhaps taking even more inspiration from Star Trek, Feige, and company knew audiences were smart enough to understand how these disparate heroic morality plays come together as one big story.

The book offers the most complete history of this cinematic phenomenon to date. Whatever the future of the MCU holds, reboot or not, The Reign of Marvel Studios documents how the MCU came together. It also underscores how unlikely its success was, even when Marvel Studios’ box office dominance seemed inevitable. Robinson, Gonzales, and Edwards are meticulous with reporting while assembling a story as entertaining as any of the films it covers. They provide an unfiltered look at Marvel Studios without cynicism or judgment, contextualizing the MCU for fans and critics alike.

The state of Marvel Studios is, again, precarious. Of course, it’s not just the MCU but the entire entertainment industry teetering on a precipice of change. In 2023, the price of just one movie ticket is equivalent to a month of ad-free Disney+. Audiences dealing with post-pandemic inflation aren’t turning out to the box office like in the 2010s. The recently settled WGA strike and the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike also cast a cloud over the MCU’s larger future. Yet, if readers take anything away from MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios, it’s that in a position to defy the odds and conventional wisdom is where the studio does its best work.

MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios by Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Gavin Edwards is available wherever books are sold.

 New book MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios highlights the complete, unfiltered story of the creation of pop culture’s biggest cinematic franchise.  Read More