Will The Marvel Cinematic Universe Ever Do A Comics-Style Reboot?


If you only follow Marvel super heroes through the movies, this might come as a shock to you, but the entire Marvel Comics universe is currently destroyed. All of the universes, in fact.

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In Secret Wars, the line-wide event that will run through the rest of the summer and into the early fall, all that is and ever was, including untold numbers of parallel Earths, no longer exists. The only thing that’s left is one patchwork planet that contains part of Manhattan and slivers of a whole bunch of mostly dangerous alternate realities, and all of it is ruled over by a seemingly omnipotent Dr. Doom.

If that sounds like it should have comic book fans freaking out (and you can find out much, much more about all of this right here), it probably would, except for two things. Marvel says that a new universe will emerge from all of this, and while things will be different, it won’t invalidate all of the stories that have taken place over the last 50-plus years. As we comic geeks like to say, it’s a soft reboot.

The other, more important reason is that we’ve been through this before. Not so much with Marvel, but certainly with DC Comics, which used Crisis on Infinite Earths, still the granddaddy of all super hero event series, and several other series through the years to accomplish much the same thing — or in the case of Flashpoint, something even more drastic, which was the near-total reboot called the New 52.

One of the famous “Worlds will live … Worlds will die …” ads back when it was going to be called Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Since the idea of a shared super hero movie universe is a relatively new one, you might think that films will never get to the point where this kind of fictional apocalypse and subsequent rebirth is necessary. You might be right. But you might also be wrong, which is the much more interesting possibility.

It’s not one I thought up on my own. Rather, I was reading Sean T. Collins excellent Grantland piece on how Hellboy and its world differs so greatly from the Marvel and DC super hero lines in the way it deals with the end of everything. The whole article is a fantastic read, but it’s something that Collins threw in as a footnote that set off the light bulb in my head:

"I wouldn’t be surprised if the Marvel Cinematic Universe adopted this approach when age and exhaustion require it to start from scratch sometime in the 2020s."

It seems crazy right now, because Marvel already has Phase Three of its grand movie experiment planned out, which will take us all the way through 2018. Even with the Avengers and every other MCU hero likely to be tangling with Thanos and the full power of the Infinity Gauntlet before it’s all said and done, there’s no reason to think that Marvel won’t simply roll on with a Phase Four that stretches into the next decade.

Don’t just use a reboot to set up future stories, make it a story in and of itself.

After that, though, is where things really get interesting. Marvel has a super deep roster of characters it can use, so it has the luxury of continuing to launch new super hero movies until people finally tire of them. But the public sure likes the ones it already knows, heroes like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. The current actors playing those roles aren’t going to be doing it forever — you get the sense that Robert Downey Jr. can already see the finish line for his Tony Stark — and something will need to be done. One option is simply to have the people behind the masks change, with the identities handed off to others, and indeed, all three pillars of the Avenger Trinity have have had others step in for them in the comics.

Recasting is another road Marvel can explore, and it’s something we’ve speculated about before. But what if that’s not enough to keep things fresh? A reboot could do the trick, and while it’s certainly possible to do one without fanfare like Sony did with Spider-Man and Warner Bros. did with Batman (multiple times, in fact), why not make some money off of the process at the same time?

In other words, don’t just use a reboot to set up future stories, make it a story in and of itself. That might sound a little grandiose, maybe even overwhelming to the general public, but we’re talking about a decade from now. Moviegoers everywhere will have already seen Thanos vs. everyone and whatever WB dreams up with the Justice League, which is sure to be on a similarly epic scale. People will be well conditioned for something like the original Crisis or the current Secret Wars.

Comic book fans like to gripe about event series overload, and I’m certainly no exception. But you know what? We keep buying them, and publishers keep doing them. That’s a positive feedback loop, and it’s one that could even take root in the Marvel Cinematic Universe someday.

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