The Marvel Cinematic Universe
22-minute overview of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
Iron Man. Spiderman. Black Widow. Black Panther. These Marvel characters are on your lunchboxes and pyjamas, as well as our TV and movie screens. But how are they all connected? This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to the Marvel Universe—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.
And I’m Bryce Corbett.
Bryce, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume III is out – the 31st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is called the MCU for those in the know. This film has a lot to do with Rocket, the genetically engineered raccoon-based master of weapons and battle tactics. I know a lot of kids are excited to see this one.
Yeah, definitely! Although to be honest, a lot of kids are excited to see just about anything that has the word “Marvel” associated with it.
And it’s for that reason that today, we’ll take you through what exactly the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, who was behind the thousands of characters in it, how the movies are made, and why they’re so popular. Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!
So Bryce, when I was researching this shortcut—which, by the way, was a pretty fun job—I watched a YouTube video that gave a 22-minute overview of what’s happened in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. I’ll include it in the episode notes, although it could make your head spin! When people call it a universe, they aren’t joking. Marvel comics, starting more than 50 years ago, have set up an entire universe, across multiple planets, with thousands of characters and plot lines.
And so then they made movies about some of those characters?
Exactly. This whole universe concept got started in 2008, with the first Iron Man Movie. It was wildly successful, and not long after it was released, Disney bought Marvel Entertainment. With the power of Disney behind it, the MCU really took off. Iron Man 2, Captain America, and Thor followed, and were all massive hits.
So each movie focuses on a different comic book character?
Yes and no. Because it’s a connected universe, one character often shows up in another character’s movie. And then there are movies like the Avengers, which bring multiple characters together. So although each movie makes sense by itself, there’s a bigger picture.
And there are TV shows too?
That’s right – if you’ve got 2,619 characters in your universe, the content possibilities are endless!
WHO was it at Marvel that decided, all those years ago, to create a universe of connected superhero characters?
Well, Bryce, the brains behind the MCU was a man called Stanley Lieber. When Stanley was just 17 years old, he got a job as an assistant at the comic book division of a publishing house in New York City. Starting out, his job was to refill the inkwells used by the artists, get them lunch, that kind of thing. After a couple of years of that, he was given the opportunity to write a Captain America comic. Stanley actually really wanted to write serious novels, so he didn’t want to use his real name for the comic. He created what’s known as a pen name—instead of Stanley Lieber, he called himself Stan Lee.
Oh, wow! If you say Stan Lee today, he’s basically the most famous comic book creator in the world.
That’s for sure. He never did write that novel, but Stan went on to co-create characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor…
the Hulk, Ant-Man, the Wasp, the Fantastic Four…
Black Panther, Daredevil, Doctor Strange…
Scarlet Witch, the Black Widow and Captain Marvel…
And all those characters’ stories are connected within the same universe.
Wow. That’s quite an achievement for Stan Lee. All those characters are complicated—they look different, they speak differently, they have different backstories… Speaking of characters, Stan Lee was a pretty funny guy. Once Disney started making all those MCU movies, didn’t he also act in them?
Yes! That’s one of those things that MCU fans know to look out for. Stan Lee had little roles, known as cameos, in every MCU movie made, until he died in 2018. He’s played a security guard, a postman, a schoolbus driver—always with a bit of a knowing grin on his face.
Okay, so every MCU movie up until 2018 had Stan Lee on the screen, as well as behind the story. Did they also have the same team making them each time? HOW exactly are these films made?
Actually, Bryce, that’s one of the really interesting things about the MCU universe, and one of the reasons that film critics think the franchise is so popular. They do NOT use the same director each time, and they actually go for directors who aren’t known for making big blockbuster superhero films.
So, hang on a minute – what’s a director?
Good question .. a director is the person who has overall responsibility for how the film is shot. He or she gives directions to the people operating the cameras, the clever people doing special effects, the actors in the movie, the hair and make-up and people who make the costumes … it’s a really big job.
Wow …. and why does Marvel change directors all the time?
I think it’s to keep things different. The characters are connected between the movies, but each movie has its own flavour—for example, Ant-Man is basically a heist movie – which is to say it involves a robbery – Guardians of the Galaxy is a crazy space musical, Winter Soldier is more like a spy movie. And what I found really interesting, Bryce, is that most of the directors, before they were hired by Disney, were used to working with budgets about one-seventh the size of what they were given for their Marvel creations.
A budget is the amount of money that is given to a director to make the film. So how much does the average MCU film cost to make?
It’s a big number, Bryce. The visual and special effects alone cost up to $200 million per film…
And a lot of that money is being spent right here in Australia, isn’t it?
You betcha. Disney’s visual effects division, called Industrial Light and Magic, opened a Sydney studio in 2019, and has more than 300 people working here on upcoming movies.
Okay, so they spend a ton of money on each film, they have amazing effects, each film has a different tone, and all the characters are connected in one complicated universe.Sounds like the Marvel folk have hit on a winning formula.
People in the film world say thanks to the MCU, the idea of a film franchise – which is the fancy name given to a bunch of movies all connected to the same theme – will never be the same.