To see the behemoth that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become it is almost inconceivable that this was the same company that was in so much financial trouble in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The documentary film The Road To Civil War: Marvel Renaissence takes a look back at this period which has effectively shaped the blockbuster film market today.
In the late 1980s, Marvel was primarily a producer of comic books. They were popular and profitable. This caught the eye of investors who took over the company with the idea of floating the company on the stock market and increasing the brand awareness. Unfortunately the buyers didn’t really understand the nature of the business and the company was just about run into the ground by the end of the 1990s. It was at that point that the people who brought it back took over and made it what it is today.
The film is fashioned to look in part like a Marvel movie with the dramatic soundtrack and sweeping views of New York City. The majority of the film features a series of talking heads recounting the history of the company during this dark time. It is a mix of artists and creators such as Mark Millar and some of the businessmen involved with the financial side. It is a well constructed story that zips along. The fact that the film clock in at less than an hour means that it never outstays its welcome.
What becomes apparent is that the creatives didn’t really know what was going on at any point during the whole story. Even when new opportunities were presented they were reluctant to embrace them. One of the ideas to bring the Marvel comics to a new audience was to reboot some of the main titles. This would allow new readers an easy way into the comics. There was some reluctance to do this and it is freely noted in the film. To their credit, they also admit that they were wrong.
The move into films forms the second half of the story. What is interesting here is the problems they encountered during the process and the make or break nature of the proposal. With the relative failure of the Daredevil movie (a better movie in its directors cut… just saying) things didn’t look very bright. Fox took a bit of a gamble in green lighting the first X-Men movie as the property wasn’t regarded as the biggest selling Marvel title and would feature relatively small time actors (at the time). The success of the film had a direct effect on future productions with the Sam Rami Spider-Man movie getting made soon after.
Avi Arad is one of the few financial players to be directly interviewed for the film. He is a bridge between the two camps of money and art. He is a businessman but has a real love for the company and what it is doing. He comes across really well and his pieces to camera are probably the highlight of the film.
Overall, an interesting and insightful documentary on one of the major players in today’s movie market.