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So this is about to be upon us, but I wanted to take a minute to talk about the beginnings of Marvel as we know it today. I watched Iron Man tonight in full for the first time since 2008 - the capstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It really holds up and is both modern, funny and human. What wasn't known then, but is now, is just how much of an incredible gamble it was. Many people know Robert Downey Jr. was uninsurable by '08, and that Marvel had to backstop him themselves. But it was also largely an independent film, taken on by the fledgling Marvel Studios only after every studio had put the property through development hell since the '90s before abandoning it, because no one cared about Iron Man. At that time, Marvel, only a handful of years out of its '90s bankruptcy, had sold most of its marquee character rights (Spider-Man, the X-Men, etc.) to other studios. Captain America and Thor were too earnest or esoteric to try out immediately. Iron Man, a character focus-testing indicated most of the general public thought was an actual robot if they knew him at all, was the only shot. The script was at least half-improvised, a la Robert Altman (a direct influence on Jon Favreau during the making of the film, and it shows). And Marvel had to take out a massive bank loan to finance the film at all. If it flopped or only broke even, the bank would own the entire remaining Marvel property catalog. But it worked. I won't say much about Captain America: The First Avenger because I think it stands for itself. It was also a huge gamble - a very earnest, even cheesy on paper, potentially jingoistic character being launched in a post-GW Bush America. I love Captain America but I never thought it could work onscreen. It did and it's still one of the best films Marvel ever made. I'll leave talking about the others to other people for now. I'll just say what I've said many times - what Marvel has accomplished is beyond my wildest dreams as both a film buff and a longtime comic book geek. If you told me we'd be here now a decade ago I'd call you insane. For better or worse, Marvel has created an entertainment superstructure that rivals the golden age of the Hollywood studio system of the 20th century. As Endgame is already out in parts of Europe, Asia and Australia, please tag all SPOILERS. The reviews are pretty good so far. (Granted, it got a B- from the guy at the A.V. Club who hates everything; a B- from him is an A anywhere else.)