VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — It wasn’t until 2008, when Marvel’s first film hit the big screen, that being a comic book fan started to pay off for Levi Johnson.
“People instantly coming up like, ‘Hey, Levi. You know a lot about comic books. What happens next? Who is that? People were immediately hungry for more,” he recalls.
Eleven years later he’s readying himself for the end of an era as Marvel’s 22nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the final installment of Avengers, hits the big screen.
“I have been going opening night to every single movie,” he says standing behind the cash register at Vancouver’s Golden Age comics, where he’s the go-to Marvel geek on staff.
It's been a long and glorious journey for Marvel fans; myself included. As #AvengersEndgame hits theatres tonight I am chatting with fellow nerd Levi Johnson of @GACVan about the triumphs, the stumbles and the progression over 22 films and 11 years of #MCU Now what? pic.twitter.com/nUwOlUPwrB
— Ash Kelly (@AshDKelly) April 25, 2019
“It’s feels like a family and it feels like a concert experience almost.”
When Iron Man opened, Johnson says it was to a half-empty theatre.
“It wasn’t a full crowd. It was still a thing people were kind of discovering and I think people were a little hesitant on superhero movies at the time,” he says.
Skeptics at first
Johnson was into comic books well before Robert Downey Jr. played Tony Stark, and he remembers how skeptical people were when Marvel started to reveal its big plans to tie each of its films.
“When they announced that there was going to be a Captain America and a Thor movie and it was all going to culminate in Avengers people were ‘Oh, it’s not going to work. There’s no way it’s going to work,’” he says.
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Then they announced there was going to be a movie with a talking tree and a talking raccoon with machine guns.
“People said, ‘Okay. They’ve lost it. They’re not going to be able to make it work.”
Guardians of the Galaxy went on to earn $94 million USD on its opening weekend. Volume two of the same series took in more than $145 million USD on opening weekend.
“After that, I think everyone knew that Marvel was bigger and they knew exactly what they were doing and they couldn’t really do wrong,” says Johnson.
It’s been more than a decade since the MCU vision began and a lot has changed socially in the real world since then, with the MCU evolving alongside it.
One issue that continues to dog producers at Marvel is the criticism they’ve received for giving female characters less prominent roles.
Even the most popular female hero, Black Widow — played by Scarlett Johansson — still hasn’t been given a stand alone film. Captain Marvel, the MCU’s newest hero was the first lady Avenger to get her own movie, blasting the Guardians out of the Galaxy with a $154 million USD opening weekend.
Fans also felt betrayed by Thor: The Dark World. According to TIME Magazine, it received the worst ratings among critics and it took some work to convince star Chris Hemsworth to return for a third installment after the flop.
“Unanimously among the MCU fans I think that’s one of the weaker entries. I don’t think anyone knew where they were going to go with Thor,” says Johnson.
But redemption came when Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok came along.
“Everyone felt like, ‘Oh no. We want more Thor, again,’” recalls Johnson.
Progress and the people
Besides attracting star talent, hooking fans for over a decade and breaking box office records — Johnson says Marvel is really, really good at listening to fans.
“Even with Black Widow. Scarlett Johansson was talking about how fan reception was a big way of how her character growth happened and how she changed portraying her character,” he points out.
“I think the important thing is that when they do make missteps, like Thor two, Marvel listens and keeps what works and tries to build upon what didn’t.”
For too long, Johnson says, comic books and movies have been lacking in diversity and failing to represent the world around them.
And then came Black Panther, the groundbreaking portrayal of Afro-futurism and what an Africa unscathed by colonialism might look like.
As far as the films have come, Johnson wants to see better representation in the next phase of the MCU.
“[Comic books and movies] have been kind of a gatekeepers club for a lot of white cis men. That’s not okay,” says Johnson who is proud of the direction the films have taken with a female lead in Captain Marvel and the black cast of Black Panther.
“Marvel’s even looking at getting the first gay lead characters … I think it’s important we start sing those characters represent the real world.”