TV Review: ‘Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe’

Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe Special

Beyond its crass practical considerations — promoting the soon-to-be-released “Captain America” sequel, while giving “Agents of SHIELD” a week off — ABC’s super-synergistic special “Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe” contains a pretty interesting business and creative story. While it might all make sense in hindsight, there was appreciable audacity in Marvel’s plan to release five loosely connected movies from the same hero-filled world, beginning with the cinematically unproven “Iron Man” and culminating with superhero team “The Avengers.” As such, this fast-moving hour qualifies as more than just a cut-and-paste job from electronic press kits, although there’s an element of that, certainly.

Of course, Marvel’s positioning as an independent upstart with scant margin for error has changed since its acquisition by Disney, which beyond its deep pockets and marketing apparatus provides the shelf space for “Agents of SHIELD” and this special. At the time, though, the studio’s gamble was impressive, considering the whole house of cards could just as easily have collapsed had “Iron Man” or “Thor” tanked along the way.

There’s also the little matter, as is almost immediately pointed out, that Marvel’s best-known titles (including “Fantastic Four,” “Spider-Man” and “X-Men”) had all been acquired by other studios in the company’s checkered, occasionally bankrupt past, forcing its reliance on heroes without the household-name recognition possessed by DC Comics’ signature properties.

Mixing interviews, clips and a lot of footage from Comic-Con, the special extensively quotes execs like Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige. He and others point to the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as crucial in the early going — sending a message Marvel was taking the films seriously and seeking to enlist topnotch actors, despite the spandex and armor.

Writer-director Joss Whedon captures the daunting nature of making “The Avengers,” saying his first thought was, “How can you possibly bring them together?”

The studio’s run of good fortune will hit a wall sooner or later, especially with the looming challenge of selling the public on less familiar concepts like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man.” To quote a young version of Woody Allen, there’s inherent danger when the universe begins expanding.

Still, with an “Avengers” sequel in the offing (to be teased within the special, but not included in the advance screener) Marvel clearly has a cushion — and perhaps more significantly, a vision for leveraging its existing franchises to help launch and nurture new ones.

In that context, “Assembling a Universe” is a pretty instructive hour — as well as a break from the regularly scheduled mediocrity of “Agents of SHIELD.”

TV Review: 'Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe'

(Special; ABC, Tue. March 18, 8 p.m.)


Produced by M3 Creative and Marvel Studios.


Executive producer, Dave Bushore; producer, Brad Baruh; editors, Meghan Leon, Adam Gallagher, Michael Fallavollita; music, Brian Tyler. 60 MIN.


Announcer: Jeff McNeil. With: Kevin Feige, Joss Whedon, Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson

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  1. Chris says:


  2. Chris says:

    Hay at 61 I am in heaven myself and a buddy who 65 went to see almost every Marvel film made and still waiting for more. You have no idea how great it’s been seeing are childhood comic book hero leap onto the really big screen. It like heaven only ya get to see it and don’t have to die to see it. F-4 and Spider the Hulk And wow not my first choice but Ironman with the right guy in part wow. Time to drop the soap end of it and we don’t need to see who is in the suit or who is Banner etc. They need to just rock it out start to end with bam boom splat action non stop. And there goes the pension check too. Rock on.

  3. glenn blackwell says:

    Iron Man, Iron Man II, Thor, Captain America, and then Avengers were never in doubt.
    The storyline, acting, casting, fell into place for comic fan, to walk in off the street ticket buyer.
    Before these efforts, the film industry did not have the tools to present this level of work.

    The rotten apple falling from the good tree was Iron Man III.
    Warmed over “Lethal Weapon” scenes from one trick pony script writer Shane Black.
    From a commercial/merchandise viewpoint, Iron Man III was a success. Giving us Downey playing Mel Gibsons’ “Martin Riggs” as Iron Man. Sparing with Don Cheadle as Danny Glovers “Roger Murtaugh” Providing the age forty and over crowd the familiar buddy-cop diversion. Combined with a throw-a-way story pretending not to be a two hour toy commercial for the holiday season.
    And a waste of Ben Kingsley.

    We hope Avengers II and Iron Man IV will not sell out for the same Disney joy-less ride.
    Maybe on the next episode; Agents Of Shield could investigate the disappearance of Tony Stark, missing since “Avengers”

  4. Jackson says:

    Fine, I’ll poke the hornets nest. Sorry but Agents of SHIELD is mediocre. It has nothing to do with production value. It has to do with boring stories where they spend more time fighting government bureaucracy than they do bad guys and boring actors with no chemistry.

  5. drush76 says:

    “AGENTS OF SH.I.E.L.D.” put mediocrity behind some time ago. I guess you expect a weekly television series to have the same production values as a blockbuster summer movie.

  6. npa_ says:

    This is a pretty brash and digging review. The reviewer is poised to hope for a failure in Marvel Studios “riskiest” efforts yet in Guardians and Ant-Man. He fails to see the light in A.o.S, and seems not have enjoyed the special what so ever. It’s clear in his review, that it seemed to him like the TV Special was just a big Press Release / History Lesson for fans (or non-fans) of the MCU.

  7. Anthony says:

    That last comment was ridiculously out of line. I like AoS and it’s getting better and better all the time.

  8. therealeverton says:

    “despite the spandex and armor.”

    Spandex does not feature. Even the segment in The First Avengers, where Captain America is given a stage costume to “perform” in isn’t Spandex.

    Also agree with Charles. The writer, who clearly loathes Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems o be hoping they fail soon, rather than just pointing out that no studio can ever have an indefinite run of success. Guardians of The Galaxy will not be their first fail; whatever it is will come out of the blue and be a surprise. GoG has big hit written all over it.

    • npa_ says:

      There is no Spandex present in any one particular persons uniform /outfit in the MCU. I think, the reviewer, may have been thinking of Fox’s X-Men. It’s sad that this reviewer/writer could not take into account that he has witnessed, or even thought about what he wrote when he typed out the word “Spandex”, it appears he doesn’t know exactly what the word and material, is.

  9. Charles says:

    So, it’s pretty clear this writer is actively hoping for a Marvel failure very soon, given the tone of this article. I wouldn’t expect GOTG to be a failure, especially following the online reaction to the first trailer for that movie. The comments I have read in its wake have been ecstatic about the film’s look. Not to mention that the most recent monthly issue of the comic saw a huge sales increase and downloads of “Hooked on a Feeling” sky-rocketed after that oldie tune was featured during the movie trailer. Also, Edgar Wright’s work has been favorably received to this point, not to mention that an impressive cast is being assembled for his take on “Ant-Man.” Let us not forget what “Avatar” accomplished as a box-office smash, while telling an original sci-fi story that featured characters and a world that had never existed in any previous medium. At least there are stories in print that feature the characters seen in the upcoming Marvel films.

    • drew says:

      You think the story for Avatar was original? You should check out Ferngully.

      • Charles says:

        My use of the word “original” simply meant the “Avatar” story was not adapted from an existing novel, comic book, film, etc. I won’t dispute anyone who quibbles with the artistic inventiveness of the story. My reason for that exact analogy was the author’s contention that the GOTG film was destined to fail because the greater movie-going public is not familiar with the characters. The success of “Avatar” appears to throw water on that argument, since none of the characters in that movie could have ever been known previously.

  10. Will says:

    AoS is a fun show–nothing mediocre about it in that regard, IMO.

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