Whether you appreciate what Marvel Studios has accomplished, becoming the most powerful brand in entertainment, or whether you dislike how the studio has changed the landscape of film, there’s no denying that Marvel has defined pop culture over the last decade. And while there have been countless articles written, podcasts recorded and social media posts uploaded about Marvel, the studio’s full story hasn’t been told.
In 2019, with the release of Avengers: Endgame, the film that essentially put a cap on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s decade-long story arc, entertainment journalists and pop culture experts Joanna Robinson and Dave Gonzales set out to tell the story of Marvel Studios. While their extensive journalism backgrounds would enable them to gather the necessary information, they teamed-up with writing veteran Gavin Edwards to help them synthesize their research into a book.
The result is the definitive origin story of the studio that changed film and pop culture. The meticulously researched and entertainly written book chronicles the studio from its early days, when the company was on the brink of bankruptcy, to its current status as the king of blockbusters. It’s a book that anyone who is a fan of Marvel or even has a passing interest in Hollywood, must read in order to have a more complete understanding of pop culture today.
MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios is available now.
Marvel Entertainment was a moribund toymaker not even twenty years ago. Today, Marvel Studios is the dominant player both in Hollywood and in global pop culture. How did an upstart studio conquer the world?
In MCU, beloved culture writers Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Gavin Edwards draw on more than a hundred interviews with actors, producers, directors, and writers to present the definitive chronicle of Marvel Studios and its sole, ongoing production, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For all its outward success, the studio was forged by near-constant conflict, from the contentious hiring of Robert Downey Jr. for its 2008 debut, Iron Man, all the way up to the disappointment of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and shocking departures of multiple Marvel executives in 2023. Throughout, the authors demonstrate that the original genius of Marvel was its resurrection and modification of Hollywood’s old studio system. But will it survive its own spectacular achievements? Dishy and authoritative, MCU is the first book to tell the Marvel Studios story in full—and an essential, effervescent account of American mass culture.
REVIEW – The Definitive MCU Book for Hardcore Fans and Casual Readers
MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios is the kind of book I wish I would have written, but also one that I know I couldn’t have. The sheer amount of research and interviews that are necessary to adequately write a book about the decade of dominance that Marvel Studios has enjoyed is overwhelming to think about. Thankfully, authors Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales and Gavin Edwards were more than equipped to take on the herculean task.
The unique thing about trying to write a book about Marvel Studios right now, a few years after their biggest filmmaking triumph in Avengers: Endgame, is that Marvel’s reign has come during the height of online journalism and social media. As a result, the public knows more about the Marvel Studios story than any studio or franchise ever. Even Star Wars, the previous king of pop culture, which has also been written about obsessively, had the benefit of beginning in the late 1970s, an era long before the internet.
As such, Robinson, Gonzales and Edwards were faced with the need to not only tell the story of Marvel in a way that is digestible for all readers, but do so while ensuring complete accuracy (geeks love to fact check) and containing insight that even the most ardent fans would be interested in. The authors succeeded.
Like the films that the book covers, the most important element is that the content appeals to a broad range of consumers. Thankfully, it finds the right balance between sharing Marvel’s origin story in an entertaining way, and ensuring that all of the critical information is included.
Early in the book, the humble beginnings of Marvel Studios, which was created as part of a larger company that nearly went bankrupt, are eye-opening. Ike Perlmutter, the mysterious former CEO of Marvel Entertainment with a background in toy-making, is the central figure responsible for taking a financially insolvent company and turning it into a viable entertainment organization. As the book explains, “Almost nobody wants to talk about Ike Perlmutter on the record,” and there are barely even any pictures of him. However, thanks to the extensive research and interviews with those who knew and worked with Perlmutter, the book provides what is possibly the most extensive profile on his role in Marvel. It’s also a fair and balanced look at the controversial figure, best known to fans for trying to prevent films like Black Panther and Captain Marvel from being made because they did not star white, male heroes.
As interesting as the early days of Marvel might be for the most passionate fans, the story is primarily focused on the financial status of the company, and there are so many different people who come in and out of the narrative, that the book might take a few chapters to really grab most readers. Once Marvel Studios is officially formed, with President Kevin Feige in charge, the story gains momentum as it focuses on the production of the MCU’s first films, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.
Here, the book truly shines, as the authors uncover nuggets behind the productions that few are aware of, including the improv nature of Iron Man (which didn’t have a script even as it began filming) and the bitter power struggle behind The Incredible Hulk (which resulted in a rare public statement excommunicating of star Edward Norton from the MCU).
From those first few projects to the culminating Avengers films by Anthony and Joe Russo, the book walks the reader through decades of creative and political decisions that made Marvel Studios what it is today, while also providing countless amusing and intriguing anecdotes to keep you engaged. It provides all of the necessary context for readers to gain a truly expansive understanding and appreciation of Marvel Studios.
Perhaps most vital to the story of Marvel is its President, Kevin Feige, who has shepherded the studio from its early days. This book offers exceptional insight into Feige as a filmmaker, executive and creative. Going all the way back to Feige’s days working as an assistant to producer Lauren Shuler-Donner, and with commentary from colleagues who know him well, the book helps explain what makes Feige so special.
While the book is written with a generally positive view of Marvel, it provides a balanced perspective regarding the studio’s missteps, including the handling of the VFX team, clashes with directors and other talent, and the flaws in the way the studio’s filmmaking process has evolved. Everything from director Edgar Wright’s disappointing departure from the first Ant-Man film, to James Gunn’s rash firing and reinstatement, are covered in all the necessary detail.
As much as the authors clearly sought to ensure that the book is accurate and thorough, at times, the sheer amount of factual information gets confusing. It’s not a purely chronological narrative, which likely helps improve the entertainment value of the book, but can also make it confusing to follow at times. The book is primarily organized by the production of specific films, but because relevant events for various films take place concurrently, the timeline jumps around.
Regardless, MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios is the MCU “Bible” that many fans have been clamoring for. For the most hardcore fans who think they know everything (myself included), there is information that is largely unknown or at least long forgotten, presented with vital context for greater understanding. For the casual reader interested in pop culture, the book is a fun and mostly easy read that will help you gain a better appreciation for the studio that began as an independent team of filmmakers and turned into the box office powerhouse it is today.
RATING – 4.5/5 Pocky
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.