Thor wields his hammer, Captain America waves his shield, and when angry the Hulk almost combusts with power. With the fate of the world in their hands, these Marvel superheroes are now the stars of the big screen. The making of this cinematic world is being unveiled in Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe.
While Marvel satisfies the hunger for alternative universes, curator Amanda Slack-Smith has sought to create an exhibition that both enjoys and unpacks the Marvel experience. Featuring well known heroes such as Captain America, Thor, The Ancient One, Hulk, the Avengers and Dr Strange, the show offers an understanding of how a superhero goes from storyboard to cinematic phenomenon. With over 500 items on display, the exhibition includes everything from props, costumes, full set designs, prosthetics, storyboards and screenings of Marvel films.
Rather than establishing boundaries between the films and characters, Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe works by weaving together overarching threads. “The idea is that the exhibition is divided into three themes,” explains Slack-Smith. “The first one is The Cinematic Assembled, which is very immersive and looks at what Marvel does so well; these great big mythological narratives and evolutions in character arcs.”
The second theme, Decoding the Universe, explores the possible realms beyond our own world. Dr Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy are clearly forerunners here and Slack-Smith further includes characters such as “Ant-Man, who although is a very earth-based character, goes into the quantum realm, and Dr Strange, which is very much the astral projection.” The final theme, Behind The Scenes, displays the process of key-frame art (what Slack-Smith calls “a high end version of storyboarding”) and various facets of pre and post-production.
The show itself is a testament to the growing popularity of Marvel’s trans-media world, which Slack-Smith says “answers a desire for connection.” By exploring the Marvel cinematic phenomenon, which has lasted over 10 years, the curator hopes to consider the cultural and social ramifications of the popularity of these films. “I think there’s this need for mythological narratives and resolution on screen,” she says. “I think it’s that need for a cathartic release; that’s what stories have always been and we need to have these ways of processing what’s happening around us now.”