It’s a shame really, because Guedj and Roure are clearly coming to the story from a place of love and respect for a company whose characters have been of great personal importance to them both since childhood. If anyone was going to give the story a fair hearing, it would be them. Fittingly, it tells the Marvel story as the comic book company might one of its own: as a three-act tale of heroic proportions, dealing in origins, set-backs, and victory snatched from the jaws of defeat — all that’s missing is the now ubiquitous post-credits sting. Marvel’s reasons for declining to be involved are unclear, but you can only imagine that a company so conscious of canon and continuity might have preferred to keep the full official story for another time, when the meta-narrative might better serve the multi-media mega-franchise it attempts to chart the rise of. And the rest.
For much of The Road to Civil War: Marvel Renaissance deals with parts of the company’s history that are perhaps still a little too close for comfort. It chronicles legal disputes and economic stand-offs in a saga as complex and convoluted as any Marvel has published in its illustrious (and fleetingly ill-fated) history. It features larger than life character such as Ronald Perelman, a business tycoon who is alleged to have bought the company thinking Superman was included in the deal; Carl Icahn, a corporate raider sent in to stave off bankruptcy; and Isaac Perlmutter, a frugal recluse of whom there is apparently only one known photograph online, who word has it once stalked the production offices picking up discarded paperclips off the floor for reuse. What’s more, it deals with some properties not currently under the Marvel Studios banner.
We hear about these titanic struggles between the rich and the powerful (regularly compared to characters such as Galactus and Silver Surfer) from a number of sources, all of them ex-employees or former affiliates of Marvel. Writers Mark Millar, Joe Quesada and Mark Waid discuss the effects of these often confounding business decisions on the day-to-day running of the company’s many comic book titles, while film insiders like Tom DeSanto, Louis Leterrier and Avi Arad are on hand to bring the story into the 21st Century with the release of the first X-Men film, the success of 2002’s Spider-man and the launch of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.
You won’t learn much about Civil War, at least not the one set to take place in front of the screen later this year, but their anecdotes do paint a very vivid picture of a company in crisis and the circumstances that brought it back from the brink. The planet might never have been in any peril, but there was a time when the future of the comic book industry genuinely was.
Although Guedj and Roure have obviously done remarkably well to squeeze as much information into a 52-minute documentary as they have, crafting a concise and compelling story in the process despite not having access to key sources and official materials, there is inevitably much that they have been forced to leave out. At Glasgow Film Festival 2016 a post-film Q&A with the directors chaired by Mark Millar compensated for this somewhat (though their invocations of financial thrillers like Margin Call and Inside Job might have been slightly off the mark), but taken on its own terms Marvel Renaissance is perhaps too in-depth for non-fans and not quite detailed enough for those in the know.
Regardless, Marvel will return…