Marvel lays claim to the highest-grossing film franchise of all time. Sorry DC, but it's true. Whether or not you've read the comics that inspired them, you've definitely munched popcorn while watching Iron Man, or Captain America, or The Avengers, or Thor, or The Incredible Hulk, or Guardians of the Galaxy…oh man, the list goes on. Not to mention the fact they've all got sequels. It isn't easy to dominate the box office for a decade—there's more of an art to creating the perfect summer blockbuster superhero film than you'd think. Which is why the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art's new Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe show is providing a fascinating and suitably large scale behind-the-scenes look at the incredible thought and care that goes into every scene.
The biggest Marvel movie-inspired art show ever held, Creating the Cinematic Universe takes up the entire ground floor of Brisbane's QAGOMA. And it includes more than 500 objects sourced directly from the sets of every major Marvel film, as well as private collections around the world. At the press preview, curator and cinephile Amanda Slack-Smith—clearly an ardent fan of the franchise—explains that she wanted the show have the same dramatic impact as the films. A major aspect of this is some of the props included are, well, really big.
"We had trouble fitting them into the gallery," she admits. "Getting them into the building was quite a challenge." Two of the most impressively enormous props were sourced directly from the set of Taikia Waititi's upcoming Thor: Ragnorok—conveniently located nearby on Queensland's Gold Coast. One is Hulk's bed, constructed out of realistic fake bones. The other is Loki's majestic Asgardian throne, a suitably-imposing all-gold diorama that takes up an entire room.
It's an exhibition in three parts, Slack-Smith explains. You start your journey in a room dedicated to the comics which first brought Marvel's colourful heroes and villains to life. It includes a commissioned black and white Spiderman mural by acclaimed comic artist Wayne Nichols, as well as a rare original artwork from the original comic that first introduced readers to Peter Parker—Amazing Fantasy, from 1962. There's artwork on display from the contemporary comics, whose storylines are more relevant to the recent films, too.
Then viewers move on to a room dedicated entirely to The Avengers, and especially Captain America himself. Which is all very meta, given that in Captain America: The Winter Soldier Steve Rogers breaks into a Smithsonian exhibition about himself in order to steal his old WWII uniform. An alternate dimensions room explores the settings of Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr Strange, and Ant-Man, and this leads on to Loki's golden throne room, a "celebration of all things Asgard."
Cross over to the other side of the gallery and things get a bit more technical. Highlighting the work of the artists and creative teams behind the films, interactive displays provide insights into the production design, storyboarding and pre-visualisation, costume and prop design, and visual effects that go into every Marvel movie. You get a chance to experience firsthand the motion capture techniques that bring CGI to life, and use a sound board to mix the scores of key battle scenes. For those who are feeling a little overwhelmed, there's a huge infographic mural that explains the timelines and interrelationships between every Marvel movie.
When you think super heroes, you think CGI. But this show is proof that there's so much more to it than that—including intricately designed costuming and props that make characters pop, carefully fine-tuned scores and soundtracks that make every fight scene ten times more dramatic, and hours and hours of experimental storyboarding and research to design heroes authentic to the Marvel universe fans love from both the vintage and contemporary comics.
For the first time ever, an art show is offering insight into all of these processes, and it's fascinating whether you're a dedicated or casual Marvel nerd. For those wanting an even more in-depth experience, the accompanying exhibition catalogue contains essays from NPR Pop Culture Hour's Glen Weldon and your favourite feminist writer Roxane Gay, as well as Slack-Smith. It might be worth re-watching the movies, too—conveniently, throughout the exhibition season a retrospective of Marvel films will screen in QAGOMA's Cinémathèque.
Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe continues until September 3 at QAGOMA, Brisbane. Find out more about it here.