Architecture no doubt plays a huge role in shaping the flow of a movie, and this is especially true in the case of superhero movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is one of the biggest franchises of superhero films that exist today and most popularly known for a collective of 23 movies known as ‘The Infinity Saga’. With every superhero, they’ve created a magical and unique setting that captivates the audience and helps bring the plot of the story together. The buildings and environment of a superhero shape their personality and also explains a lot about the time and space in which the superhero operates, making the architecture of the movie an essential part of storytelling.
Our first taste of architecture in MCU was the 2008 film Iron Man which introduced us to the character Tony Stark. Unlike most superhero films that choose a more skyscraper-Esque background for their stories, Marvel’s first movie was set in California. Since the main character was a billionaire playboy and industrialist, the architecture of the movie oozed luxury and automation. While the exterior shots of Stark’s house were computer-generated, the interiors were from a real mansion in La Jolla, California. The lifestyle of Tony Stark, including his futuristic house completely built with white cement, stainless steel, glass and a hypnotic view of the ocean helped create his larger-than-life persona.
To create the mystical world of Thor Odinson for the Thor series, the production designers Dan Hennah and Ra Vincent were mostly influenced by the original works of Jack Kirby, the artist who created the character of Thor and its subsequent comic strips. Thor’s universe is a fusion of a god-like environment, where gladiators, aliens, and gods co-exist. The citadel of Asgard was one of the most prominent features of the Thor series. Mostly generated through computer software, the realm of Asgard had intricate architectural details and the layout of the city itself was influenced by fractal geometry to assemble a world of organized chaos.
A similar architectural fantasy can be seen in Marvel’s recent movie Black Panther. The film’s success can be credited to the creation of Wakanda, a fictional country where the movie is set. The futuristic design that the movie depicts has influences of experimental architecture, speed, modern technology, automation, and other fast elements. The production designer of Black Panther, Hannah Beachler described the inspiration behind the fantasy world that she created as a blend of Zaha Hadid and Buckingham Palace. The entire city is built on Vibranium and this forms a significant part of why Wakanda is so technologically and architecturally advanced than the rest of the world.
The Kree Empire’s capital city Hala, on the other hand, leans more towards the military-style of architecture. For the 2019 film Captain Marvel, award-winning production designer Andy Nicholson and his team worked on angular buildings, dovetail, and cantilevered structures. The idea behind it is that the fictional city of Hala was advanced yet much behind in terms of architecture, therefore having more chaotic machinery styled structures than clean lines and simplicity of futuristic styles.
MCU’s characters like Hulk, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, and Captain America have a more realistic architectural backdrop as the story focuses on their superpowers and their obstacles in saving a very real, existing world. The Ant-Man and Spider-Man movies are set in San Francisco and Manhattan respectively, where skyscrapers and towering buildings are essential to the progress of the story. These plotlines are more city-based than architectural detail-based.
The first Captain America movie though transports us back to Brooklyn in the 1940s. Most of the filming for this movie was done in Manchester, Liverpool, Buckinghamshire and other locations in the UK to create a picturesque setting to Steve Rogers’ superhero, a war story. This movie had it all from vintage streets and antique stores to army base camps and highly secretive science labs that set the stage for a world-war II super-soldier.
Since most of the MCU characters appear in The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avenger: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the architectural style of these movies are a combination of multiple worlds. Each superhero’s habitat is brought together in these films. While the films seem very technological and engineered, the directors always make sure to add elements of natural habitat in some scenes to help the audience feel connected with the stories.
From New York to Nepal, the story of Doctor Strange carries the audience to multiple locations and multiple dimensions, making it, unlike any other MCU movie. Real-life locations of Pashupati and Patan Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kathmandu were used in telling this incredible story, while most interior sets were created in a London based studio. Doctor Strange’s universe has alternate dimensions and a lot of this is credited to stunning visual effects and computer-generated graphics but at the core of the plot is still Marvel’s beloved New York City. An iconic moment in the movie’s architecture is the Sanctum Santorum’s Chamber of Relics. The detailed window is a stunning part of the movie and adds a mystical essence to many scenes.
But if there was any sequence under MCU that would win an award for mind-blowing architecture it would have to be the Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 1, and 2. The setting of the movie neither falls into the realistic worlds of Spider-Man and Captain America nor in the futuristic styles of Black Panther and Thor. Guardians of the Galaxy is an entirely different story, with various species, aliens, planets, technologies, and complicated transport systems. Most of the interactions between the characters in this movie happen in the fictional world of ‘Knowhere’, a celestial metropolis built inside a floating space skull. ‘Knowhere’ is characterized by high-speed digital systems, geometrical buildings, and cosmically detailed spaceships.
If there ever was a futuristic world to look forward to or imagine, architects could take clues from the multitudinous realms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.