How Marvel Studios locks in most of their movie visuals years before the cast is set

I enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe well enough, as both an avid comic reader since childhood, and as an adult who understands how the Hollywood hype machine works. One thing that has always fascinated me with Marvel's approach to movie-making has been their willingness to take risks on creative hiring—actors, and directors—while still maintaining a unifying aesthetic. They're really good at cranking out these products, for better and for worse. There's just enough wiggle room for the token creative visionary to bring a little bit of themselves to the story, but in the end, you know you're still going to get a big CGI Final Boss battle and some cryptic allusion to some new movie down the line. There's a formula, but god damn, it works in its way.

The above video explains why: Marvel Studios works with a previsualization company to mock up all of the major visual sequences, sometimes before a director or cast is even locked into place. The "previs" artists design a few CGI choices like a lo-res video game for Marvel to choose from—and the final products usually adhere pretty closely to one of these mocked-up choices. With that investment into visuals, there's a built-in limit to how much freedom the director can really take. Again, this is for better, or for worse: it definitely makes for a coherent aesthetic, but it also means that, no matter how good a movie is on its own, it's always going to end in some kind of weird CGI train fight like in Black Panther. Because it has to. Because these movies are products.