Friday, April 19, 2024

Talking the MCU’s Biggest Problem to Death, and Trying to Solve It Too

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This Post Contains Minor Spoilers for Every MCU Movie.

Disney and Marvel’s cinematic franchise the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are changing the way studios are doing business, everyone needs a Universe now. 2008’s Iron Man kicked the whole thing off, and in the nine years since, fifteen more movies have been released, and billions of dollars made.

Still, the MCU has its doubters and even detractors, and they do have some points. The movies are mostly very similar and follow an eerily identical formula, the villains are largely bland, they do fight endless armies of irrelevant CGI bad guys, and the end credit sequences are getting out of control. The main issues that I have with the MCU movies is that they don’t strive to be more than they already are, and they play it too cautious. Given the fact that the machine hasn’t yet shown any signs of slowing down, it is likely that Disney and Marvel will continue to follow their play-it-safe recipe, though there are some positive signs.

As I said before, there have been fifteen MCU movies in the nine years since Iron Man was released in 2008. That’s a little less than 2 a year, but obviously the production has ramped up in recent years with seven films since 2014, and with two more due by November of this year. I think that ranking these movies (in descending order) will help me illustrate my point that the MCU formula is the possible breach point in their seemingly unbreakable hull.

  1. The Incredible Hulk- Quick question, does anyone even remember this movie? D
  2. Thor: The Dark World- Enjoyable when Tom Hiddleston is in it, boring when he isn’t. Wastes Natalie Portman (to the point where she won’t be in Thor:Ragnarok). C-
  3. Thor- Slightly more enjoyable when Tom Hiddleston isn’t on screen. Also wastes Natalie Portman. C
  4. Iron Man 3- I went back and forth whether to put Iron Man 2 or 3 here. I finally settled on 3. I still love it, because it’s Iron Man, but objectively it ins’t one of the better movies.  C
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger– Just boring overall, I wish we got more scenes with Howard Stark and Peggy Carter, they do fondue after all.  C+
  6. Dr. Strange- This probably could be higher, but it just didn’t hit for me. I’m not a huge Cumberbatch fan, and it was too similar to Iron Man at times. The end is awesome however. B-
  7. Iron Man 2- A good movie overall, starts the trend of CGI bad guys for the protagonist to mow down. My love for Iron Man may blind me. B-
  8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier- I like it because it tried something new for the Marvel movies, and tried to be paranoia spy thriller, I just feel like it misses that mark.  B
  9. Ant Man– If Edgar Wright had been allowed to cook this probably would have easily been an A. The scenes where Michael Peña explains things are incredible. This to me, is the best example of Marvel choosing its formula over movie quality. B
  10. Avengers: Age of Ultron- For whatever reason (hint James Spader as Ultron) I really enjoy this movie. Oh yeah, and the increased role for Paul Bettany is pretty great too. B+
  11. Captain America: Civil War– Team Stark 100%. I don’t like Captain America very much. I really enjoy this movie, but it obviously has its problems (like that fact that it won’t really have lasting stakes because Cap wrote Stark a nice letter). A-
  12. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2- I laughed the whole time, well except for when I was chocking back sobs. A
  13. Avengers- The first half slags a little, but is still quite good, and the second half is absolutely brilliant. Plus, my beloved Tom Hiddleston as Loki is still the best MCU villain we’ve seen. A
  14. Guardians of the Galaxy- Funny, original, and completely different from any Marvel movie before it (at least tonally), this shows all the potential Marvel has to expand its franchise to be movies with superheroes and not just superhero movies. A
  15. Iron Man- Still the best Marvel movie, and here’s why this is a movie that has a superhero in it, not a straight up superhero movie. I’m not sure if that makes sense yet, but I’ll try to explain it next. A+

To me, Iron Man is still the best MCU movie, and Guardians of the Galaxy is the second. And here’s why; they don’t really feel like Marvel movies to me. (Probably a weird thing for me to say because of my adoration for them all, excepting The Incredible Hulk of course). Iron Man is obviously the first MCU movie, so they couldn’t really use any other movie to compare it to when it was being made. That’s why it is a movie about a superhero and not a superhero movie. Most MCU movies are utterly devoted to the formula of a hero who is better than everyone around them in one way (usually morally) and then gets greatness thrust upon them, incurs the wrath of others, and best their opponent in a fight. Iron Man does basically do that, but its parts are more than their sum, while many of the others fall short. Iron Man delves into the complicated origins of a superhero, the morals of their actions, and the humanity of the heroes in a way most others don’t. (One possible exception is Captain America: Civil War, and one definite one is Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2).

Which brings me to my next point, MCU movies have the potential to be so much more than they already are, and the Guardians films and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are prime examples of this. Let’s start with Winter Soldier first.

In Winter Soldier, Marvel attempts to craft a paranoia, spy thriller, and it is kind of similar to a Borne film in a lot of ways. A lot of people liked it (I mostly like that they tried), but they’ve mostly stuck to the superhero genre instead of incorporating other genres into their superhero movies. And that’s what I want. The Guardians films are another great example of the MCU experimenting with a different style for their movies, and both films have been wildly successful.

Disney and Marvel are playing it too safe, when all indicators are that they have carte blanche to experiment all they want. They hire big name, creative directors and then shoehorn them into making generic Marvel movies.

There are signs that things are changing, the Thor: Ragnarok trailer is incredible, and the films director, Taika Waititi has described it as a road trip movie. I’m not totally convinced however, its gives off some serious Guardians vibes, which to me signals that Marvel is saying “Look, we are making different types of movies”. But really, they’re still just making the two different types (those that follow the Guardians script and the rest).

Now that I think I’ve beaten the problem to death, I should probably offer a solution right? (Too bad for those of you who said no, because I’m doing it anyway).

Here’s my pitch. Origin films are kind of stuck with the formula they have currently, but they should let directors put their unique spin on them. (Like Edgar Wright with his dialogue and cleverness, and the Michael Peña scenes (“A fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break? That’s like sixteen walls!” I love Michael Peña) which are incredible and beautiful and perfect).

After each hero is established you can do whatever you want with them! Seriously. I want to see a war film starring Thor. An actual spy movie starring Black Widow and Hawkeye. A romcom starring Captain America (seriously this dude’s gotta get laid before he probably dies in one of the upcoming Avengers movies). An Inconvenient Truth starring Iron Man. An actual heist film starring Ant Man. Whatever you want to do with Dr. Strange. A science drama starring the Hulk. You get the idea, keep giving me superhero movies, just stop making them superhero movies.

At the very least, let directors do their thing. What’s the point of hiring Joss Whedon, or Edgar Wright, if you’re just going to quash the things that make them great directors? Directors are capable of completely changing a movie through their differences, and that’s really what we all need, Marvel movies that dare to be different.

So, please Disney and Marvel, be brave. Resist the allure of milking the same cash cow over and over till it bleeds. Experiment with your films and keep redefining the way movie studios do business. Seriously, you guys owe us for the DC Cinematic Universe mess.

Image Courtesy Disney, and Marvel Studios

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