MCU–Why It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

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By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

Two weeks ago, Marvel released Civil War to theatres, and I still haven’t seen it.  In fact, I have not seen any Marvel movies since Winter Soldier.  You may say, “The nerve!  The audacity!”.  But hear me out: I have not seen any good reason to watch these films, because there is no real threat presented in any of them.  And for that reason, I believe the Marvel movies finished its course a long time ago.  Now, since you’re demanding examples right now for such a blasphemous statement, here you go:

We know in comic books that when somebody dies they come back to life.  Resurrection is inevitable in comic books because there is a lot of money at stake, but what usually happens is the characters are brought back in a new story that is set in a new universe.  In the “Civil War” arc, Captain America dies at the hands of Shannon Carter, but returns in the unconnected, official Captain America issue line .  With the “Civil War” arc, writer Ed Brubaker separated the issue lines.  When a reader knows that what they are reading is separate from a main storyline, he or she can actually believe that, for example, Steve Rogers died at the end of “Civil War” and stayed that way.  The same goes for Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns”.  That story does not take place in the main Batman storyline, and Batman dies at the end.  Now, I did not just explain all of that to impress you, I did it to give context to my next point: the MCU doesn’t want you to be “invested.”

Usually, the word “invested” is associated with the words “money” and “time”.  How much time and money are you, the viewer, going to invest into this?  For me, it used to be that with every Marvel movie I was devoted—both in theatres and on DVD.  This changed after I saw the pilot for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  The year before, Agent Coulson is clearly dead in The Avengers.  Yet, in Agents, he is brought back to life nonchalantly.  Although Marvel says he is not alive in the MCU, his resurrection still feels like a copout, and was the first major example of how most of these movies have no real consequences to them.

At 0:45 is where this show jumped the shark.

That same year, I was excited when I heard that Thor was going to lose his hand in Thor 2.  Instead, I was disappointed because it was an “illusion.”  Marvel tried to rev people up Empire Strikes Back-style, only to tell them, “just kidding, we’re not THAT intense!”.  After a while, nobody will actually be invested in these films, because if there is no sacrifice, then what is the point of these movies, or any movie for that matter?  Every character should have consequences for their actions.  The only character in the MCU who comes closest to such a thing is Captain America, but his emotions aren’t shown enough to convince you that being frozen took a toll on him.  Instead, his being frozen for 70 years is treated like something that happened merely to advance the story of the franchise.

A couple of days ago, I watched the animated Ultimate Avengers movie once again.  Sure, it is short (a scant 70 minutes), but it still managed to do justice to all of the essential Avengers, including Captain America (by showing his suffering as a man out of time).  Unlike the live-action movie, all of the Avengers show that they have individual problems that they will need to resolve at the end (what a concept!).

So how can a 70-minute film have more in-depth characters than a 140-minute film, or even seven 2-hour-plus films?  Well, when your movie’s sole purpose is to advertise other films, the characters take a backseat, and just become objects for action scenes and advancing the plot in non-action scenes.  Granted, The Avengers wasn’t so much an ad for more films, but it very much treated its characters as objects for action and exposition rather than unique people.  Therefore, you don’t care about them.  Even if they are in peril, you don’t have any reaction, and it doesn’t matter if they get hurt or not.  As for the films that ARE more focused on advertising…

When you hype certain characters being in the next film, who gives a crap about watching it?  You remember Thor and Captain America?  Both of those films were trashed because they were just long advertisements for The Avengers.  Likewise, such films as Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and Cvil War are advertisements for “the next one”.  Can you recall anything earth-shattering that happened in any of those movies?  What about Winter Soldier, Thor 2, or Iron Man 3?  Sure, S.H.I.E.L.D fell apart in Winter Soldier, but the end to a faceless entity (that no one cared about) does not count.  Sure, Tony Stark gave up being Iron Man at the end of 3, but we all know how long that lasted.

After watching all of these movies, it’s pretty clear that Tony Stark’s greatest power is building machines that turn on him.

So why shouldn’t we care about Civil War?  When your film is based on a violent comic about heroes killing other heroes, you have to deliver.  After eight years and seeing nothing that even came close to reaching such high stakes (unless you count Quicksilver, for some reason), I didn’t expect it to happen with the newest movie.  In the end, everyone comes out fine (oh happy day).  No!  Sure, Cap leaves the Avengers at the end of the movie, but whoopty-doo!  We all know he’s gonna be back for Infinity War.

13234800_1004862042954424_210339950_o.pngFrom the studio that brought you Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron, comes the epic blockbuster of the summer.  This time, the consequences are even more minute.

You know, it didn’t seem that long ago when characters had to battle through the trenches.  Take the original Spider-Man.  Peter Parker is in love with Mary Jane, but after choosing to become Spider-Man, he received more responsibilities.  He realized this and chose not to tell her, and to walk down the superhero path alone.  To top that off, his best friend wants to murder him for what he did to his father (who is dead).  Some pretty intense stuff happens in the final five minutes, which made me want to see the sequel.

It’s hard to say how long the MCU will go, but moviegoer interest here in the United States seems to be dwindling.  Just look at the box office numbers for Civil War.  Within two weeks it still hasn’t made anything close to the last two Avengers movies.  Could people be experiencing superhero fatigue because they’re tired of nothing consequential happening?

What’s crazy is that Marvel’s problem is not that hard to change; just create conflict with the characters’ psyche at the end, or have them kill someone.  In Empire Strikes Back, Luke realizes the true power of the villain, after going against his masters’ wishes to battle Darth Vader on his own.  BOOM!  There’s a perfect example of our protagonist facing the repercussions of his actions.  Marvel should focus more on each movie, instead of slowly telling one story through umpteen movies.  This is film; not TV.  Let’s face it, Civil War and all other Marvel movies are pure entertainment, but that does not mean any of them are good.  If it can’t make you feel for these characters, then what entertainment is there to watching a flashing screen of stuff and things happening?

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Look, Marvel!  It’s a screenshot from a family movie in which Nazis are the bad guys, but it actually takes itself seriously!  It doesn’t have Captain America in it, but it does have Swastikas!

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A Look at Avengers’ Past, Present, and Future

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Not many film series begin with a FIVE picture plan, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The Avengers, like it or not, was a big success, but it could have been a big failure.  Back in 2008, audiences sat through Iron Man, a decades-old character that no one cared about (kind of like the Fantastic Four now).  But, swooping in was none other than Robert Downey Jr. to save the character.  After that film’s success, Marvel chose to capitalize on its Avengers-teasing post-credits sequence by advertising the proposed film with four more films.  Now, four years after the first Avengers film was released, I am looking back at the success of The Avengers, what its popularity means now, and the future it has paved.

Recently, I watched the film for the first time since seeing it in theaters, and I have to say that the film doesn’t hold up.  The reason being that, as a superhero fan, I am burnt out on origin stories.  For several years, Marvel, DC, and many other comic book companies have been restarting various series over and over, retelling the origins of its characters.  With the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we were given three origin stories (Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America) and two other set-up movies (The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2) just to see another origin story in The Avengers.  The whole movie is about them getting together to fight a common enemy.  It felt like a waste of time, having seen the five “set-up” movies.  Hell, the first six films felt like the start of the Marvel animated show, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (which ran from 2010 to 2012).  The first five episodes set up who our characters are.  Then, the sixth episode is about the “alien” attack that forces them to team up.  Sound familiar?  I wish the movie would have started with something like the Avengers (unwillingly) already assembled by Nick Fury.  They’re all in a room in the opening scene.  Fury walks in and gives them their objective.  From there, the personality conflicts would ensue.  With five set-up films, this movie was supposed to just give us The Avengers from the get go, like how 90s comic book cartoon shows (Batman, Spider-Man, and X-Men) did with their titular characters.  But, Marvel did not see the reintroductions as needless, because they wanted to pull in a more general audience who did not see the previous films.  And, it worked.

Marvel’s first Avengers film grossed triple the amounts of Thor, Captain America, and The Incredible Hulk.  Normally, sequels either do slightly better or worse.  (Look at The Empire Strikes Back, The Harry Potter films, and The Two Towers).  In terms of both storytelling and box office success, the first five MCU films meant nothing when viewing The Avengers, because in Marvel’s mind, that movie was the actual franchise starter.  In terms of both box office and critical and fan reception, The Avengers defeated the other 2012 superhero tentpole—The Dark Knight Rises, which is part of a series that was considered the king of superhero franchises for four years.  The new king, The Avengers franchise, had its eye on a new goal: keeping its fan base while increasing its range.  Both Iron Man 3 and Captain America 2 did insane numbers compared to its predecessors.  How?  It attracted fans who watched The Avengers.  It was evident that every MCU film after The Avengers would be instant gold.  Sure, there were misfires, such as Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man, and Iron Man 3 not being that great, but Marvel was still on its way for a repeat.

With Age of Ultron, many people, including myself, were excited to see what Marvel would do with the series.  Unfortunately, it was more or less a repeat of The Avengers (this time they take on a NEW villain who also has an army and wants to take over the world!).  What the sequel didn’t have going for it that Avengers did was freshness—by 2015, we had already seen the Avengers team up once.  As a result, the movie did not do as well.  (Look at the numbers: Age of Ultron made over $160 million less than Avengers’ $623 million gross).

Now, does this mean that superhero films are not as popular now?  Not necessarily.  Look back at the 90s.  The 1989 film, Batman, was a phenomenon that made Batman the king of superheroes again.  But when Batman Returns came out, the movie flopped compared to the first one because of how unusual it is.  That same year, though, Batman: The Animated Series came out and was crushing the animated series market.  Batman was still popular.  Age of Ultron did not do as well as its predecessor because of quality, not because of audience’s fickleness.  What Marvel needs to do to keep its audience is to morph with its consumers’ changing tastes.  The Revenge of the Sith is a good example of this.  After backlash at the lighthearted and/or dull films, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, Lucas created a more serious Star Wars film for the fans.  The Empire Strikes Back is another example of this.  It was a drastically different film from A New Hope, and it slowly transformed into what is considered one of the greatest films of all time.  The two Avengers films, by comparison, are more of a flat line.

As for the future, the third and fourth Avengers films are coming in 2018 and 2019, respectively.  I am already not impressed.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for its lifespan, has been retreading ground that we have seen for the last fifty years, by telling the same stories straight from the comics (aside from Infinity Wars, just look at Winter Soldier and Civil War for other examples).  After a while, the comic book fans viewing these movies might not care anymore what happens, because they’ll grow tired of the lack of originality.  And, casual moviegoers will grow tired of every story not actually ending, but instead setting up for another film or twelve.  Perhaps future movies will become more and more identical in terms of rehashing origin stories, following famous comic book story lines nearly beat for beat, and being one giant advertisement for an even bigger movie?  Only time will tell.