Marvel Studios: The Movie Villain?

The following was pitched to and commissioned by Flickering Myth

Henry Bevan on whether the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is having a negative effect on cinema…

Logo //©Marvel //source: Flickering Myth

We are in the middle of the superhero smorgasbord that is 2016. Three down, three to go. Captain America: Civil War has been a huge success and that is a problem. The more successful the Marvel Cinematic Universe becomes, the more likely the rest of cinema suffers. Now, this isn’t some diatribe against superhero movies — they’re fun films that vary in quality from movie to movie. But, a successful MCU is problematic. Its negative effects are already being felt as studios scramble to copy the Marvel model and, as usual, learn all the wrong lessons.

I haven’t seen X-Men: Apocalypse but I hear I can give it a miss because it’s full of characters and mindless destruction. It is as if studios have looked at the MCU and put its success down to lots of characters and explosions. Civil War hasn’t been a success because it has a Super-Smash Bros size roster of characters, it works because of what it does with those characters. The characters are what draw audiences back to Marvel, we care about Tony Stark and Captain America and that is what makes their conflict work. It is hard to care for a super-fascist Batman and a Superman who hates being super!

Beyond studios taking away the wrong reasons for the ascension of the Marvel empire, there are other issues with Marvel making good films. The Marvel films are homogenised and averagely directed. Your inner fanboy cries at Civil War not because of the Russo Brothers’ direction but because the film is meticulously plotted with 13 films of baggage. It wouldn’t work if you didn’t care about these characters and if you take away the sound you’d be scratching your head as to why they’re fighting. The brothers predominantly stick to three shots: establishing, middle and close up.

Posters for Captain America: Civil War, the 13th Marvel Studios film //©Marvel //source: Flickering Myth

With all the studios wanting to be like Marvel, films will feel the same with any sense of identity being drained out of them like the moisture from Walter Donovan’s skin. Do we really want to live in a world where not only do we have to watch the previous installments of one franchise to know what is happening, we have to watch four other franchises? Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight are great films because they tell complete stories. If everything follows Marvel, the future will involve a lot of head scratching and IMDB research. No thanks!

Another problem is that Marvel is famous for their multipicture contracts and the effects of these are already being felt. The availability of A-List actors is short enough as it is, but if more and more become tethered to extended franchises unique movies will become less and less. Actors make these movies so they can make smaller ones. Well, at the rate extended universe franchises are hoovering up talent, they won’t have time to make the smaller ones — they’ll be fighting a giant robot or something.

Look, I enjoy the Marvel films and thought Civil War was great fun, but as the MCU grows, the worse the future of film begins to looks.


12 thoughts on “Marvel Studios: The Movie Villain?

  1. There was a time people didn’t go to theatres to watch movies. They watched Newsreels, Shorts and above all, serials. The serials died and found a new place on TV in the form of the TV show. Now, years later, the landscape is changing again. TV moves back to a movie format, with a number of the most successful shows being more movies stretched over multiple episodes, or, in the case of Sherlock, actual movies which are part of a series. It only makes sense to have some sort of series format on the big screen too. It certainly beats the studio redoing the same plot a second time worse in a sequel. If you ask me, Marvel deserves accolades for putting so much effort into every single movie.

    It is not like I don’t get what you are talking about concerning some of the weaknesses of the Russo brothers. But movies are more than just visuals and camera angle, they are also about story-telling. And I think we should embrace new ideas for story-telling just as much as we embrace compelling cinematography.

    What the other studios do or don’t do, that is, to be honest, their problem. Studios will always learn the wrong lessons and chase the latest trend, and the result is more or less always awful. One of the reasons the MCU is still going strong is because Marvel is not doing that, they are experimenting, and I certainly look forward to see what the director of Creed will do with Black Panther and what the Fantasia-like images they promised for Doctor Strange will look like.

    Marvel isn’t ruining anything, they are redefining what story-telling on the big screen could be like. There is no reason to whine about them doing that. There is only reason to whine about all the other studios who don’t search for their own path.


    1. I agree with you that Marvel should be celebrated for doing something different and I am happy they are doing what they are doing — I will always watch their films. But, Hollywood has always cannibalised itself and Marvel, in my opinion, are accidental villains because the more they are successful and make good films like Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy the more the rest of Hollywood wants a slice of the pie and copy them, creating lesser movies and a worse cinematic atmosphere overall. Marvel obviously aren’t trying to be cinema’s Dr Doom, and if that how my argument comes across, I apologise for my poor articulation. I, too, am looking forward to Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and you’re right, direction is much more that camera angles but can you hum any of the Marvel scores on cue? To me, all the films look the same and sound the same. I just want some individuality and that is why my favourite Marvel film is Guardian’s because it is sorta separate from the main narrative at the moment and they let James Gunn do what he does best.

      Also, I don’t think Marvel creates A-listers. They create celebrities but not movie stars or actors (apart from RDJ) who can open a movie by themselves. Just look at Hemsworth’s box office bombs with Blackhat and the recent Huntsman movie. But, that’s a different argument about the decline of movie stars.

      But, I look forward to seeing where Marvel goes from here and power to them, I just don’t want the other movies to follow suit.


      1. The time of the movie star who drew the audience on mass into theatres is over.

        I am personally very partial of the soundtrack of The First Avenger (How can you go wrong with Silvestri and Menken?) and The Winter Soldier (Sadly, Civil War is a little bit too understated for my taste…I like the notion that they went from the more military tunes to quires, showing Cap’s development back from the Soldier to Steve Rogers, but I am missing the one piece which really hooks me) and I do like the Soundtrack of GotG, not just the songs, but also the instrumental pieces.
        Speaking of which, watch The Winter Soldier and after that GotG and then DARE to tell me that those movies look and sound the same. And if you call GotG the exception, put Thor 1 (I don’t like the dutch angles, but the way the shots are framed is interesting) and The Incredible Hulk (which I also consider Incredible boring, but tonal it is very different) in this line-up. Or pay attention to the way The First Avenger uses Sepia…in fact, colours are a good way to see the different. Sepia for The First Avenger, mostly greys and blues for The Winter Soldier, a LOT of blue for The Avengers movies, Gold for the Thor movies, Green for The Incredible Hulk, Purple for GotG, and a lot of red for Iron Man (and yes, I am aware that this is basic, but it’s the easiest way to point out the differences).

        See, I see your concern, but if Marvel weren’t that successful, it would be something else. Why do you think everyone and their dog is currently going for nostalgia franchises? Because Jurassic World broke all records last year.


      2. See, you talk about colours being basic and that, to me, is the problem. The differences are just flourishes designed to say “Look, it’s different”. I just want more radical narratives. That’s why Iron Man is great because it was a different take on the superhero genre, that’s why the ending of Civil War is so good — they’re different from the norm. Marvel is doing a lot of cool stuff but even the most diehard fan would admit they have a formula. Also, call me old fashioned but I’m not a fan of serialised storytelling. I want my movies to work on their own, to make me care about the characters in 90 minutes, not 900.

        You’re right if it wasn’t Marvel it would be something else but most of my aggrievances spawn from Marvel’s extended universe plan. Obviously, they didn’t plan for everyone to copy them, but their success is responsible for all the extended universes popping up and I think that makes them indirectly responsible. I love superheroes so I will always catch a Marvel movie, if not in the cinema, definitely at home. The recent casting news around Black Panther is incredibly interesting and I hope the fact Feige now reports directly to Alan Horne will allow for more interesting movies.


      3. They have a formula, because they created one, starting with Iron Man. And now they are shaking things up again, that’s a normal, circular process. Disney has done it for years with the Disney Princess movies (sadly they missed out the right jumping point in the 1990s, but I think they learned their lesson from that). As long as Marvel keeps experimenting, the formula won’t go stale…that’s what movies like GotG and Civil War are about, shaking things up and reinventing themselves. They have to do that, or they won’t last.


      4. That’s true, they need to reinvent themselves to keep going but whilst Guardian’s was tonally different and James Gunn was allowed to be James Gunn, it still involved chasing a MacGuffin and a third act that involved defending the ground from a threat from above. This was also seen in most of the Phase 2 movies like The Avengers, the Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron while Thor 2 and Ant-Man (which is a really underappreciated movie) involved MacGuffin plots. I just don’t think they’re shaking things up enough and whilst I don’t think superhero movies will go the way of the western anytime soon, I am starting to get the impression that I know what I am going to get. It’s not just Marvel, it’s Fox and Warner Brothers as well, but Marvel’s the most successful and most productive so they are the one’s people will write about.


      5. There is nothing bad about a McGuffin. It is a simple plot device (which a lot of directors like to use). And to use the Infinity stones as loose connection is actually quite clever. And Marvel doesn’t use it as often as some say…out of six movies in Phase 3, only half of them had a MacGuffin plot (GotG, Thor 2 and Ant-Man, though Ant-man is more a subversion of one, because the movie takes a left turn in the last minute and reveals that the heist was not just about the suit, but the destruction of all the servers).
        And really, there aren’t that many different options for a climax for ANY hero movie. The audience expects some sort of epic enemy in the end.


      6. That’s true, the climax is from classical forms of storytelling and that is why I don’t think superhero films will go the way of the western. But, they — and most movies in general — can do a lot within that boundary. Take Spider-Man 2. You have the fight but then Peter talks to Doc Ock instead of punching him into submission. Then you have The Dark Knight: you get the fight and then the Joker subverts audience expectation by revealing how stupid it would be to fight Batman and you get that great climatic scene. Civil War did another great variation on this.

        I will also argue that Ultron has multiple McGuffins (Vision, the vibranium etc) and that Bucky is basically one in the Winter Soldier. McGuffins are great and many of my favourite films revolve around one, but as one of the hegemonic franchises at the moment, I think Marvel should be expanding the sandbox’s boundaries a bit more. They already did it once with the extended universe plan so why can’t they do something as pivotal again?


      7. But that’s what they are doing, isn’t it? They just deconstructed the whole MCU with a movie, which made the audience (well, most of them at least, I actually predicted the outcome of Civil War months ago) think that there would be a final battle against some sort of villain when in the end the heroes fought their own demons. Doctor Strange is practically playing out of the sandbox, based on what I know about the character. And while I am not a comic book reader, I am aware of a number of storylines which would lend to a compelling adaptation if done right. (I especially want a Silver Surfer movie about his origin, because that would be a great way to do a tragedy in the MCU without going all bloody about it, but in order to do that, they first need the rights back).


      8. They are doing it but they’re doing it fits and starts. I just don’t want the MCU to have a couple of must-watch films which is what I feel from the press tours and reception and stuff is what they were doing throughout phase two. Like, the winter soldier was labelled a game changer while thor 2 was just sorta there. Every movie should be vital — I don’t want filler films or for the events of one film to be vital 3 years and 9 films later. I want them to effect the narrative when they’re released (and I think this is different from foreshadowing. Marvel’s foreshadowing is awesome). I know nothing about Dr Strange, I thought the trailer looked okay but the cast and Michael Giacchino has got me excited. Not really a fan of Derrickson though.


      9. Well, the idea is that you can pick the franchises you like. For example, you can only watch the Iron Man movies (and the Avengers) or only the Thor movies (and the Avengers) without missing too much. Some movies are more important than others, though, the Cap franchise has become pretty much essential watching. It is not different from a TV show, btw (and let’s not pretend that the MCU is something but a TV show or a serial for the big screen), there are always episodes which are more essential than others. Now, you don’t have to like the idea of a TV show for the big screen, but, well, that’s what the whole experiment is about. Marvel itself is figuring it out as they go.


  2. Oh, and concerning the A-list actors: Marvel doesn’t “steal” A-listers, above all they create a-listers! Hollywood has way too long stuck to the same set of actors again and again. It is great that now finally some new talent is discovered…alas not in the US, but in the UK and Australia, where young actors have way better chances to proof themselves and built up a reputation.


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