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…
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.
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.