by Kyle Ratsch
It is literally impossible to dispute Marvel’s success in the film industry within the last several years. The movies are massively entertaining, filled with fun action, and bringing old characters and stories to the big screen in ways that haven’t been previously possible. Their existence isn’t disappointing for sure, but I am critical of one of their stylistic choices, which is how they manage emotion and tension.
One of the primary strengths of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they deconstruct some of the more ridiculous elements of the comic book world to great effect. Iron Man’s, “the elevator is worthy” comment in Age of Ultron being one of my favorite examples. We also have Hawkeye’s acknowledgment of the final act of the same film, Spider-man running through an open field in Homecoming, Hulk smashing Loki against the floor in the first Avengers, and many more. If you’ve ever asked, “wait, why don’t they…?” or “how does he…?” or say, “wait, so what if…” they’ve probably addressed it. This humanizes each situations and makes something completely out of the ordinary seem somewhat relatable, and I love it.
However, the MCU is unfortunately tied to a formula that doesn’t allow full deconstruction. In each film, there are enormous stakes, but the bad guy will never win. No villain can completely destroy the world because… well… you need a world for a sequel, and the comic industry is saturated in sequel, possibility, alternate timelines and… well… business. This puts the authors with one foot within the door of intelligent writing, and one foot in the door of capitalism, and I think that really holds them back. For us viewers, we see flashes of falsehood. Some scenes are intelligent and mature, but we’re robbed of tension because there can be no shocking long-lasting consequences within the MCU as long as there’s a sequel. Quiksilver’s death doesn’t count.
Their use of deconstruction as comedy has one downside, however, and making a joke by deconstructing an issue or trivializing it removes emotional weight.
In Guardians of the Galaxy 2, when Yondu and Rocket fight and defeat a ship full of ravagers the audio overlays a classic rock tune (which fits in with the theme of Guardians, to be fair) and makes the scene humorous, but covers the fact that Yondu is killing a whole slew of people with a terrible weapon. It’s nearly a slaughter, really. Anything reported similar to this on the news would be distressing.
In Spiderman: Homecoming, we’re treated to a surprise scene where Tony Stark, who is heavily emotionally distant and impersonal, calls to congratulate Peter for heroic acts and for saving the students in Washington. Firstly, this is an enormous milestone for Tony, and it showcases some real emotional development with a notoriously stubborn character. Secondly, he prefaces the statement with a moment of vulnerability concerning his relationship with his father. It’s a tremendously difficult topic that requires courage, but instead of the film stopping to focus on something of real substance, it’s pushed to the side and we’re rushed along into the next crisis. This moment hits close to home for many children in the U.S.. With high divorce rates, distant fathers, and men who were taught that expressing emotion is weakness, moments like this are rare and precious. (There’s a large parallel here with the plot of Guardians 2 as well).
The rest of the relationships in the MCU are a bit of a mixed bag too. Star-Lord and Gamorra’s relationship feels frail. Hulk and Black Widow was a forced plot device. I would actually argue that the friendship between Cap and Bucky is quite strong and well done, so that’s nice. Overall, the MCU has a tough bill with upholding the traditional storytelling elements of comics and bringing something new and intelligent to film.
That’s why I’m not excited for new Marvel films, but I’m a bit of a grump. Take a second and consider what is important to you, and what a film is desensitizing… (Or just watch a movie for fun. I guess that’s cool too).
That’s all for now. See you next week.
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