Oli Davis proposes a quick, easy trick to immediately enrich all Cinematic Universe films and their plots…
Dear Kevin Feige,
Long-time watcher, first time caller. I’m writing in because I’ve got an idea.
I know, I know – here comes another movie geek pestering you online. Give Hawkeye a solo film! Do a bisexual love story between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes! Give Hulk a hilarious, wise-cracking cousin as his sidekick!
Again, I’m sorry for sending you those, but honestly, Supreme Leader Kev, this one’s got more legs than Man-Spider!
Because Man-Spider had so many limbs? Yeah, you get it…you get it…
I love your Marvel movies, but I love the way you’ve changed cinematic storytelling even more. Gone are the days of episodic blockbusters or trilogies with their final part being split in two. You’ve ushered in the era of Expanded Universes – where characters’ solo films exist independently of each other, but merge every few years for a massive team-up event movie. Not only is that an incredible business model, it’s a whole new way to tell stories; making them increasingly immersive, stretching through mediums and forging a deeper emotional investment with its fans. It’s the perfect foil to Netflix and Amazon’s box-set binging competition.
But you’re missing a big part of the puzzle, All-Knowledgeable, All-Powerful Kevster.
I’ve seen each film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe more than once. I watch Guardians of the Galaxy every other month. But even then, back when I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier for the first time, I completely forgot Garry Shandling played Senator Stern in Iron Man 2.
To be honest, I’ve forgotten most of the things in Iron Man 2.
I didn’t realise the connection until I read a ‘[Enter Arbitrary Number Here] Easter Eggs You Didn’t Spot In Winter Soldier!’ listicle a few days afterwards. So instead of enjoying the callback when watching the film, I just thought: ‘jeez, they really short-changed Shandling with that role.’
I’m not complaining, Fabulous Feige, I’m just pointing out that even hardcore fans are missing out on your grand experiment’s full depth.
And that’s a problem when you think of the bigger picture: the ‘hardcore fan’ is the smallest of minorities. The vast majority of your audience are normal, socially competent people who have yet to adjust to ongoing soap-like sagas being told through different films. They haven’t seen all your films, let alone multiple times, and most definitely not recently.
Which is a real shame, because the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a beautifully complex web of callbacks, Easter Eggs and references; a lattice of interconnected character arcs and drama. But don’t worry, K-Feg, because I’ve figured out how to include everyone:
Start your movies with a ‘PREVIOUSLY ON…’ mini-summary.
You know, like a 20 second catch-up that plays before this week’s episode of your favourite network television show. AMC does it for The Walking Dead, gently reminding you of plot points from a month ago that’ll be relevant in this instalment, but that you might’ve forgotten otherwise. Professional wrestling shows use them all the time before big Pay-Per-View matches, recapping a feud’s twists and turns to build the audience’s emotional investment. Even your source material is in on the trick, with Marvel’s monthly comic books containing a summary of ‘THE STORY SO FAR…’ on the inside cover.
Imagine if each instalment in the MCU was preceded by a three-minute montage of the saga up until the point we last left our heroes – a snippet of dialogue reminding us this minor character is actually a bad guy from another film, that these two people were best friends before one died in World War II, that the man in the iron suit keeps trying to stop his friends from dying like they did in his vision, but really he’s just pushing them further and further away.
Then everyone can see the tremendous storytelling feat you’ve accomplished, with conflicts and characters spanning decades, realms, mediums and galaxies, instead of just the tiny minority who marathon through Phases I, II and the special features before each movie’s release; all while bringing those nuanced character arcs – which have more in common with Walter White over five seasons of Breaking Bad, than traditional film instalments – to the fore of your audience’s consciousness. Expanded Universe movies won’t be cheapened by ‘PREVIOUSLY ON…’, they’ll be enriched.
And if you did, I wouldn’t be taken out of a film wondering why Shandling has such a minor role. Instead, I’ll sit back in my seat and think:
Wow…Marvel have created something truly, truly special.