Following the first look featurette for Avengers: Infinity War, Samuel Brace tries to remember the virtues of the Marvel Cinematic Universe…
Here there lies a conundrum.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a curious thing. It’s of course a very popular thing, but curious none the less. I enjoy the fruit that it offers. With some notable exceptions, I do find their films to be fun. Recalling at this present moment, only one definitively bad film comes to mind. Perhaps another poor one, but the rest range, no doubt, from good to truly excellent. Given how many movies make up the franchise, that’s not a bad record. It’s not bad at all. The vehicle that they have constructed however has its problems, and more often than not, these problems obfuscate the genuine enjoyment that I am able to garner from the experience. Time and again I find myself calling them out, wanting them to do better, but then there are times that I am able to remember the virtues of the MCU.
You see, I should love their shared universe, and a part of me really wants to, and at times succeeds. There are times when I remember, “Yeah, this is cool. You like this stuff”. But those times are fleeting, however powerful they may be. This interconnected series of films, with its rich fabric of lore accompanying a myriad of heroes and villains interacting with one another should be for yours truly. The boy in me should love this stuff, the boy in me does love this stuff. The boy who used to always wear his Batman costume no matter where he went comes to life when the MCU gets it right. The boy who used to tell stories with toys from disparate franchises on the floor of his bedroom comes to life when the MCU gets it right. The boy who dreamt of adventures beyond the ability of films at the time; this boy comes to life when the MCU gets it right. This boy indeed came to life when the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailer dropped and when the Avengers: Infinity War ‘first look’ teaser arrived. The man the boy became was reminded of all the things he likes, and for a brief moment separate from reality he thought, “Yeah, this is cool. You like this stuff”.
The MCU has this power. It has this power over me and over many more people around the world. At its very best it has the potential to do miraculous things, things not done before. Honestly, I am a lover of epics. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings – not giving up at the Council of Elrond. I prefer the ‘Making of’ documentaries that accompany the Extended Edition of those books adaptations because they provide more content than the films themselves. I like the idea of an epic saga, be it Marvel, DC or whatever. I appreciate the journey, as long as the journey is done right. Too often however it isn’t.
This is the issue I have with the MCU. It’s the very nature of its being that holds it back, but it’s also this very nature that speaks to that often forgotten boy. That boy has to stay forgotten however, as the fact that there are so many of these films means that their impact is lessened. The fact that there are so many MCU instalments means that their quality is diluted – rationing of anything is rarely a good idea. The fact that the films are never just a film and only teasers for something that has yet to be created, results in a product that is always limiting itself. The adult in me wants a great movie, and the adult in me knows that this is nigh on impossible when you are making half a film to allow someone else to make theirs. As an adult I want something complete, something that lives and breathes on its own accord. I don’t want quality to be sacrificed for anything, let alone the continued existence of a shared universe.
But this is too often what happens with the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and to be fair, also with whatever DC is doing. They supply a middling product that no one – with one exception of Iron Man 3 – can really complain about. They supply a product that is adequate, that does a fine job, very occasionally a brilliant job, but more often than not a job that is steeped in mediocrity. And there are few things more frustrating than mediocrity. Why make a ‘meh’ film when you could make a great one? If you try and make a great one but fail, that’s fine, that’s part of the process; sometimes you miss. But this is not what Marvel is doing. The very nature of their product won’t allow them to. The Dark Knight can’t exist twice a year for a decade in the same interconnected universe. It would be one thing if Marvel were shooting for the stars and falling short, but that’s not what they are doing. They are settling for the middle in order to make the one film they want – Avengers: Infinity War.
This final destination is absolutely an attractive one. Honestly, I do want to see this film. The culmination of events is tantalising. The boy in me is excited. Would it be more exciting if it had happened two years ago? Yes, of course yes. It has dragged on too long but the anticipation is none the less there. However, the ends do not justify the means. They just don’t. I don’t care how good Infinity War turns out to be if the way you got there was by feeding me a limp product. My inner child wants to give in but the adult finds it impossible to reconcile with the systemic flaws of a shared universe. And this is why the MCU is such a curious thing. This is why the struggle exists. The idea is tantalising, the final stage enticing, but the actual act itself, the components necessary for its assembly, are intrinsically flawed. The sad truth is that shared universes are doomed to be nothing more than fine. Their DNA won’t allow them to break the ceiling they designed for themselves.
I want to love this stuff, sometimes I manage to, but more often than not, the idea is far more exciting than the product itself.
Woe is me.