When we heard of Marvel Studios’ overarching plans for a film series adapted from a few of their comic books, and we heard the number of films to be made and released as part of the series, and we heard that this series would not be known as a franchise but, rather dauntingly, as a Universe, I’m sure there was more than a handful of us who blanched. As we all know, a Bond film every two or three years makes for the right blend of lasting interest and good taste, with just enough disdain shaken in, and no stirring up of desperation. At least one massive
CGI-laden blockbuster every six months threatens,
initially, a bombardment, and, afterwards, a stream of discrete non-events. For
if every entry is a spectacle and a gratifying thrill, then soon enough none of
them is all that spectacular nor all that thrilling. We had also learned, from
the few superhero movies made before this mighty plan was announced, that the
ignorant among us are not often provided for in a superhero movie’s exposition.
Of course, by now, even the unschooled heathen such as myself have learned that
the hoary, leathery pensioner who ubiquitously crops up in each entry is none
other than Stan Lee, whose imagination we have to blame or to thank for the
recent insurgence; and that no vat of toxic waste (a trusty MacGuffin if ever
there was one) is ever far away enough from a Hollywood star to allow the
incredulous among us to settle comfortably in our seats. But still I found,
with equal measures of annoyance and disconcertment, that I was required to
have seen Iron Man (preferably along with its sequel), some attempt at a
film about The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America
before watching The Avengers – or at least be familiar with the premises
and outcomes of each of these films – unless I wished to be deprived of much of
my sure footing for most of that amalgamate film’s setup.
And, now having completed Phase 2 of the overall scheme, the critical reaction to the results seems not to have been overly joyous, though box office success persists. Critics have repeatedly complained of replicated plots and storylines, of thin and uninteresting characters, of over-reliance on digital imagery, and of a general (and, if I may say so, vaguely demonstrated) breakdown in culture. I do not align myself with these consensus critical views: I have written that conventional and simplistic storylines are not inherently weak; I find that a character does not only consist of the text he or she speaks, but also of the actor’s performance, and these have not been found wanting nearly as often or as dismally as some critics would have you think; I think any filmmaker is entitled to use as much digital imagery as he deems necessary or suitable, and this also is not in itself a weakness; and I don’t see how this titanic influx of films to our theatres is in any way a depletion of culture. It’s absurd to think, as it seems some critics do, that if there weren’t Marvel blockbusters, or at least not so many, that those who flock to see them would instead be going to see black and white Polish films about nuns, or adaptations of Thomas Hardy novels. Rather, Marvel is keeping audiences gazing at screens instead of looking away.