Avengers Endgame was a great moment for comic book movies, wasn’t it? After comic book movies were the target of much derision and scorn in the late nineties and early noughties, it was such a powerful moment twenty years later for fans from that era to see it topping the box office.
Yes, like Wolfenstein: The New Order was for World War 2 shooters, Rambo: First Blood was for Rambo and The Bourne Ultimatum was for Jason Bourne before them, Avengers Endgame was a great curtain closer on the saturated superhero film genre.
However, the world doesn’t work that way in this darkest timeline. Just like we now have Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, The Bourne Legacy, and a slew of Rambo sequels, we now have Marvel Phase 4. They were so excited about Phase 4 that they announced a full road map for their new phase even before the end credits rolled on Avengers Infinity War.
What we're all going to look like when the MCU finally ends.
It’s fair to say that Phase 4 of the MCU has been… rocky to say the least. It’s even fairer to say that everything in this phase so far, both in their movies and television shows, have either been great or underwhelming. We’ve had Spiderman: No Way Home and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings but also Black Widow and Eternals so we’ve got both sides of the coin here.
The main issue that general audiences and I are starting to have with the MCU is just how predictable most of the movies have been since Avengers: Age of Ultron.
They must have had those South Park gnomes handling their business plan because it essentially boils down to the following steps:
1. Recycle the previous movie’s script with new characters swapped in.
At the moment, going into a Marvel film you can expect that you’re going to see a classical hero’s journey – albeit the cliff notes version – you’re going to get a somewhat interesting middle act where they build up some interesting character arcs and themes, and then you’re going to get all of that sidelined for a big CGI punch up with faceless hordes of monsters.
Of course, not every MCU film post Phase 1 is like this. Guardians of The Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarök are shining pinnacles of what the MCU can be producing all the time instead of what we normally get.
Now, what makes them so special?
Well, they give some more unknown directors (at the time) a chance as they did with James Gunn and Taika Waititi who previously had been known for the live-action Scooby Doo’s and Hunt for The Wilderpeople respectively.
That indie skewed lens they take and filter over the inherently bizarre world of superheroes is refreshing. It’s unique and makes the movie just so much more memorable than the usual MCU stuff.
Pictured: Hunt for The Wilderpeople
Another draw of these films is that they pull from the more obscure corners of the MCU back catalogues and put the spotlight on some C listers that people wouldn’t have cared about otherwise. Like Wayne Talbot talks about in his Couch Soup article, the superhero genre, in general, could benefit from showcasing more of their lesser-known characters and storylines.
It’s not like Marvel can’t afford to strike out a couple of times with their films. They’re worth billions, they can shill out billions for their big-name actors, they’ve got Disney backing them and those guys seem to be greenlighting new series like they’re in a Brewster’s Millions situation.
The point is, they have enough money to blow it on some risky bets and they’ve got such an expansive omnibus of interesting characters and narratively rich storylines that seem like they’ve been left to languish in some musty warehouse somewhere like in Indiana Jones except the intellectual property Marvel’s got is a bit more valuable than the horde of treasure in Raiders.
There are some glimmers of hope though. The Marvel Netflix shows (not you Iron Fist) ran that gambit but most are enjoyable. Daredevil and Legion were some of my favourite superhero shows on television and they weren’t the most popular characters for Marvel.
On the movies front, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings had me invested right up until they pulled the old MCU third act bullshit and got rid of an interesting father-son dynamic for a giant horde of CGI shadow monsters. I haven’t fallen asleep during many MCU films and unfortunately, this is one of the exceptions to the rule.
Now, the question we must ask ourselves is why. Why is Marvel ignoring all these great opportunities from their history as a comic book publisher? Why do they, for the most part, keep sticking with the tired and worn out three-act structure that audiences are beginning to grow tired of?
4 Characters we're never going to see in the MCU.
Yeah, that’s an easy answer. Money. Money talks and like it or not, Marvel is a corporation. It’s been a corporation for years and has one of the biggest corporations in the House of Mouse as a parent company. They’re not in it for the artistic merit, or the awards, or the sense of pride from having their content out there and enjoyed by millions.
They’re not doing this for the money. They’re doing this for a shitload of money. And a shitload of money is exactly what they’re making. Avengers Endgame grossed $2.798 Billion worldwide. Shang Chi made $432 Million worldwide.
Everything Marvel puts out is pretty much a money-printing machine so instead of hedging your bets with safe properties why not branch out and try something new. All your risking is only making a couple of hundred million instead of a hundred billion.
I know you, executives, like buying a new yacht every second week to keep things interesting for yourself but please just at least give it some thought.
Take a chance, take a leap of faith and stop flicking through yacht catalogues on the weekend.
Do you think Marvel should adapt some of their more obscure characters in the future? Which properties do you want to see on the big screen? Let me know in the comments below.
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