I’m going to go a different route with this post today and talk about something that has been simmering for years, and (surprise) it has to deal with the Marvel movies. And with this, it’s going to be a conversation about the franchise itself, although full disclosure, I don’t have a stake in Marvel(superheroes aren’t my thing.) I believe the franchise craze that has swept Hollywood needs to evaluated and critiqued. This is where we begin:
My wife and I took a date night and went to go see this. We’d both already invested a lot of money in the Marvel movies, and a part of me wanted to see what this climax arc was. And without spoiling it for anyone…I’ll say that in the nicest terms…it was…disappointing.
And in not “nice terms” it was shit. Sure the action was fun and kept me on the edge of my seat, sure the jokes (when they landed) were funny, but at the end when my wife and I walked out, it felt incomplete. I think Stephen D. Greydanus states it best over at NCR:
Infinity War works by going bigger than every Marvel middle movie to date, not only in all they do, but in all they leave undone. These movies all write checks to be paid off by future movies, which means that a final verdict on any film is always hostage to the next film, and the one after that.
And this is where I make my starting point. I think films as franchises will always “print money” because they hold an audience hostage by keeping the carrot just out of reach. The catharsis will never happen. The satisfaction of viewing a completed character arc will never happen. Then again, Marvel and Disney are not concerned about creating “decent art.”
We can talk about what qualifies as decent art at a later date, but I think the experiment of “franchise films” will ultimately fail, not only after we have reached oversaturation point, but when audiences tire of the formulaic beats and constant “teases.” Sure, there will always be fans who go watch the films, that’s their bag and I’m not trying to stomp all over it. I personally really love Star Wars and while its still early in their “franchise-dom” the movies have been not nearly as exhaustively connected as Marvel’s have.
And the crux of the Marvel formula is that the movies are hinged together, in order to get to the next “door” you have to watch the one proceeding in order to move on. And what happens to those films after you’ve opened the door? Clearly, Marvel and Disney don’t care. I will more than likely keep watching Black Panther as a standalone movie at this point, as I will others like Thor: Ragnarok, although the latter still relies too much on the Marvel universe. Character arcs from other movies are sacrificed to fit into the cookie cutter that is the franchise and only sets up other narrative obstacles for the writers to burst through as the films proceed.
While my more hardened critiques would rely on a spoiler-filled post, I will say that as a writer, franchises as films will not last and Infinity War is proof. Sure, we can talk about the millions of dollars it has made so far, but again is that really what we go to the movies for? Movies that make a bunch of dough? I assume we go to watch a story that plays out and one that doesn’t drag us into another future movie.
At the end of the day, none of this might matter to most viewers, because they either love the comics and characters, or they just want to turn their brain off. I doubt Hollywood is going to correct and may only double down on film franchises as they have already done, even if none of them are as successful as Marvel’s. My hope is that decent cinema can make a comeback, even at the genre level, which is why I’ve kept an eye out for some directors over others.
Either way, the storyline behind Marvel’s most daring endeavor is a failure and this is one viewer who is signing off on any more theater trips.