Wednesday, November 18, 2015

In Defence of the MCU

Internet, it’s time we had a chat.

So Captain America: Civil War comes out in May of 2016. Who’s excited? I am! Not only do I consider Captain America: The Winter Soldier one of the MCU’s best, but it’s also one of the best superhero films ever. Plus, Captain America has been my favourite avenger since Phase 1, which definitely helps. And it’s the same directors as the last Captain America movie, the Russo brothers, so there’s a lot of promise. In short, it’d seem like everyone would be happy, right?

Never has this clip been more fitting. (Courtesy of YouTuber einraz’s channel.)

Yeah, there’s a group of people who aren’t happy with this movie’s existence. They aren’t happy with the MCU in general, honestly. They’re small, true, but vocal. And given how I still hear them despite my best attempts…it seems like they won’t go away. Perhaps it’s time I shed light on their complaints once-and-for-all.

But before we delve further, I should probably state that I hold nothing against those who have legit reason for not liking the MCU. Save Iron Man, I’m not really in-love with it either, considering its entries good-but-not-great on a good day and incredibly-mediocre on a bad day. This is, instead, directed at the obnoxiously-vocal group that openly loathes the MCU, the slime who keeps rubbing in how terrible or uninspired the movies are. I have no patience for that.

Anyway, let’s begin.

The first complaint is that the MCU’s one giant continuity. It makes it hard to enter in the middle, as you need to backtrack to get the full story. While I don’t deny there are some movies that are necessary, i.e. every Avengers entry, I think this is a bit of of an exaggeration. As of now, there are 12 movies in the MCU, soon to be 13, yet you’re not required to watch all of them. I can view all three Iron Man movies back-to-back and-save a few details-get a full story on its own: Iron Man is the origin, Iron Man 2 deals with the side-effects of the first movie’s climax and Iron Man 3 is about the stresses of living as Iron Man. Some movies, like Guardians of the Galaxy, are even designed to watch solo, so the claim is weak.

But let’s say continuity is a problem. Well, no one’s forcing you to watch everything. Ignoring plot details being constantly spoiled, even though this isn’t a new problem, if you don’t care about Thor…don’t watch his movies! It’s like long-running comics: I may not understand all the itty details, but that doesn’t mean I can’t read Issue #345 of superhero X and still not enjoy it solo. It’s possible.

Besides, continuity issues are nothing new. The Star Wars movies, past or present, I’d argue can’t be watched out of order, and those are classics. TV shows with long-running narratives are the same. And those old, pre-movie serials from the 20’s and 30’s (remember those?) were designed to get people to come back and watch them every week. Large, continuity-based, episodic franchises are nothing new, the MCU’s simply made them popular.

The next complaint is frequency. The issue is that MCU entries come out two-to-three times a year, making it overkill. I can sympathize with this a little more, especially since movies aren’t cheap, but really? Twice/three times a year isn’t that big an investment, especially not compared to the weekly allotments of Japanese TV shows or the long-running shows in the West. If I were to watch all MCU movies released in theatres in a given year, that’s still less than spending upwards of $90+ for an entire box set of Breaking Bad or Fullmetal Alchemist. Not to mention, it’s far more time-efficient too.

Really, the big question is as follows: do I spend $26-$39 a year on two or three movies that are roughly two hours, or close to $100 on an entire season of 30-60 minute episodes? I’d prefer the former, as I’m not only saving money, but time. I don’t have 30+ hours to frequently waste, let-alone $100 to blow in one pop, that’s ridiculous. MCU movies, in contrast, aren’t that hefty an investment, so they win out. And yes, the reason I bring this up at all, despite there being MCU TV shows now too, is because the MCU feels like serialized TV episodes in movie form.

Then we get to being too similar in identity. The claim is that the MCU is so obsessed with itself that every entry feels safe and similar. As far as feeling safe goes, welcome to my frustration with Disney movies. But even outside of that, what about them feels “safe”? I used to think that myself, but then Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out and told an ambitious story. It wasn’t some light, schlocky adventure like its predecessor, it was a serious espionage film! And it was really good!

Really, this also comes back to the issue of continuity. One of the side-effects of a shared universe is that everything has to fit together in some shape or form. Whether it’s via name-drops, references, or even team-ups, there has to be some sort of tie-in somewhere. And it’s intimidating to the uninitiated, that much is for certain! But, like I said earlier, no one’s forcing you to watch everything. You can skip entries if you’d like and miss relatively little, it’s possible.

As for feeling similar, this one I’ve never understood. I used to espouse it without thinking, but it doesn’t make sense: the MCU entries are too similar? The Iron Man movies, which are corporate espionage, are identical to the Thor movies, which are pretty much science-fantasy, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is basically a spy thriller? I’m supposed to believe that?!

I think people forget that “shared universe” and “carbon copy” aren’t necessarily complimentary. For one, Marvel comic books, of which these films are based on, are part of a shared universe….and yet they feel different. Spider-Man isn’t the same as Daredevil, whom-in turn-isn’t the same as Thor. They share common foes and the occasional team-up, but no one confuses them as identical. They don’t even share the same powers! Spider-Man can stick to buildings and moves like a spider, while Daredevil’s a blind ninja and Thor’s a demigod. Saying they’re identical is be like saying Batman and Superman are identical: it’s ridiculous.

This complaint reeks of ignorance. I get that films should have their own identities. And I get that the MCU is a producer-driven franchise. But that doesn’t mean the individual films lack an identity, because that’s absurd! The fact that I was able to make the distinction between franchises is proof of that, and I’m not a comics person!

It also ties in with another complaint about how older superhero movies were “more interesting”. Uh…

It was either this, or a line from Avatar. Take your pick. (Via ALL YOUR CLIP ARE BELONG TO US.)

Yes, that video’s inclusion was mean. No, I don’t care. Because that’s historical revisionism, anti-MCU group! Older superhero movies weren’t “more interesting”; in fact, save the first two Spider-Man movies, the first two X-Men movies, both Hellboy films and Batman Begins, I’d argue that none of the superhero films from the early/mid 21st Century were really "good". To be strictly honest, most were downright awful, ranging from “crap” to “vomit” in identity. Movies like Daredevil were boring, while movies such as Hulk were a mess of bizarre…whatever that garbage was! (I haven’t seen it, but even looking at clips on YouTube leaves me scratching my head.)

Basically, I was unaware that varying shades of toilet droppings qualified as “interesting”; after all, I don’t pay attention to bodily waste. Besides, if “interesting” means “boring, badly-written and broodingly-flat imitations of Spider-Man and Batman”, then I’d love some of what you’re smoking! It’s not even me saying that, look at any feedback and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Even on a bad day, see Thor: The Dark World, the MCU is leagues ahead of those films in quality. If you don’t believe me, watch any MCU entry and one of those superhero films back-to-back.

I’m not sure what else to say: that I’m sorry you don’t like the direction the MCU is headed? That I’m sorry you’d rather routinely subject yourself to something awful, because it at least has stuff to talk about? Actually, I do have something to say about the latter: you’re insane. If you’re so interested in subjecting yourselves to tripe because “it turns you on”, then by all means grab a hot poker and shove up you rectum. You’ll need to be rushed to the hospital from third-degree burns, but you’ll get “the feels”.

Okay, that was mean. Basically, I’m fed up with the constant whining. Does this mean there aren’t real issues with the MCU worth complaining about? Of course not! The franchise is often too quippy for its own good, the emotional moments often feel rushed, the villains are usually really generic and anyone who isn’t white, male and straight is frequently sidelined for those who are. And let’s not forget, several entries, like Guardians of the Galaxy, have sexist undertones.

At the same time, the MCU is doing something earlier superheroes weren’t: showing that big-budget, continuity-based films can be clever and fun to watch. And it’s being eaten up by fans and moviegoers alike! Before the MCU, I had no clue who Ant-Man and Rocket Raccoon were, and I only had a mildly-passing interest in Captain America. But with the MCU’s success, I now look forward to their new movies! And yes, I acknowledge the fan-base’s annoyance and realize there are other, better films from various genres that are also worth watching. But if I’m excited for a talking rodent, a guy who controls insects with his mind and a super-soldier, well…can’t I enjoy that?

Something to think about.

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