Sunday, June 25, 2017

"Issues" VS "Problems" in MCU Analysis

I sometimes wonder why it’s even worth defending the MCU. It’s not because I’m insecure and like the films blindly, because I don’t; in fact, there are at least a dozen or so franchises that I love more, and I acknowledge the flaws that exist in the MCU on a visual, tonal and narrative level. Rather, I wonder why it’s worth defending the films because they’re multi-billion dollar money-makers with a near-consistent streak of praise on Rotten Tomatoes, hence being pointless. No matter how much I play defence attorney, in the end they’ll still sell tickets. So I’m really screeching into an empty void.

However, I’ve been noticing a trend in film circles that’s driven me bonkers. Ever since the MCU’s kicked-off, there’s been an intellectual backlash meant to try and knock the movies down a peg. This includes criticizing uninspired music choices, complaining about senseless needs to connect everything, chastising the dialogue as amateur, insisting the colour-grading is awful, scoffing at filmmaking techniques and bringing up constant writing and tone problems. And it’s getting exhausting to listen to. However, I’ve already gone into specifics, so instead I’m putting my foot down and stating that these are definitely “issues”, but not “problems”, with the MCU.

Let me explain.

I’ll put up an arbitrary divider, for the sake of this piece, on “issue” and “problem”. Ignoring their proper definitions for a moment, when there’s an issue with something, it’s usually framed in a more…let’s say “passive” way. Issues are when something’s noticeable, yet not distracting. Fixable, but not immediately fixable. Saying that there’s an “issue” means that it’s not ideal, but we can always work with it.

Problems, on the other hand, are more direct. Problems needs fixing, as they can make or break something. A computer virus is a problem because it can destroy a computer. Conversely, climate change, despite what anyone says, is a problem because it directly impacts the balance of nature. Saying that there’s a “problem” implies that it needs your immediate attention.

I say this because the MCU is often framed by detractors as having “problems”, when they’re really “issues”. Something like, say, a bland colour scheme isn’t a deal-breaker because the colours don’t get in the way of what’s going on. Uninspired scores don’t break the experience because films are primarily a visual medium. And continuity is neither a problem or an issue, namely because the MCU has one of the tightest, overarching plans of any franchise ever made.

But even ignoring that distinction, I think it’s become somewhat of a problem hearing how much the MCU “fails” on basic filmmaking levels. I say this for two reasons: one, it ignores what the MCU does well, which is characters and cohesiveness. And two, every time I hear complaints about the MCU as a series, never once have I heard practical suggestions for what can be done to fix them. I’ve sometimes heard vague ideas when the detractors are pushed hard enough, but even then it seems like these ideas are framed as obvious no-brainers for people who watch movies regularly, yet know nothing about making them.

Speaking personally, I can safely and honestly say that while I understand a lot of the complaints about the MCU, at the same time I don’t think they’re quite as bad as people have made them out to be. At the expense of downplaying individuals with film and music degrees, I also feel they miss the intent of the MCU. To quote myself from a few years ago:
“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’.”

It’s easy to tell that I was angry when I wrote that, but my point remains: the MCU may have “issues” with how it’s presented, I’ll be the first to admit that, but saying that these issues are problems is arrogance. Because Marvel properties, for the most part, were abused in the hands of other studios for years, to the point where for every Spider-Man 2, we had Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, The Punisher, The Punisher: War Zone, Daredevil, Elektra, Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, X-Men 3: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Blade Trinity lining up behind (I’ll be kind and call Hulk and Spider-Man 3 “okay, yet messy”.) For years, Marvel movies were expected to suck, and they did. So now that the MCU is taking these characters and making them into recognizable names, well…I’ll take it.

Could these movies be better? Absolutely! It’d be great if Marvel eased up on demands and spent more time on films with distinctive styles, I’d be quite happy with that! But I’m fine with what we have, especially if it means that we don’t get a slew of what I call “50 shades of bleh!” It doesn’t even matter that there are more unique action films that go by unnoticed, like Pacific Rim, especially when most are, honestly, not as well-written/consistent as the MCU.

I’ll end this with a fitting comparison: back in 1977, when the first Star Wars movie was released, there was a fear from film enthusiasts that this would be the end of filmmaking; after all, George Lucas’s previous film was American Graffiti, one that embraced Old Hollywood’s risk-taking mentality. Star Wars Ep. IV: A New Hope, on the other hand, was a kitschy space serial with hokey acting, much to the dismay of many. Yet it endured, and 40 years later, the film’s a timeless classic. Perhaps that’s something people can take from the MCU? We don’t know what the future will bring, so maybe!

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