When I first looked at the charts, I was ecstatic. These films have so much potential and I was eager to take it all in. However, my excitement waned following the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
When the first trailer landed it implied we would see a movie blending Marvel’s humor with a darker tone not previously seen. I didn’t want an entirely dour, brooding, colorless film, but I was hoping that Age of Ultron would take the characters to a deeper, more emotional level we had yet to see in the previous films.
I wanted Captain America to watch in horror as he has no choice but to watch a family perish to Ultron’s drones, or have Tony Stark’s devil-may-care attitude crumble as he watches his rogue creation wreak havoc, and I wanted the movie to end on a heavier note with the heroes watching from the balcony as enraged citizens march on Avengers tower demanding that the Avengers to take responsibility for their actions.
While the trailer seemed to point in that direction, when I actually saw the film I felt I had been led astray by what Marvel advertised in the trailer. True, the film was entertaining and by all means a success at the box office, but the light humor throughout, and the lack of emotional intensity at certain points, sapped a lot of weight from the film. The movie was fun, like all of Marvel’s films, but I felt like it was too much fun and didn’t have the depth I had been looking for.
Marvel has followed a pattern in its film making where the goal seems to be: make the film as family friendly as possible. Kevin Feige, Marvel's top executive, promised no dark turns in this cinematic universe. While few want an entire universe filled only with depressing superhero stories, to mandate that none of the multiple films Marvel releases each year will be dark seems to be limiting their storytelling choices.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier introduced some significant changes to the MCU, dismantling SHIELD and dipping its toes into weightier thematic elements like a debate about freedom vs. security. Unfortunately the next film in the MCU, Age of Ultron, washed away that weight with the humor we’ve come to expect from the Avengers. Suddenly SHIELD’s destruction hardly seemed to have any impact to the development of the story.
While the franchise shows no sign of slowing down at the box office, I believe Marvel’s formula is beginning to feel stale. To me it feels like Marvel is the star pitcher in the studio baseball game who has gotten so comfortable with their fastball strikes that they are afraid to throw a curveball for fear of the competition making a home run off their mistake.
Fortunately there were a couple of exceptions: 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. Both films were brilliantly scripted, directed, and acted, yet each had its own cinematic flavor. Captain America touched on the darker themes I was looking for, but also had humor peppered throughout the film that didn’t detract from the tension, while Guardians utilized the very best of Marvel's quirkiness. Both films followed their own unique path, and complimented each other in the process. Let’s see more of that from MCU films.
There is no denying that Marvels formula sells tickets, the cinematic universe has gathered over 8 billion dollars in ticket sales, with a per-film average of $715 million, and this is not including the revenue from toys, games and clothing. So why would they need to change their formula when the one they have works so well?
I believe Marvel is missing out on a whole mess of storytelling possibilities just waiting to be shown on the silver screen, one of the most critically acclaimed TV series on Netflix in this past year was Marvel’s Daredevil. The show was dark, gritty and told an emotional story. The series baffled me simply because I did not expect to see such a gritty, emotional story with Marvel's named labeled across the top of the title.
The series was a fresh awakening for me to fully realize what Marvel was capable of accomplishing, and given Daredevil’s critical success, I wonder if it will be enough to persuade Marvel to showcase some darker stories on the big screen.
Every gamble I have seen Marvel take has led to some great success. Guardians of the Galaxy was a wild card because it was a team of heroes who most people had never heard of in a film that wouldn’t even include any of their signature leads, but this film took audiences by storm and was one of my personal favorites in the series. Again Marvel played another wildcard with Daredevil and created, in my opinion, one of the greatest superhero TV shows. Marvel knew there was still some bad taste left over from the Daredevil movie released in 2003, but they still took that chance and created a hit series that I personally cannot get enough of.
I believe part of Marvel's initial success was their element of surprise, Iron Man took the world by storm not only because it was a good film, but because it was such a surprisingly good film. Nobody expected that much from it. Throwing more curve balls into the mix may seem like a risky move for the studio brass, but given their success over the years I feel that it is a chance that should be taken.
I want to be surprised when I walk into a Marvel film, and even if it may not be as successful as other films I want to see Marvel take a chance and give us something not yet seen. Whether it be the death of a lead, some grittier tones or simply less jokes.
Let me see all sides of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not just the ones that leave me with a smile at the end of the movie, but something I can chew on while I drive home from the theater, something to draw a tear to my eye or simply something where I look over at my friends and whisper,
“I did not see that coming.”
Update: Birth.Movies.Death reports that recent shakeups at Marvel Studios mean Kevin Feige no longer reports to Ike Perlmutter, a notorious executive seen by some as a malign influence at Marvel, and that Marvel's Creative Committee has been disbanded. The committee gave notes on Marvel productions, and though such creative talents as Brian Michael Bendis were a part of the group, the net result was seen by many industry insiders as stymieing creativity for the filmmakers.
Will Kevin Feige now be inclined to allow more creative risks with Marvel properties? Time will tell.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below. And be sure to check back later this week for Daniel's take on the burgeoning DC cinematic universe.