4 Ways We Can Save the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Guardians of the Galaxy is crushing the box office, so it seems like Marvel has the magic touch. They've been consistently catching lightning in a bottle since frickin' 2008 with so sign of letting up, so it's probably safe to say that superhero movies will be around forever now, right?
Uh ... come on, guys. I love this shit as much as the next utter fucking dork, but you have to remember that these things come and go in cycles. Westerns were the biggest thing in film for decades, but now are guaranteed box-office poison. As I've pointed out before, there's a tipping point here. You can only slam-dance the box office to one tune for so long -- eventually, normal audiences are going to get sick of the fad and move on to something even more ridiculous, like, gosh I dunno, live-action versions of fan-fic.
But I don't want that to happen. I want this to last forever. So I'm going to throw a tantrum and armchair strategize the shit out of this series. So, despite absolutely no one asking me, I'm going to tell you exactly what Marvel needs to do to keep that Money Train a rollin' down Our Wallets Avenue.
Stop Giving Us the Same Ending
So, Guardians of the Galaxy kicked ass. I think the first two-thirds of it is one of the best movies I've seen this year, though that's not really much of a compliment, because Transformers 4 is dragging the average down significantly. Buuuuut then we get to the end, and we basically see, as we pointed out last week, the exact same ending we got in The Avengers:
"Quick! We need to have a sky battle to fend off the invading aliens from the population center!"
OK, it wasn't the exact same: The Avengers was about a sky-battle between a rag-tag group of heroes fighting off inter-dimensional aliens who wanted to commit genocide on an entire species with an infinity-stone MacGuffin, and also there was a helicarrier, because helicarriers are rad. Guardians only had the rag-tag group, the sky-battle, and an infinity-stone MacGuffin. If you want helicarriers and genocide in your climax, you're going to have to watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier:
And it's still in the sky. Obviously.
And if you want inter-dimensional battles with invading aliens, you'll have to rewatch Thor: The Dark World.
Or you could just take my word for it. No one would blame you.
And in Iron Man 3 ...
... you get the idea.
Sooooooooo what's up with that, Marvel? You've been totally crushing it with the zingers and character development (two things that seem consistently impossible for most other big-budget movies) but how come, since The Avengers, you only know how to end movies with a big special-effects extravaganza? What happened to Charlie Chaplin duking it out with The Dude, like at the end of Iron Man? Hell, in Guardians it doesn't even really make sense: We've barely even seen Zandar (Xandar?), and have no real reason to care about it aside from our natural human tendency to prefer that innocent people don't die.
Unless ... that's the plan? OK, I have a weird theory, and I really hope that it's what they're doing: Most hardcore movie dorks know that The Avengers 2 is going to end on a downer, because it's the second part of a planned trilogy (see: The Two Towers, The Empire Strikes Back, or even The Hobbit: The Desolation of Snooze. Also, Joss Whedon has said this is happening). Hopefully, this'll be a real emotionally impactful moment, rather than a visually stunning one, and that'll set the trend for all of Marvel Phase 3: Just like how every movie after The Avengers has reused at least one aspect from that climax, each Phase 3 movie will end with stakes that are equally large but more personal, more subtle, more based on emotions than VFX.
But there's something else that needs to happen, and this is more of a stretch ...
We Need to Stop Going to See Spider-Man Movies
I hate to be the one to say this, but if you like the new Spider-Man movies, you're a wrong idiot. This isn't up for discussion. They're the worst kind of terrible: nonsensical plots, shoddy characterization, and one or two redeeming qualities that are guaranteed to make idiots like them (Andrew Garfield's and Emma Stone's performances are great, and that one "A god named Sparkles?" line was really funny). That's the kind of combination that can break hearts, because huge Spider-Man fans will sit in the audience and weep quietly for the movie that they could maybe be seeing instead. Then they go home and rewatch Spider-Man 2 and the studio doesn't even care because it already has their money.
"We don't even remember what industry we work in!"
But no matter how bad these movies get, Sony can't stop making them, or else Marvel will get the character back. This isn't technically a good strategy for Sony, since they can't make these movies good without Sam Raimi, but they can't give up because the rights to Spider-Man reverting to Marvel would end the shit out of someone's career. Can you imagine the guy who has to go up to Sony Pictures' CEO and take the blame for Spider-Man appearing in Avenger's 3, and Marvel now has all the money? Within minutes they'd be laying their head on the chopping block and some CEO would be all, "For the crimes of cutting our losses, I, Kevin, of House Sony, sentence you to die." In this instance, literally everyone in the world would be in a better situation (Sony would stop sinking money into movies they apparently can't make good without Sam Raimi around, and Marvel would regain control of their most popular character and do something fucking great with him). Well, everyone except that one dude who's head would roll down the grass and land at the feet of his sobbing children. Ya know what? I don't even blame him for not floating the idea.
Kevin doesn't exactly keep an open-door policy.
And it's not just Spider-Man: we're also getting a sequel to Man of Steel, despite that being awful. And a Fantastic Four reboot for some reason. And ten more DC properties because Warner Brothers doesn't understand that Marvel is only being successful because they're being fucking careful. If things keep going like this, it's not going to matter if Marvel movies stay good: flooding the market means we're all going to get sick of superhero movies. They'll ruin the freshness of the genre, the specialness, because when every movie is a superhero movie, even the most die-hard fan is going to start wishing for a romantic comedy or a movie about trains or something. So the only solution is that we, as an audience, agree to stop going to see these fucking movies. Pretend they're not happening. And if we have to go -- like, say, it's our job, because we work for a comedy website that covers movies -- we have to promise to do some weird drugs first. That's the only way to preserve our honor.
Give Us Some Goddamn Female Leads (or Any Diversity at All, Really)
The only good thing about the lack of female leads in superhero movies is that I get one no-brainer entry in every list-based article I write about superhero movies. It is absolutely absurd that we haven't gotten this yet, guys. Even in a movie as weird as Guardians of the Galaxy, we need a white dude with guns to guide us through. The only women or non-evil minorities who show up are buried under make-up or CGI. What the hell? Between this and Avatar, Zoe Saldana is turning into a less pretentious Andy Serkis.
Holy shit, Zoe Saldana's black?
This isn't even about being "fair" or "progressive" (even though those seem like nice things to be). This is about maintaining the diversity we need to keep interest in this shit. Stories are made interesting by how the characters interact with their surroundings, so having more diverse protagonists means more diverse, interesting stories. And we fucking need that. Otherwise we're not going to get to see these movies anymore, and that'd seriously break my heart.
The most frustrating part is that Kevin Feige, who's in charge of all of Marvel's strategy, doesn't even have a reason he's not doing this. He basically says he wants to but isn't going to, because reasons. Actually, scratch that: He doesn't even get to the "because reasons" point. He just says it'd be great and kinda shrugs. Metaphorically, with his words.
Holy shit, Kevin Feige is really dorky looking?
I honestly can't conceive of why this is happening. Black Widow is proven to be a popular character, and for Christ's sake she's at least as interesting as Thor, right? Right now, the only company planning a superhero movie with a lead female character is Sony, which despite owning the rights to the best superhero character ever (seriously, Spider-Man's origin is perfect) hasn't been able to make a watchable superhero movie happen in 10 years. Their attitude is basically, "Well, literally nothing else is working, so we may as well give this a shot."
There's no reason Marvel can't beat them to the punch. They could get a Black Widow movie out well before 2017, and not only would we all go see it, it'd keep Scarlett Johansson from making movies like Lucy. They can probably get a tax break for that kind of disaster prevention work, right?
Kill Captain America
Or somebody. I guess this is a more controversial opinion, and even I'm not totally sure it would work, but I think for the universe to keep going they need to keep things fresh, and recasting actors like they do with James Bond isn't the way to do it. The biggest weakness comic books have is narrative overload. It's nigh impossible to just jump right in -- you can't see The Avengers and walk into a comic book store asking for Black Widow #1, because even if the comic book store people are nice (I hear that's happened) you're still stuck trying to navigate a mythology that has been rebooted, retconned, and re into a totally nonsensical mishmash of narrative casserole.
It tastes way better if you read the lore.
But we can avoid that here. If we do the story bit where Steve Rogers dies, let's leave him dead. Let Falcon take up the Captain America mantle, like in the comics. Or, better yet, give us something new to replace him. You've already proven this possible: No one gave a shit about Guardians of the Galaxy a year ago, and yet it's making the box office toss its salad, with the best opening of the year for an "original property." Because this is what an "original property" is, now: a movie based on a book that takes place in the same universe as a bunch of other successful movies. That's the trick, Marvel: You can tell original stories with all the box-office safety of making a sequel. Please do that more.
Basically, Marvel, keep being smarter than us, and we promise that we'll keep puking money at you. Or you can repulsor-blast my heart apart, rendering me to a sobbing shell of a human being, just as broken and shamed as Natalie Imbruglia. Your call.