Photo: Marvel Movies
The Marvel Cinematic Universe and its films are certainly an outlet of entertainment for hardcore comic book fans and general moviegoers, as is apparent from their ability to smash advanced ticket sale records and opening weekend box office records. However, despite their areas of success, Marvel’s films are not necessarily as strong in the art of storytelling as the comic book lore they are based on. It is not an issue of refusing to stick to the source material but rather a situation where the basics of storytelling such as character, narrative, stakes, and utilizing various genres are not as prevalent in Marvel movies.
The lack of variety may be a built-in consequence of having a shared cinematic universe of films and tv shows that exist in the same continuity with recurring character crossovers from different superhero franchises. It may also be since Marvel’s parent company, for better or worse, generally produces family-friendly content that can naturally yield itself to merchandise, toys, and theme park attractions. Whatever the reason, there is certainly room for growth throughout Marvel’s films and streaming shows. Here are the five biggest areas where Marvel can improve their material.
Marvel Movies – Scaling Back the Humor
A big selling point for Marvel is the frequent humor expected throughout their content. The problem, however, is that the comedic material in their films is shoehorned in seemingly every few seconds and often at the most unwelcome times; this often sabotages the conflict taking place and makes us care less about what’s at stake. At least once in every Marvel movie or show, during what should be an intense action sequence or chase scene, one of the characters involved (usually our protagonist) cracks an egregiously out-of-place joke. These scenes are supposedly make-or-break moments for the characters, yet in the middle of it, the character jokes or pokes fun at something going on. This choice gives the impression that they don’t care much about what is going on, so why should the audience? These scenarios are especially annoying in origin-type stories where a character finds themselves in a fight scene or chase sequence for the first time in their lives. Hearing these characters crack a joke during moments like this is frustratingly unrealistic.
Another aspect of these films that often get sabotaged by forced humor is the villain. They become a less menacing threat to the protagonist when they are making fun of their agenda or become an over-the-top cartoonish villain for the hero to make of. In any film or television show featuring a great villain, which is not easy to craft, admittedly, when has it ever been said that the character worked so well due to how funny they were. Marvel’s over-reliance on humor in their films has become a detriment rather than a useful storytelling tool.
Coming Up With More Original and Unconventional Humor
This may seem contradictory to the previous point; however, there is another element to why Marvel’s comedic style doesn’t work. Having lighter moments and humorous scenes throughout a story would not be an issue in and of itself as long as the comedy actually works and brings out a laugh instead of an eye roll. Of course, comedy is subjective, and everybody has different tastes and thresholds. But the lack of originality and risk-taking in the comedy is the problem. Most jokes featured in their films and shows feel ripped off from old sitcoms and have been overused across various mediums for years. For instance, in Marvel’s ‘Eternals’, during a scene with all the main characters enjoying a lunch, Kumail Nanjiani’s character takes a drink and says, “Mmm, this is good, to which Ma Dong-seok’s character says something to the effect of “Thanks, I fermented it in my spit.” How many times have we seen a character eating something they claim is delicious in movies or television, only to have another character reply that it was made using urine, stool, saliva, etc.?
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Another worn-out comedy device in their films is a scene where a character gives an overly dramatic monologue about something, to hear another character give them a less serious reply or analysis of what was just said. This is there to make their films seem self-aware and not too serious. However, the trope has long lost its comedic effect, given how much it has been overused. It is not expected of Disney to include highly raunchy humor in their films, but a simple attempt to write more original and unique jokes can allow the humor to land a lot better.
Tighter Action Sequences
During an action sequence, fight scene, or high-speed chase in a Marvel movie, try turning your attention away from the screen to go to the bathroom, get a snack, or even go on your phone. Draw your attention back to the screen once that sequence winds down or concludes and see if you missed any important plot details that you can’t discern from watching the rest of the film. During what should be suspenseful action sequences, we are usually waiting for these scenes to come to an end as they are simply poorly crafted, egregiously long, add almost nothing to the plot, and are even sometimes flat-out boring. It often feels like these sequences are drawn out simply and replicated a couple of times throughout each movie or show to mask a bland plot with emotional stakes that are either un-emphasized or missing altogether. These are comic book movies so of course there will be a lot of action. But these films really need to hammer home why this matters to the overall conflict and what’s at stake for our protagonist. The action needs to serve the plot and characters, not the other way around.
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Variety of Genre and Narrative Structure
These tropes are present in most Marvel films and shows because they often feature the same style, tone, and structure. There should be similarities in these areas between films in the same shared universe; however, the little distinguishability between their films makes them less appealing as stories. Audiences will definitely rush out to see the major MCU films that have lasting consequences for the entire shared universe, like Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: No Way Home, but the lack of differentiation may come back to bite their standalone films of lesser-known characters if Marvel does not begin to think outside of the box with their formula of storytelling. The comic book material these movies and shows are based on has a wide variety of stories and different ways of telling them; there is no reason the films can’t reflect that.
More Trust in Directors and Actors
This is one area where Marvel films used to succeed. The first ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Thor’ films, as well as ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ are movies that featured complex characters, an engaging plot, and emotional stakes. The reason for this is that the directors of those films and their actors had more creative freedom in bringing these stories to life. This practice became less frequent as the MCU grew in scale and scope. At the end of the day, these movies belong to the studio as they are the ones paying for them. But if Marvel wants to make the best possible product, they should return to allowing their actors, directors, and writers the creative freedom to tell the best possible story.
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This is not meant to be a hit piece on the MCU, but rather to highlight their weak points. I hope they will improve and live up to the lore they are based on. It also looks like they are now moving into the area of fan service to grab their audience’s attention. While it was wonderful Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield reprised their roles as Spider-Man in ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’, as it will be to see Patrick Stewart return as Professor Charles Xavier in ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’, Marvel should not let these moments come at the expense of logic and coherency. This list is subjective as other fans of the MCU might feel differently about these aspects of their films. But overall, these are probably the biggest areas ripe for improvement in Marvel movies and shows.
By Nader Chamas
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Nader Chamas is an aspiring television writer who seeks to fuse thought provoking progressive ideals into the films, shows, and stories that he loves. Having graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Screenwriting, Nader seeks to use his writing to advance causes that do not get enough attention or input across mainstream media. Like most, Nader has his own share of his favorite franchises and stories across pop culture. However, he seeks to contribute timely and relevant topics into these stories as well as in his own original material. This is why Nader’s analysis of popular films and tv shows matches The Hollywood Insider’s practice of discussing entertainment from a socially cognizant and critical perspective.