Is the new Avengers movie an overreach by Marvel?
Yesterday, I took my kids to see the new Avengers movie at Seattle’s best movie theater for big budget films – Cinerama. We were front and center. I think in the interest of transparency, it’s really important for me to disclose that I want to like every superhero movie. In fact, I want to like every instance of every creation based on an intellectual property that I have an attachment to. And while I grew up on DC, I enjoy Marvel, and love the notion of a large interconnected universe. It’s what I always dreamed of as a kid. Remember, in the 70s there weren’t superhero movies that took the subject seriously. And in the 80’s we started getting movies, but they were not part of a big interconnected universe. Marvel finally delivered on this dream. And Marvel has reaped the rewards.
Not just the money, but Marvel has been lauded almost universally by fans and press as “getting it” and showing DC how things should be done. And although the stories about management at DC being kind of a mess (which I have no idea whether to believe) so far, based on Man of Steel’s endless punching I have to wonder if the critics are right. Maybe DC doesn’t get it. But after seeing the Avengers: Age of Ultron, I feel like I’ve seen the first crack in the Marvel’s armor. Despite my desperate desire to really love the movie, I have to say, I don’t think it was very good. In fact, every day I get further from when I saw it, I remember it as even worse than the day before.
Here are the things that bummed me out the most:
It’s common knowledge among the internet press (who probably don’t know much of anything) that Marvel has a sense of humor, and that humor has been banned in the halls of Warner Brothers. But honestly, the one-liners were just over the top in Avengers. So. Many. Jokes. Take out two thirds of them and I can emotionally commit a little more with the gravity of the situation.
Black Widow in Love. Why?
Why exactly has Black Widow, this strong, independent character, who can kick anyone’s ass and is on a superhero team despite not having any actual superpowers suddenly decide that (admittedly adorable Bruce Banner) is worth throwing it all away for? Honestly? I couldn’t tell you. Of course there’s been so little character development for Black Widow, who knows why she does anything really. Not me. Why doesn’t the equally independent and alone Bruce Banner suddenly decide he has fallen in love with Black Widow? It seems equally as likely, or possibly more likely as he’s not alone by choice. He’s cursed.
Too much of a good thing
The crossovers I was dying for as a kid are now here. In spades. Is it possible that maybe it’s too much? These heroes are so powerful that the only thing that can really threaten them is something that’s gonna destroy the entire planet. And as far as I can tell, so far the two planet threatening causes they’ve tackled have both been basically of their own creation. As a citizen of planet Earth in the MCU I would have to ask, why do we need these guys? They cause more problems than they fix. But nobody seems to be asking that question in the new Avengers movie. Maybe they’re asking it in Agents of SHIELD. I stopped watching a long time ago so I have no idea.
Too much of a good thing (part II)
(If they can go sequel crazy, so can I.) With a huge connected universe, it only made sense to me that Marvel would include their tv shows in that universe. When DC didn’t, I was crushed. It was a sign that they didn’t get it. But now I’m starting to wonder. Most of the people that saw Avengers have not watched the Marvel TV shows. This means that the film has to stand on its own. But in order to reward the viewers of the TV shows you want the whole thing to feel connected. So this means, there are plot elements that need to be entirely independent of anything outside the film, and entirely connected to stories outside the film. This is incredibly hard to do. And in this film, it was impossible.
Too much of everything
So many characters, so much stuff going on. There is basically zero time for character and plot development. The “scary” dreams that Scarlet Witch planted in everyone’s heads are the perfect example. Almost none of them made any sense to me. They were just scary montages of dead people and dark stuff with a confused Avenger looking horrified in the middle. But none of them made me feel any empathy for the characters or understand why they were so freaked out. The Thor jacuzzi visit least of all. There’s an article where Joss Whedon very diplomatically blames the studio execs for cutting out the parts of that scene that made it make any sense. “…it wasn’t well regarded by the test audiences.” Oy. Maybe these big movies where more than a hero or two appear together should be limited to once every five years. Having the Earth almost blown up every two years just strains credibility. Really, how could we all go on with our society if that’s what was really happening?
OK. This is a bit of a nit, but it does make me crazy. Data can be copied, as much as you want. So anytime there is a threat or a key plot point that hinges upon destroying or capturing something made of data, I don’t understand why there weren’t copies made. Why didn’t Princess Leia just e-mail the plans for the Death Star to the rebels? They have 3d holographic Skype, so emailing a PDF (or even a CAD file) shouldn’t be hard. Ultron is made of data, something he brags about over and over again. So how is it he can “destroy” Jarvis. Isn’t there a backup of Jarvis? And then, the writers gently nod to the fact that Ultron is data when they say that they have to eradicate all the physical copies, and the soft copies on the internet. But then there’s no mention of exactly how they delete all the soft copies of Ultron, and then when Ultron is about to die, I’m not sure why he doesn’t escape into a new copy somewhere where nobody would look – say Google+ perhaps. The Avengers would never find him there. (Insert rimshot/cymbal crash here.)
This movie isn’t just about the money it will make, it’s about the whole Marvel juggernaut. It’s billions upon billions of dollars for its corporate parent. So I understand why there are so many cooks in the kitchen. But I fear that these empires don’t lose their audiences overnight. To me, Avengers: Age of Ultron chipped away at the emotional stock price that we keep in our minds when it comes to characters and universes we fall in love with. And at least for me, the movie made me a little less invested.
Postscript: I wonder if maybe DC was smart not to connect their television properties to their films. Maybe it makes the films more special and lets them not have to juggle the split audience only some of which know what’s happening on the television shows? Maybe the DC folks aren’t flailing after all? Time will tell.
h/t to Liam from Tony Has Thoughts for workshopping this with me a bit. :)