The latest iteration of the superhero genre has flourished in the age of special effects and big budget movies. But are these films worthy of their cultural resonance, or are they just another example of rich white people, privilege, and low culture artistry run amok? One of the most fascinating threads of this new media age is how this industry lies in the middle of both of those points of view. Consumers, audiences, and fans, can watch these movies figure themselves out on screen, before millions of watchful eyes. The MCU represents a fusion of creative and capitalist endeavors on unprecedented scales.
In the early 20th century, when comics were first being published, a similar struggle was taking place. The superhero genre was inventing itself at that point instead of reinventing itself, but still walking the tightrope between market obligations and artistic forces. Today, the Marvel movie publishing house is releasing several different franchises all at the same time, united under one continuity, using the same characters that were first created over 60 years ago. Not so quietly, Marvel Studios has been reinventing movies and television. Yet somehow, superhero skeptics are still out there. To combat the hate, here are 15 myths about MCU movies that are totally untrue.
15. JUST POPCORN FLICKS
Not that there’s anything wrong with popcorn flicks, but this myth is totally off base. While the term “blockbuster” may apply to all of these movies, they reach for an ambition as well. The entire cinematic universe is owned by Disney, a corporation, designed to make money, and it’s true that they literally are engineering these films to be enjoyed in theaters. But there are larger cultural and artistic goals as well.
The superhero movie genre, and its apex of relevance in this day and age, is more than just a hyper-capitalistic money grab.
They may be flashy, but they’re still stories about heroes. The journey taken by individuals to transcend the ordinary, overcome obstacles, and become extraordinary, is a driving force that every person can relate to. It’s nice to have an example of the heights imagination can reach. And also, enjoy some buttery popcorn.
14. JUST FOR KIDS
There are still far too many self respecting adults out there who are walling themselves off from the movement; translating comic books from single issue to silver screen. Superhero movies are a genre that are fascinating precisely because they can simultaneously appeal to both kids and adults.
Children can look to superheroes as role models. Adults finally have the perspective to look behind the curtain of that dream world, and look back on their childhood, then forward into the institutions created to support the dreams of that little kid. Adults creating what they think kids should be dreaming about is a powerful force. If that’s not enough, comic book heroes stand at one of the busiest intersections of culture. Art, literature, ethics, the media, the economy, gender, race, politics, and religion are all twisted together in one of the most American inventions; the Superhero.
13. MOSTLY BAD ACTING
If an approach to acting can be reduced to: “acting naturally in unnatural circumstances”, then the more unnatural the circumstances, the more difficulty one would have acting naturally. Audiences have all seen the liberal amount of imagination supplanting the reality of these movies, so it must be hard for one to know how to act.
That being said, while not all performances are spot on, the MCU movies have done a stunning job casting these larger than life heroes with actors that meet the demands of the role.
The grandiosity of most heroes makes them very difficult to play, by most renditions, these characters are too nearly perfect to be believable. In spite of this, actors like Hugh Jackman, Wesley Snipes, and then Robert Downey Jr. succeeded in taking the weight out of the roles, making the heroes lighter and more relatable.
12. BORING, SHALLOW CHARACTERS
At their worst, it’s true, Marvel characters have appeared out of nowhere, with little to no explanation, sometimes nary a reason for being except being used as a quick joke. Other times, female heroes and caped crusaders of color are sidelined and dehumanized into mere plot devices.
However, there is a cunning way to write a heroic character, or, a villainous character. These modern day morality tales succeed when they capture the heart of the most pressing ethical dilemmas. These can be the problems of the individual or the entire world, but the character thrives when their internal struggle directly fuels their heroism and quest for justice. When Marvel stories hit their heights, they ask the audience: what if they had superpowers? In a way, it’s the ultimate human test of the imagination. It’s a tricky proposition, but there’s definitely nothing boring or shallow about it.
11. COOKIE CUTTER PLOTS
A big part of the reason the MCU movies have been so impressive is because their success has been purchased in the production budget of the movies. These projects are still such high investments, with the amount of special effects and celebrity needed to lift them off the ground, that a studio isn’t willing to take chances on story.
So, for now, the plots are going to go a little slowly, but the good news is that this problem that will solve itself.
Theaters have already debuted Deadpool and Logan, two of the most ambitious screenplays in the genre to date, and audiences responded remarkably in both cases. There’s still, literally, 60 years of back material, and more being produced every week. The House of Ideas is still making Ideas, as soon as they can repackage their success in comics completely onto the screen, the storylines will follow.
10. DON’T CARE ABOUT DIVERSITY AT ALL
There are rumblings at Marvel Studios nodding toward an appropriately diverse array of characters, who actually represent their audience. The success of Black Panther probably answered a lot of questions in some people’s minds about the “commercial viability” of interesting stories told from different perspectives. Still, Marvel will still likely lag in the effort to accelerate cultural development by valuing all human lives equally.
Fortunately, they can be very useful as a shiny, red caboose on the United States’ journey along the tracks of history. Their bright, shininess still represents a significant portion of the population, concerned about the future, advocating a conservative social path. The MCU movies, have not chosen to prioritize a balanced portrayal of everyone in this globalized society. But they will be one of the last bastions that withholds that acceptance, making the day that they do choose to represent their entire audience, even brighter.
9. PASSING FAD
At this point in the list, any readers are swayed at all by this myth need to reread the above arguments. Let alone the fact that Marvel Comics alone has been in existence for a better part of a century of this country’s young lifetime. Even if one ignored the link between American Manifest Destiny thinking, individualism, the American Dream, Western heroes, space heroes, sports heroes, war heroes, and superheroes; the inspiration of these movies still remains.
The darker times get, the scarier the world outside appears, the more turmoil people face in their backyards, the movies the MCU keeps releasing will present a more and more valuable escape.
8. “A-LIST” HEROES ONLY
One thing that can definitely be said about the MCU is they stumbled onto a formula and pressed it. Previously, in the first phases, the tendency to focus was another factor of minimizing risk. This list praised Downey, Evans, and Hemsworth for their larger than life performances, but it helps that those are the most open ended heroes on the Marvel roster. It helped in the early days to have a blank canvas.
In the past three years, Marvel’s Netflix Studios has carved an island out for itself with its showcase of the Defenders, solid B characters, and now on Hulu and Freeform, the Runaways and even Cloak and Dagger are starting really ambitious projects, and they’re still committed to remaining in continuity. The square jawed, monolithic heroes may have provided the frame, but the MCU is building its House of Ideas full of even the quirkiest fan favorites.
7. THE COMICS ARE BETTER
The comic book source material will always hold a special place in the canon of Marvel stories and heroes. But there is an argument that the movies are better in many ways. Comparing one medium to another is ludicrous, but there are differing cultural weights assigned to sequential art in graphic novel form and in movie form. The same biases exist elsewhere, rooted again in capitalism. Since movies are where the most money can be made, the most power and impact is assigned to that venue.
Throwing all of those biases aside, the movie theater experience brings a warmth and spectacular visual stimulation that the comics can’t reach.
And there is something more tangible, or more visible, about a huge movie premiere, like Black Panther, or Avenger: Infinity War, or any of them, that a new #1 issue release from Marvel Comics can’t match.
6. BROKEN EVERY BOX OFFICE RECORD
As of this writing, Black Panther and the The Avengers hold the records for highest grossing films in February and May, respectively. MCU movies are always so surprising at the box office, largely because of the myths enumerated here, but there’s no denying that they are growing into a sizable force.
This is rapidly adjusting in the coming months and years, by the way. The genre, if it can be believed, is still growing, and what was once thought to be a bubble, now looks like a growth market in popular culture. Marvel Studios alone has more than five more movies coming out over the next two years, along with an equally rapidly growing network of television characters, kids and adults alike are going to be immersed in the Marvel universe more than ever before.
5. TOO MANY HORRIBLE VILLAINS
Again, too much liberty is taken with the economy of story. Usually sacrificing villain development for more deliberate hero development. One can see why a movie studio executive may prioritize the protagonist over the antagonist, but the movie studio executive, with their desire to compromise in order to save money, is too distracted to realize that the two are inseparable.
The strongest heroes in the Marvel movies have been defined by their fiercest foes, just like many audiences are shaped by their struggles.
The Black Panther viscerally struggles with the argument made by Killmonger. Star-Lord’s conflict with his father is as high stakes family drama as it gets. Except of course, Loki’s evil-familial relationship with Thor. The MCU is developing in that direction, and when that part of the formula clicks, watch audiences to be scared, and then overjoyed, then even more entertained.
4. A DIRECTOR’S NIGHTMARE
“Red flags” might be the most generous term for the trouble spots in the MCU’s relationship with different directors over the years. Edgar Wright, Joss Whedon, Patty Jenkins, and Alan Taylor have all expressed their displeasure in working within the Marvel machine. Presumably, this is an allusion to the high level of corporate oversight and alignment imposed by Disney and the production company over each project.
This myth has been put to bed in recent years after the elevation of Kevin Feige to the top production job. He’s been with Marvel ever since they produced Blade, representing 20 years of experience in the genre. Rumors of directorial unrest have settled down since he took the helm and indeed, the movies of the current phase have all taken more individualized motifs, while still keeping a unified tone.
3. THERE WILL NEVER BE A HULK MOVIE
Due to a rights dispute with Universal Studios, a movie named after the Incredible Hulk can’t debut under the MCU banner. This has led to the recent confinement of the big green guy to sidekick status. Mark Ruffalo’s superb performance in this role has led some people to argue that the Hulk is better as a supporting character.
How a hero as large as the Hulk could be suitable in small doses sounds absurd.
A modern day Frankenstein’s Monster, fueled by rage and isolation, yet driven to connect through good deeds, to a world that misunderstands him. The Hulk’s split personality has always made him a tricky burden for writers but, Lou Ferrigno made audiences fall in love with the character as a main lead once before. If an emotional story existed, the Hulk movie could be an action thriller of Pacific Rim proportions.
2. MARVEL FINALLY HAVE ALL THEIR CHARACTERS BACK
As mentioned above, the Hulk is one character who, although currently appearing on screen, doesn’t reside 100% within MCU control. Spider-Man and his universe are in a similar boat. Other characters who fall into that category include: She-Hulk, Namor, and Rom the Spaceknight. Aside from those outliers, the MCU has a lot of catching up to do, incorporating the new characters it’s picked up from Fox, most notably the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
The suspense now comes from how those new characters will be incorporated, and how Marvel chooses to expand their production strategy. In many real ways, Marvel is expanding into this space as a trailblazer. Throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks may be the best strategy they have right now, and for fans, that just increases the level of excitement and unpredictability.
1. TOO MANY CAMEOS AND EASTER EGGS
In their attempt to appeal to everyone at all times, a lot of the movies made by the MCU are guilty of audience manipulation via red herring easter eggs or tantalizing cameos.
Most generously, these are nods to the audience’s basest emotions, stimulating the viewers fondness for celebrity, and roping in fanboys with a $60 piece of prop equipment that they’ll write about on pop culture websites for hours.
Amazingly, The MCU knows now that those scenes are kind of corny, Jon Favreau has come out publicly and stated that the infamous Shawarma scene was probably a little bit over the top. Ironically, that scene was the button on that movie that everyone could take as a talking point home with them, and arguably, it’s that button that reminded people this wasn’t just a normal movie, it was something heroic, fantastic, and intimately relatable: a Marvel movie.
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