” I do not see them. I tried, you know? said Martin Scorsese in a 2019 interview with Empire, “But it’s not cinema.” the Freedmen The director then compared the films to “theme parks” and questioned their depth. Needless to say, his comments sparked controversy. Some felt Scorsese’s comments were fair, while others thought him out of place and unfair to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Scorsese isn’t the only high-profile public figure to speak out against superhero movies. Dunes Director Denis Villeneuve described Marvel films as “cut and paste”, saying: “Maybe these films turned us into zombies a little bit”. Legendary godfather filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola felt Scorsese was too kind. “He didn’t say it was despicable, which I’m just saying it is.” Phew.
But now, 28 movies, is it time to agree with these people? A common thread that ties these reviews together is that Marvel movies are always the same boring movie. The hero gains powers, the hero becomes the hero, the hero meets the villain, gets along with the designated love interest, and saves the day. In many cases, it’s hard to disagree with critics regarding the repetitive narrative structure of these films.
Marvel movies and narrative structure
One of the most apt criticisms of Marvel films is undoubtedly their structure. Repeated narrative structures (like the one mentioned above) make Marvel movies predictable. For starters, we know the superhero whose name adorns the film’s title. is not am going to die. Particularly when we know that the actor playing said superhero still has a contract to fulfill with Marvel. So whatever happens, we know that [insert superhero’s name here] will go all the way.
Now you might think that’s a trivial point. However, it is more important than you think. Guaranteeing the survival of the superhero (and several sequels) immediately removes a possible source of tension in the film’s narrative. I don’t judge it to be good or bad – I just consider it a fact. The superhero – and, by extension, the merchandise and franchise he represents – must continue to save the day. And so on.
But there is more ! No matter how flawed a Marvel movie hero may be, he’s always – still – noble and therefore boring beings. Let’s take Ant-Man as an example. When Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang was first introduced in his feature debut in 2015, he was fresh out of prison. He’s a former systems engineer fired for embezzlement – wow, what an interesting past for this future hero! Indeed, you might think so. However, the film shortly establishes that Scott was just pulling off a “Robin Hood” – embezzling the rich and giving to the poor.
The film immediately takes away the complexity of Scott’s character. You see, one of Ant-Man’s overriding themes is “redemption,” which is what Scott Lang seeks via his superheroic activities during the film. However, the theme is immediately ruined because the audience knows Scott is a selfless good guy deep down, anyway. In short, the movie is about “Breaking Good” – but Scott is a good guy with well-meaning intentions from the start. It lessens the impact of his growing up during the film — and so when Lang confronts his ex-wife and her boyfriend (and they point out, in various ways, that he’s an asshole), we’re immediately on his side because that we know otherwise.
too much comedy
Speaking of “getting the public on your side,” Marvel does this through other methods as well. One of the most significant examples is comedy. Often Marvel movies balance their action and drama with comedy to show us that, yes, even them to know their heroes are kinda ridiculous too. It almost borders the fourth wall (when it’s not so outright).
Now it’s easy to see why Marvel is doing this. The comedy cuts the tension in certain scenes, gives the audience their endorphins, and in the process subverts the dramatic expectations of the scene. And while it’s often fun, the speed at which Marvel uses this technique can also be awkward (and predictable in its execution). Doctor Strange’s preparation for the final battle in his first film has him struggling with his anthropomorphic cloak, killing the buildup (and stakes) of the battle. Avengers: Endgame cracks kill-baby-thanos jokes as the team actively seeks to defeat the being who wiped out half the universe. Bruce Banner and Hulk even merge in “Smart Hulk” in an effort to make us laugh easily.
And, again, I’m stressing. Jokes are good most of the time. We can’t be grateful enough that Marvel didn’t go the other way – making their movies cringe-worthy (i.e. Warner Bros’ batman versus superman). However, often Marvel’s comedy gets in the way, when it should stand on the sidelines. For example, with the MCU’s take on the Hulk, the intriguing Jekyll-Hyde dynamic is sidelined in favor of cheap laughs and comedy. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, initially a straight-faced Norse god, became a sarcastic Tony Stark 2.0.
Cameos and cameos
But Marvel’s pervasive humor isn’t the worst thing the movies rely on. Rather, it’s their overreliance on cameos. And when movies rely on cameos and big moments, instead of their overall arcs and themes, that becomes a problem.
We see the clearest downside to Marvel’s insistent fanservice in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The film’s “Illuminati” characters include Mr. Fantastic, Professor Xavier, Captain Carter, Karl Mordo, Black Bolt, and Maria Rambeau as the alternate universe’s Captain Marvel. And, yes, while it’s endorphin-pleasing to see these familiar faces (Patrick Stewart as Xavier is particularly lovable), what do they add to the overall story? Be honest.
The only reason these characters exist in the movie seems to be as targets for Wanda to show how powerful she is. Indeed, she makes quick work of all the aforementioned heroes. But more than that, they add nothing to the plot. You could say that some of them (i.e. John Krasinski’s Reed Richards) are there to prepare for future MCU movies. And that’s probably true – but it feels cheap because it serves the episodic nature of Marvel rather than the movie on its own terms.
The Problem After Marvel Credits
And the episodic nature that Marvel movies are widely known for is, ironically, its biggest problem. It’s no secret that the MCU is just big-budget, big-spectacle TV. Indeed, it’s their television-to-follow nature that makes them perfect for Disney Plus shows. It’s going really well.
However, as said before, the problem arises when movies are just sequels designed to produce more sequels than they are by being full movies themselves. iron man 2, for example, is a good movie – just not as good as it could have been. Its attempt to be an Iron Man movie while simultaneously trying to introduce Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow brings it down. It feels like the movie is more concerned with setting up The Avengers than fleshing out its villains, Whiplash and Justin Hammer.
Now, the MCU is known for capitalizing on post-credits scenes to tease sequels and future characters. They did it with great success building up to the first avengers. And, more recently, the end of Eternals revealed that Sersei’s (Gemma Chan) seemingly normal boyfriend, played by Kit Harrington, actually has his own superpowered backstory despite early appearances. We get the idea that his character will play an important role in future films. However, when the results we get are the laugh-filled, narratively boring cheap Marvel movies we have now, those scenes feel more like cheap marketing than good cinema. And, as such, it makes future releases a little less exciting than Kevin Feige might think.
But that’s just our point of view. Do you think Marvel movies are getting old and boring? What changes would you like to see made?