Let's get this out of the way first: I am not a Marvel hater or a DC lover. I am just a guy who is passionate about film and wants every single film to be the very best that it can be. The reality is that very few movies are perfect gems without a single flaw, and pointing out areas for improvement is not bashing a film. In fact, critically thinking about a film is in itself a compliment, as something within said film made you care enough to think deeply about it. So with all of that out of the way, let's dive into what I believe are three ways that the MCU can be improved.
1. Break The Mold
In many ways the Marvel movies all follow a pretty similar formula. While this has suited the company well, eventually fatigue could start to set in if they don't start making a real effort to switch things up. They have made some small strides in terms of trying out different genres — namely space-epic Guardians of the Galaxy and spy-thriller Captain America: Winter Soldier — but even these movies follow the tried-and-true narrative structure pretty closely.
For example, Marvel's most recent film, Captain America: Civil War, appeared to be something pretty different from their past films based on all of the marketing. We were teased an Avenger vs. Avenger showdown that would change everything in the MCU. In reality? The battle, while satisfying on it's own, didn't really have much of an impact on anything. Sure, there is the strife between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, but even that seems pretty much reset by the time we get to the closing credits.
Admittedly, Marvel is taking steps to break new ground. In Civil War, audiences had the pleasure of being introduced to Marvel's first non-white leading hero in Black Panther. While he played a supporting role in this film, his solo film is slated for a 2018 release and has a refreshingly diverse cast. Marvel is also producing it's first female-led superhero film with Captain Marvel, currently planned for a 2019 release. These films show a step in the right direction as Marvel attempts to tell some different stories. However, let's hope that they also take narrative leaps within these films and truly shake things up. One thing is for sure: The fans are fiercely loyal and will stick around if/when Marvel decides to try some new things.
2. Develop Consistent Characters
The key to most long-running franchise is characters that people care about. Think about it: Would you want to follow around a bunch of lifeless one-dimensional characters for eight movies? You can have a great premise, fun action, striking visuals, but it will all eventually wear thin unless you have truly engrossing characters. Marvel has developed a large number of characters throughout its eight-year run, each to varying degrees of success.
Steve Rogers has been a consistent character from the start, even as he grows and evolves through the franchise. He has changed a lot since we met him in The First Avenger, but the changes always seemed authentic and character driven. I mean, who wouldn't change as they learn more about a world that is completely foreign to them? The reason Steve can change so much and yet remain consistent is that the core of the character remains the same. He is heroic, good-natured and a little bit naive. You might call him the eternal boy scout.
Unfortunately, some characters have suffered from much less consistent writing. The prime example of this in my mind is Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, portrayed in the films by Scarlett Johansson. Let's go through Natasha's appearances in the MCU thus far:
- We first meet Natasha in Iron Man 2. She is spunky, fun and a little mysterious. Looking back though, she is pretty much only in the film to have a flirtmance with Tony.
- The character appears next in The Avengers, where she is still mysterious and is now clearly being positioned to have a relationship with Clint Barton/Hawkeye.
- Natasha is next seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where she remains mysterious and this time flirts with (and kisses) Steve Rogers. Sure, the kiss is in an effort to remain their cover, but the pair spend most of the movie flirting with each other.
- Then there is Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Natasha is mysterious — though they do reveal bits of her backstory — and is now in a romantic relationship with Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Also, Clint Barton has a wife and children that were never mentioned. Huh?
- Finally, there is Captain America: Civil War. Natasha appears in the film and is (alright, you guessed it) mysterious as ever. Thankfully, Natasha isn't in any sort of romantic pairing this time around. However, she betrays her allies at the end of the battle and the film provides no explanation for this.
It may seem like I am reducing Natasha to her romantic pairings, but I am truly looking for more in the character and finding nothing. There is her vague, mysterious past, but at this point we barely know anything about her that we didn't know when we first met her. In the time that Steve Rogers has grown yet remained consistent at his core, Natasha has remained one-note through five movies. This leads me to believe that the reason Marvel hasn't made a Black Widow movie, despite the serious fan-demand, is that they simply have no idea what to do with the character.
When you have as many characters to balance as Marvel does with their Cinematic Universe, some are naturally going to be more developed than others. However, I think it would be wise for Marvel to take more time to properly progress their core characters and make sure they all mature and evolve throughout the films. Fleshed-out and engaging characters are vital to any franchise, and in my opinion this is one area where Marvel could make some serious improvements.
3. Set Some (Real) Stakes
I know that the humor in these movies is one of the things that makes them as wildly popular as they are. Nonetheless, I believe there is a time and a place for comic relief in Marvel films. During the more tense moments in these films, cracking a joke can quickly relieve tension. Is a little tension in a superhero movie really such a bad thing, though?
For example, in The Avengers, when the team is fighting off a hoard of alien enemies who are literally destroying New York City and have the potential to destroy the world, why do the characters need to pause to deliver one-liners? This sucks you right out of the life-and-death battle occurring and reminds you not to worry because everything is gonna be just fine by the time the credits roll. While an occasional comedic moment during a tense action climax can certainly serve its purpose, often times in Marvel films they come so rapidly that the stakes are lowered significantly.
The other thing is this: Marvel really needs to kill some characters and let them stay dead. I know that characters die and come back frequently in the comic book world, but that is a vastly different medium than film. Without any real consequences for any of the characters, there is no real suspense in these films. We know exactly what we are in for from the second the Marvel logo appears, and even when a character meets their end we can breathe easy knowing that they will be back in no time. If Marvel would take a risk and kill at least one important character, it would create a feeling of uncertainty for the audience and the other characters. Not a bad uncertainty, but the kind of exciting uncertainty that stems from knowing that all bets are off.
That's not to say we wouldn't mind seeing more videos like these in the near future:
So, what do you think? Do you agree that Marvel should make any of these changes? Vote in the poll and comment below to expand on your thoughts.