The following is a pretty long ramble about movies and super-heroes. You have been warned.
Guardians of the Galaxy!!1!!eleven!!!! AAAAAAA!!!
Okay. Got that out of the way. Ahem. I saw a particularly awesome movie today which I shall not spoil because YOU NEED TO SEE IT! NOW! But I will talk about my reactions to this movie and comic book movies in general.
In ye olden days before the Marvel Singularity, comic book stories translated to film or TV tended to be anemic, stilted versions of their comic book selves. There are several reasons for that, of course. One being the special effects budget. But what I’m talking about here is suspension of disbelief.
You can only put so much unbelievable stuff into a movie. And comics have the most unbelievable stuff of anything ever written! You have super-science mixed with magic mixed with pulp fiction mixed with aliens and gods and…well..EVERYTHING! So when someone decides to take a comic book property and turn it into a movie they have to figure out what elements to leave out and what to keep in order to make an exciting but at least tolerably believable film. And so most comic book stories are origin stories, taking the world as we know it and adding a single element, like aliens, or a mystical prophecy, or super-powers gained from radiation or some genetically-altering formula. And that’s basically it. Because if you put too much unbelievable crap together in one story audiences tend to cry “bullshit!” You need to ease an audience into the rest of the stuff with additional stories.
Which is why when it was announced that the X-Men would have a movie I was thrilled, but I also knew that we wouldn’t be seeing aliens or alternate dimensions or demons or any of the really out-there stuff you usually read in the X-Men comics. (I STILL want an “Inferno” movie! Make it happen, Singer!) No, I knew we’d just be getting the basic mutant “everybody hates us” storyline. And that made me sad. Because, even if the movie were successful enough to warrant a sequel, I knew we wouldn’t see the stuff I want to see. With sequels they usually would bring in another director and writer who likely knew nothing about the property and were starting from scratch themselves trying to make a story from this character. And they never took actual stories from the comics.
Why? Because movie studios aren’t interested in story. They’re interested in profit. As soon as they establish a property, they just fling more of the same out there and sweep up the falling cash. Traditionally, sequels either keep too much to the original formula adding nothing interesting to the mythology, or they throw something in that’s so jarring compared to the original that is just looks ridiculous and have nothing to do with the stories from the source material. Look at Superman III-V (I’m counting I and II as basically the same movie) or the Joel Schumacher Batman movies. Sequels continue until they suck as much money as they can from the property, leaving a dried-up, violated husk.
And then something happened. People who grew up with these comic book movies and horrible sequels grew up to direct their own movies. People who cared about the properties. (Perhaps a bit too much in some cases.) Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies are perfectly acceptable and didn’t need a reboot, in my opinion. Yes, the third film suffered from too much unbelievable crap at once, but it wasn’t as badas, say, Batman and Robin. Progress!
Spider-Man and Sue Storm were soon asked to leave the barbecue because their licenses are with another studio.
And then Marvel decided to start doing their own movies. Marvel, the comic book company, the people who actually write the stories, started making their own movies based on their own characters and plots! This, at last, is what I have been waiting for my entire life! Movie-wise, that is. Producers who care about continuity and who care about the fact that all of these comic book characters they own are in the same universe and know about each other and probably have lunch on occasion!
It’s a great time to be alive!
Thus, the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase I was born! And it was good! I mean, REALLY good! They established their main characters each in their own movie and then did something that had never been done before. They BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER FOR A TEAM MOVIE! By the time The Avengers came out, Marvel’s universe was well-established. If you’d seen the other movies, you’d know what’s going on. So they didn’t have to waste time on yet another origin story. They didn’t bother explaining to the audience what SHIELD was or why a man could turn into a giant rage monster because you know that story already! They could just go ahead and concentrate on creating something amazing built upon what they had already established.
And then, with Guardians of the Galaxy, they did something even more amazing! They basically said, “Okay, so you know all about this universe and what’s possible. If you believe all that and are fine with it, here’s the next layer built on top of those established premises!” Though they were probably more eloquent in that metaphorical statement.
Don’t you see? They successfully brought the audience into the next phase of story-telling! We now have a comic book universe where there are gods (or god-like beings) and aliens with incredible power and they can just tell stories in that universe without explaining it all again! And they care! They’re not just throwing random directors at these movies. They are carefully planning epicness.
The Shiny Hand of Cyttorak!
What will the next phase be after this? With Stephen Strange name-dropped in Captain America: the Winter Soldier and the news that they’re working on a Dr. Strange movie, the next phase will introduce magic. But will it work? Will audiences who have accepted the leap of superheros and the leap of aliens (who mostly seem humanoid and all seem to speak English) accept the idea of magic? I certainly hope so.