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The Marvel Delusion

posted Feb 10, 2013, 9:56 PM by Kaya Savas

So, Marvel movies are a big deal now and about everyone I know is vomiting praise for these flicks as well as for the filmmakers (especially Joss Whedon). I just wanted everyone to step back and ask yourselves “Are Marvel movies as good as I think they are?”. If you actually step away from the fanaticism associated with the brand and the delusion that Kevin Feige has you under then you’ll realize that these movies are programmed to make you like them and believe they are the greatest movies ever.

Marvel films operate under a brand, and holy crap it’s probably the best business model to ever hit the film industry since the concept of the sequel. Praise to Marvel for turning their once bankrupt property into a money-making machine. So much so that Disney is applying the same model to Star Wars and I’m sure Warner Brothers is cooking something up for DC. The model is to release a wave of standalone character movies then culminate that wave with one ensemble piece. Marvel calls is the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and wave 2 starts with Iron Man 3. We’ll get another round of standalone films that will ultimately culminate with Avengers 2. Rinse and repeat and before you know it Avengers 3 will be here. This is all Kevin Feige’s model, and it has turned event films into episodic comic issues that all end with “Next time on [Insert Movie Title]...”. The movies become trailers for the next movies and you never get any real conclusion.

The studio is also stomping out creativity to hold up their business model. There are good reasons why so many directors have walked away from Marvel for “creative differences”. Try and be an auteur and Feige will give you the boot. That goes for directors, writers, cinematographers, composers, etc. Marvel keeps hiring newcomers because they won’t fight back when they’re told what to do. Imagine Michael Bay’s ego vs. Shane Black’s. The movies all must look the same, feel the same, sound the same. They must all be Marvel. Ask any Marvel fanatic and they’ll aggressively disagree and probably site Joss Whedon’s Avengers as a prime example of smart auteur entertainment. That doesn’t count because Marvel seamlessly fit Whedon into their established style, and the styles are so similar that Whedon is now the voice of Marvel and vice versa. You can't tell the difference, he was just that stunningly perfect match for the brand.

"Reminding you that this film was made by a studio"

I was born in ’87 so I grew up in the 90’s, and for that decade my action films were brought to me by Jerry Bruckheimer. I will argue that Jerry Bruckhiemer is the king of producers when it comes to action entertainment and his films trump anything Marvel will ever do. Let me continue while you scoff at me and before you close your browser. The reason why people think Marvel films are quality films are because of pretentious writing. Whenever a filmmaker thinks he/she is smarter than the audience I immediately recoil in disgust, and Marvel (but more specifically Joss Whedon) thinks they are smarter than all of you. You are the puppets laughing when they tell you to and clapping when they order you to. The whole experience becomes so forced that nothing feels organic. I shouldn't laugh because I'm supposed to laugh, don't tell me when to laugh Marvel! If a human being witnesses something smart and witty then that person will automatically like it in order to seem smart and witty themselves. Such as “I love Avengers because it’s entertaining but so smartly written”. Really? You do? Just like you love abstract art because you totally see the symbolism of the smear of colors through a triangle. You are now immediately under the Marvel delusion. When the film’s writing bleeds over the story and character then that’s a sign of filmmakers whom are very full of themselves, and I don’t bite on that.

Now look at Bruckheimer’s films. Bruckheimer works with auteur directors to deliver quality action entertainment that is not pretentious in any way, still well-made and supremely entertaining. Directors like Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, Gore Verbinski and Michael Bay are all considered auteurs whether you like it or not. And as much as you want to fight it, Michael Bay is a better director than Joss Whedon (director, not writer). His sense of action, effects, space within the frame, structure and execution is the best around when it comes to this stuff. Compare the end battle of Transformers 1 to that of the one in Avengers and notice how much better in structure Transformers is. Cry blasphemy all you want, you know it’s true. The Rock is in my opinion the greatest pure action film ever made, and never once did I feel the movie was trying to be a smart-ass to me the audience member. I took it in and was not force-fed the material. 

*Look at a scene from Transformers vs. Avengers. Notice how Michael Bay expertly builds his action. He can get the hairs on the back of your neck up in 1 minute. Notice the use of sound especially how it drops out to create that uneasy anticipation as well as when the score starts playing. Notice the superb editing as well. Now look at Avengers and Marvel's ("Whedon's") "fly on the wall" approach. There is no rise of action, the score is barely noticeable, the camera floats as if it's part of a theme ride attraction, and it ends on a joke telling you to laugh at it. 1-minute from an auteur-led action film vs. 1-minute from a studio-led mass market product.

Transformers Action

Avengers Action

Also to further prove my point. This is the top comment from the Avengers clip on YouTube.

*(I'm aware Bruckheimer didn't produce Transformers as per my main argument, but it's most similar to Avengers in tone).

Bruckheimer-produced action films also polarize the audience. You will always find someone who hates one of those films, and that is a very good thing. You see, we are all different and our opinions differ with each person. It’s called being an individual, yes we’re all special... like snowflakes! No two are alike. So isn’t it a red flag that a movie is so mainstream that everybody loves it? It’s because Marvel was so focused in making as mainstream a movie as possible that they sacrificed good storytelling and compelling filmmaking to include as much generally liked elements as possible. The result? Good safe films. 

All of Marvel’s films are good. I’m not saying they’re trash. I’m also not saying that Bruckheimer branded films are ultimately better either (just better executed). Transformers, Pirates, Avengers, Top Gun, National Treasure, Armageddon are all on the same field. They are action movies with big budgets meant to entertain. But somehow Marvel was able to make you think that all of their films are the Citizen Kanes of fun action. They are not. They are popcorn flicks designed to make you feel elite for watching and enjoying them. I don't care how faithful they are to the comics, if you want the comics then read the comics. Same goes for Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, while there may be darker more human themes at work there it’s still a summer popcorn movie. I love The Dark Knight Rises immensely, but I won’t call it the best film of 2012. I liked it more than the Avengers because Nolan respects his audience as a writer. Sure there are people who will feel elitist for liking that too, but at least the film itself doesn’t promote that. Comparing Nolan’s writing to Whedon’s writing is sort of like “I hope you like it” to “You will like it”.

In the end these are just movies, completely disposable entertainment. So to even argue about it is funny, but it’s fun too. It’s just quite annoying when Marvel fanatics act all elitist above the rest when in reality nothing about the movies are any more special than anything else. Seriously, X-Men: First Class is a much better film than the Avengers. I get that people have emotional attachment to the source material, I do. But it shouldn’t completely blind you. They just designed their films in a mainstream way just to make you believe you are part of the “cool club” for liking them. If you start telling me your Ferrari is a better car than my Toyota then I’ll probably put my hand up and walk away. So don’t tell me that Marvel films are a class above the rest because I’ll probably do the same. I’m looking forward to Iron Man 3 like everyone else, but I’m even more excited for The Lone Ranger because I know I’ll be seeing a Gore Verbinski film. Do you really think Iron Man 3 is a Shane Black film or is it a Marvel film directed by Shane Black whose attached to puppet strings being controlled by Kevin Feige? An auteur's worst film will always be better than a non-auteur's best film. Awaken from the delusion.