On April 26th of this very year, Marvel Studios released Avengers: Endgame in cinemas worldwide. The film hardly needs any introduction. After all, having swamped the internet with a monsoon of hash-tags, spoilers, memes and reviews and grossing more than 2 billion dollars at the global box-office, I very much doubt anyone reading is unfamiliar with the movie.
With over 23 movies up to now, Marvel Studios (owned by Disney, whose CEO Bob Iger perhaps took the board-game ‘Monopoly’ a little too literally as a child) has spawned a multi-million dollar film empire than dominates Hollywood with an iron fist, or perhaps more appropriately, an Infinity Gauntlet. Churning out project after project with spectacular financial reward, Marvel’s movies have come a long way from the printed page, and are without exaggeration, probably the biggest (certainly the most successful) and most recognisable films of our time. You can’t walk a square inch without coming under the blitzkrieg of toys, posters, action-figures, lunchboxes, box-sets and costumes that Marvel’s marketing department has launched at the word’s markets.
Now, I personally do not dislike Marvel movies. I grew up with these characters; they were an integral part of my childhood and have established themselves as defining pop-culture icons. And I won’t lie, I dutifully forked over my ten euro to pay for my Endgame ticket, just like most of you. I do not hate, or despise, or loath these films, they do not consume my immortal soul and leave me puce in the face and screaming with rage at the audacity of Chris Hemsworth in tights throwing a hammer into the face of an alien with the face of a California Raisin. They’re fun movies. They are without a doubt entertaining, but.....that’s really it, isn’t it?
Yes, the characters are incredibly popular but...they’re really just lifted from the already written source material. If you think about it, a lot of the Marvel movies trundle along on the force of star-power alone, Scarlett Johanssen, Robert Downey Jr, Samuel L Jackson...the names alone attract more attention than story, script, pacing or dialogue could ever do.
And sure, they’re not atrocious piles of drivel in my eyes, but none of the Marvel movies are more than decent. They’re...ok, fun, visually appealing but lets be honest here, it stops there. None of them are on the level of Casablanca, or Ran, or any of the Sergio Leone flicks, just off the top of my head.
Recently Martin Scorsese noted that Marvel movies aren’t cinema. They’re theme parks, and the fact that Disney plans to literally build enormous theme parks out of this franchise only serves to put a final bullet in satire’s head. And coming from the director of (to name but two of his works) Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy - savagely striking, moving, brutal and compelling character studies - this isn’t a statement to be scoffed at. Because Mr Scorsese has a point.
Marvel Movies represent something far more subtle yet just as sinister to the evolution of cinema. They are the beginning of a propagation of CGI splurge-fests lavishly coated with spectacle and green-screen wizardry that operate on the principle that: enough money + famous actors equals good movie. When really it doesn’t, because If I may be scathingly honest, Marvel movies have essentially justified mediocrity as the new norm for cinematic success. Let’s remove the nostalgia goggles and the fondness for our childhood heroes for once: the stories are mostly uninspired, rote, formulaic, and most importantly and dangerously in my eyes, take no risks. Because, in a franchise, the key element for staying afloat is that the franchise in itself has to continue, meaning that sure, half the characters will die in Infinity War, but they will all be promptly resurrected by the time the next movie rolls around. Not to mention that as a billion dollar enterprise Disney wants to appeal to as many demographics as possible, which in turn means that the Marvel movies express no controversial opinions whatsoever. Their social commentary is bland and vapid.
These aren’t movies that challenge the viewer, that force them to think. The good guys will always win, the faceless alien army shall always be vanquished and God forbid any of their movies break the mould because Kevin Feige needs a new fleet of lamborghinis for his Malibu penthouse. And the more successful they grow, the more Disney spreads its tendrils around every single studio in Hollywood, the more good cinema suffers. It substitutes more grounded, independent, avant garde or different movies for the same shtick we’ve seen time and time again.
How many of you watched Black KKKLansman, Spike Lee’s intense, darkly comic take on issues of racism, segregation and white supremacy? How many here are aware of the release of Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, an anti-hate satire attacking the blind nationalism of Germany under the Third Reich? Or the Cohen Brother’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the hilarious and depressing series of vignettes set in the Old West. How many paid to see Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson’s gorgeous stop-motion epic? I can go on for hours if I want to. How about Adam Mckay’s Vice, the dissection of Dick Cheney’s stance as vice-president of America? Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham’s funny, touching presentation of the struggles of insecurity and adolescence?
If you have seen these, that’s fantastic. If you haven’t, I’m not surprised, but neither am I judging you negatively. Because as big as Spike Lee’s name might be or the Cohen Brother’s, they are nothing compared to the behemoth that is Marvel Studios. I bet nearly everyone reading (including myself) watched Avengers Endgame though. And as enjoyable as that was, its depressing to think that the movie in which men in spandex and lycra beat the tar out of an angry purple grape with an obsession for rock collecting made more of a cultural impact than other projects that provided significantly more engaging, thought-provoking viewing experiences, who were buried beneath the avalanche that this superhero pantheon has become.
And it’s a pity, because it’s not like superhero movies automatically have to be bad. James Mangold’s Logan was a phenomenal depiction of an ageing, weathered, dying superhero struggling to find meaning in a world where he is no longer relevant. And despite the (frankly ridiculous) controversy cooked up by the media, Todd Phillip’s Joker is perhaps a beacon of hope as its own raw, gritty, disturbingly intense character portrait of one of comic’s most beloved and enduring antagonists. But with a new flurry of Marvel projects on their way it seems we’re resigned to repeat the same old story once more. One where essentially meaningless, flashy, gaudy and empty cinematography trumps dedication and passion, where big-name actors can overpower nuanced and emotive screenplays, where no matter how hard aspiring directors and screenwriters try to push the envelope and explore fresh angles through the power of cinema, they will always be annihilated by the billion-dollar barrelled cannon of what is increasingly lazy film-making.
But what do Marvel care? Even after writing this, what feels like three-quarters of the earth’s population will dutifully march into their nearest cinema to watch the latest Spider-man movie, or Avengers 6, 7, 30. It seems that, as unfortunate as it sounds, capes, have beaten quality.
Pablo LC, Year 13
“Marvel is a cornucopia of fantasy, a wild idea, a swashbuckling attitude, an escape from the humdrum and the prosaic. It's a serendipitous feast for the mind, the eye, the imagination, a literate celebration of unbridled creativity, coupled with a touch of rebellion and an insolent desire to spit in the eye of the dragon.” These words were spoken by Stan Lee, the long term creative director for Marvel Studios. What we can see here is the love Lee has for his creation, what many people think is a marvellous mixture of all things wild and fantastic. This film franchise has engrossed billions, and their latest movie, Endgame, is set to be the movie with the largest ever revenue.
Why is Marvel so popular? Entertainment is not a good enough answer. Entertainment was not the reason why many people walked out of cinemas touched having watched 'Infinity War'. It's not why people root for different characters, and not why the Marvel fanbase is one of the most dedicated to a film franchise in the world. For the answer to this question we have to look deeper. It lies in Marvel's history, and involves the man I mentioned earlier, Stan Lee.
Before Marvel, superheroes generally took on a flawless character; Superman is a good example. In the original comic book, Action Comics 1, Superman is introduced as a impenetrable force, with no weaknesses (kryptonite, his famous flaw, was introduced later). The comics sold rapidly, and were mainly aimed at young teens. But when Marvel and Stan Lee entered the comic world, they aimed for something different. They wanted to make characters relatable and flawed, with human problems and feelings. That's why the Hulk is timid and scared in his human form, and why Iron Man is proud and selfish.
Superhero movies don't give idealistic ideas we can't meet as ordinary people, but rather show that even the world's most powerful have weaknesses and flaws as does everyone. We also find that many of these superheroes start as ordinary people, and end as saviours of the human race. Marvel wants you to know that anyone can be virtually anything they want, and with great power comes great responsibility. They serve as inspiration for young people that dream to be great. How could you hate that?
I know a point that the opposition will make is that there are so many Marvel movies that it is clear that the only reason the movies are made is the extensive revenue. There are two reason for this. First of all, Marvel has made 32,000 comics in a 70 year period; this staggering number means that films based on these comics allow them to release a larger number of films in a shorter period of time. It is easy to compare Star Wars and Fast and Furious to the Marvel Universe. To people who have never watched these movies, they sound about the same. But the reason that Star Wars films are produced at a much slower rate is because they're not based on books, and Harry Potter has simply far fewer too. The second reason is that with a huge cast across the Marvel Universe, there are hundreds of origin stories and sequels to be made. The actors want to appear in the films as much as possible for a personal benefit, and will request such films to be made. But maybe instead of complaining about the number of films we should enjoy them, as there are few franchises that produce so many high quality action blockbusters.
I myself am not the biggest Marvel fan there is. I don't own or read the comics, and in fact only encountered Marvel a year ago, with Infinity War. What I saw was good character development, proper values taught and a suitably troubling finish. It's never too late to try a film just because you think it's to childish, or not your type. Before I watched Infinity War, I hadn't even thought about it. And if you decide that you don't like it once you've watched it, go on, hate it. After all, you decide what you like and hate. But making a decision to hate something before you've tried it is stupidity and arrogance. Marvel superheroes are representations of how flawed humans can be, and more than just violence and love stories. Somewhere in the world, someone might be looking at a Spiderman poster in their room, and dreaming about greatness.
Lorenzo N, Year 9