Yes, It Really is a Big Deal

Posted: April 27, 2019 in Entertainment, Life, Movies
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Blog Cover - Big Deal

[I should note up front that at the time of this writing I have not seen Avengers: Endgame, so you don’t have to worry about spoilers.]

This is the weekend. It’s finally here. Almost one full week shy of exactly eleven years ago, Iron Man landed in theaters across the country and started us on a trip that is finally seeing its end. From Iron Man to Captain Marvel, 21 films have been made that have brought us to this weekend and film 22. We are at Avengers: Endgame.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, from social media to the workplace, there are people who want to downplay what this is. Some are just being deliberately insulting trolls or outright jerks, disparaging the nature of the genre and the fans who enjoy it. Some are simply playing the ‘I’m too cool to be into this popular film series stuff to that level’ bit. Then there are those who are not fans- outside observers as it were -who genuinely don’t understand why some of their friends, family, and coworkers are losing their minds this weekend.    

There’s little that can be said to the first two groups. They are what they are. As for the third group, I can assure you that, yes, what is about to happen in movie theaters across the country this weekend is absolutely a big deal. Here’s why. By the time we’ve all watched the last of the credits roll on Avengers: Endgame, we will have witnessed something that has never been done in the history of American cinema and, as far as I know, the history of cinema anywhere else.

The First Four

Eleven years ago, we started the journey with those four films. While the Powers That Be at Marvel Studios may not have had every detail and arc plotted out from day one, they had an idea of where they wanted to go. They started laying the groundwork on their template for the long game, even if they did have to tweak and evolve it a bit as the first few years went by. A part of this idea was telling stories in multiple franchises while hinting at and then later clearly building a larger world than just what existed in those franchises. Eventually, spread out across a decade’s worth of films, a story would be told.

Again, this has never been done before.

I can see immediately the responses. We’ve seen long-running franchises before with things like the Bond films. But many such franchises didn’t tell a start to finish narrative. But, hey, we’ve even seen a franchise tell a story across a decade’s worth of films such as the Harry Potter films did or even longer as the Star Wars films did.

On the surface of it, Harry Potter and Star Wars seem to undercut the idea that what Marvel Studios has done is, in fact, unprecedented. That is only a surface appearance thing, however.

Harry Potter was designed to tell one story over a series of films where all the films focused on the same core set of characters in each and every film. Other characters came and went, but the focus of every Harry Potter film is the same set of, essentially, three characters and their adventure over the years. In one respect, if you don’t factor in the idea that there was a planned start and finish to a long arc, this makes the Harry Potter films not that dissimilar from franchises featuring characters like James Bond or Kirk and crew. We only ever see films devoted to their small part of their world, and we rarely see anything else of those worlds explored.

Star Wars has been a mixed bag. Lucas- despite claims at the time the original trilogy was unfolding -wasn’t even sure where everything and everyone he had put in place was going when the first film was finished. It has long been a well-known bit of Star Wars trivia that Leia was not originally intended to be Luke’s sister. But deeper into the Star Wars geekery trivia is the fact that original drafts of The Empire Strikes Back included a scene where Luke met the Force ghost of his murdered by Vader father and learned from him he had a sister far across the galaxy. Vader wasn’t even originally going to be Luke’s father.

Star Wars is an incredible attempt at doing a massive generational saga in a science fiction setting, but the truth about the three trilogies is that they is they only barely make a cohesive whole. Things from one trilogy sometimes badly contradict things in another trilogy, and sometimes there are issues from film to film in the original trilogy because of the seat of their pants changes made as the story was unfolding. Then there’s the fact that Lucas sold off the franchise and become a vocal critic of the recent trilogy. It’s not a story being overseen by the same overseers.

What makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe films different from anything like a Harry Potter franchise is the exploration of the world through multiple mini-franchises. Yeah, people talk about all of this as “the Marvel films” when discussing it, but let’s be honest about what we’re looking at here. The three Iron Man films may have contributed story points and underlying ideas that were seen in the Avengers films, but the Iron Man films were very much a contained franchise. Characters from other parts of the MCU may have come, gone, and interacted with the principal characters of the Iron Man films, but those three films were focused more on the Iron Man characters than they were anything else. The same can be said of the Thor films, the Guardians of the Galaxy films, the Ant-Man films, and at least the first two Captain America films.

While these were all Marvel films, they were all also separate franchises. But they shared a universe in a way we’d never seen before. What happened in the solo character films had an impact on the Avengers films. What happened in the Avengers films had an impact on the solo films. Things we saw slowly building here and there in the solo films and the Avengers films came to a head in Captain America: Civil War. The events of Captain America: Civil War had an impact on the lives of the characters in the other solo films and the Avengers films. That was certainly true when you look at the radical change in the status of the relationship and lives of the characters in Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Again, while these were all Marvel films, they were all also separate franchises. But they wove in and out of each other and built on each other. They were a shared universe where we saw a single universe explored across our planet, into the far reaches of space, and into realms that haven’t been fully explored or defined just yet. Additionally, behind all of this, an undercurrent slowly building over ten years, a single story, a threat to everything, was being shown to us bit by bit. The details behind the scenes may have been turned on their head, tweaked, and refined as time went on, but the larger story goal was always there. That story has had a few Star Wars saga styled continuity hiccups, but far fewer than have been seen in the ten films so far.

10 Star Wars films over forty-plus years with an 11th and (maybe) final film coming. That’s another difference. Beyond the hodgepodge manner in which all of the Star Wars films finally came together, there’s the scale of the MCU. The first overall arc of the MCU will have twice as many films in it released in just over a single decade’s time. It’s also not a generational saga told here and there across the time it was released in theaters.

This is a shared universe filled with multiple separate franchises under the MCU umbrella crossing story elements and characters into one another before building and expanding that shared universe and pushing it along to a single, two-part finale for a massive story spread across 22 films.

We have never seen anything like this done in film; certainly not to the scale of the MCU. Whether you’re a fan or not, whether you appreciate the genre or not- this is the making of cinema history. Like some other landmark moments in cinema history, this will be seen as a before and after point that changed what we see as the possibilities in cinema.

Remove from the equation the genre, the style, the tone of the films. Remove any biases you may have for or against this type of filmmaking. Look at it only from the perspective of what they have achieved with cinematic storytelling. For most of my life, people have talked about how cool it would be if something like this- an interconnected universe of film franchises telling individual stories while building a larger, unified story -could be done in film. Then, most people dismissed it as a pipedream. It was a cool idea, but not something that we’d ever see pulled off.

Marvel Studios decided it could be done, and, as of this weekend, they successfully pulled it off. You can be indifferent to the subject matter being superheroes or even disdainful of that, but that doesn’t change what’s been done. After this weekend, the idea of what can be done with cinematic storytelling and the scale and scope with which it can be done is permanently redefined. Again, like the subject matter or not, Marvel Studios and their films have made cinematic history.

So, yes, it really is a big deal.

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. He has in the past contributed to websites like Needless Things, Nerdy Minds Magazine,  Gruesome Magazine, and others while occasionally remembering to put up the odd musings on his own blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, on Decades of Horror, and on the Nerdy Laser. He is also a regular co-host on The Assignment: Horror Podcast as well as the primary writer for its affiliated blog.

 

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