By Casey Patterson
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not improperly named. It really is galactic in size, both in the breadth of the settings and the endless chore that has becoming keeping track of all the canon. It’s so huge I’m going to have to publish this in multiple parts, meaning this will be a multi-part article criticizing the practice of multi-part storytelling. Thanks for making me look like a hypocrite, Marvel.
Back in 2001, Chicago announced that everyone in the city should read To Kill a Mockingbird. The idea was to give strangers something to talk about: a complex, shared media experience that could be used as an icebreaker. Fast forward just 15 years and the whole idea has become completely unnecessary. We’re moving away from niche, clique-y ideas like “this is only for nerds/kids/women/artists” and have begun to embrace modern media as a unified community of entertainment consumers. Adults loved watching Zootopia with their kids, and men laughed until they cried at Bridesmaids.
This reaction was expected from her, but that sentiment echoed across the majority of my social media feed. And yet, when I went to see it, half the friends who happily volunteered to go with me were already on their second viewing, meaning they paid twice for “alright.” The chatter as the audience left the theater involved the normal quotes, laughs and discussion, but what also accompanied it where tired questions. “Hey, did I miss anything by not seeing Ant Man? I still haven't gotten around to seeing that.” “Which movie was Steve's love interest in again? I already forgot her name.” “Where is Thor? Is there something in his last movie that explains why he's not there? Wait has he had a movie since the last Avengers one?”
At this point, a full understanding of what's going on in one movie costs hundreds of dollars and hours of “research” to obtain; a workload which borders on becoming a part-time job. There are complex relationship trees growing bigger and bigger by the movie, and it's not just the ensemble films that feature huge casts. For being classified as a Captain America movie, Steve sure has to share the screen with a lot of people in Civil War. And if following a dozen people fighting at once wasn't hard enough, early information on Infinity Wars boasts sixty-seven named characters. Sixty-seven. I've taken college finals less complicated.
This leaves me, any many other fans, beginning to wonder when this stops being fun and starts being homework. I personally don't like the Thor movies. I think Jane is a frustratingly written waste of what could be a great female character, and the plots are always unfocused. But do I watch them? Of course. Loki was the villain in The Avengers, and Age of Ultron was confusing enough without having zero context for Thor as a character. I still haven't seen Ant Man though (Jan is my favorite from the comics and her treatment in the MCU upsets me), and Doctor Strange looks like a dull, static mess. Is my stubborn refusal to subject myself to these movies going to be worth going into Infinity War unprepared? I'm not sure yet. I mean, movies that I’m not too invested in have a place in my life as background noise. At least that’s the excuse I make because I don’t want to be out of “the loop.”
We'll see. Marvel has announced years worth of upcoming films, and fans still scream for more. They've been clamoring for a Black Widow movie for years now, and many viewers were surprised to find themselves enamored with yet another baby-faced Peter Parker. And it’s not just the movies. Agents of SHIELD is going strong and Agent Carter had a decent run before its cancellation. There are over a dozen MCU-related cartoons on Netflix now and some fans are even inspired to delve into the comics. Godspeed on that one, kids.
“Wait!” I can hear you all thinking. “Is she really not gonna mention Winter Soldier?” I didn't because Winter Soldier is in a class of its own. Some argue that Deadpool is as well, but I would argue that's due to there being no bridging characters or plot lines. Captain America: The Winter Soldier stands apart as a surprisingly artful marriage of modern action with a kind of magical realism hero moves either ignore or over-indulge in. A stellar film, Winter Soldier is so good it might just be the first nail in the coffin of this franchise. How is being “too good” a bad thing? We'll talk about that in my next article in this series.
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