Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dark Marvel


With Avengers: Age of Ultron now out and blasting the box office at every turn, once again we've seen the rise of Marvel Studios' detractors and their complaints. We've seen numerous think pieces on why the studio and their model is destroying cinema, why these films are bad, why you shouldn't like them, yadda yadda yadda...

It gets a little worse though...

Kevin Feige recently held a Q&A on Reddit, here are some things he had reportedly said about the MCU's future and if it will "go dark" or not...

"There is no dark turn in the MCU. [Feige] says every year fans come up to him and ask him if this movie is when the MCU goes “dark” or takes a “dark” turn. He said while the trailers may seem ominous or have a sense of impending doom, the movies do not have that feel, and will not. He said he “Hoped people would catch on by now” – there will be no giant dark turns in the MCU where it then continues to head in that direction. The humor is in the DNA of the movies, there are no plans to change that."

Immediately, it was taken out of context thanks to people wanting to jump to conclusions, and film sites looking for hits.

However, /Film had some integrity. Their writer Germain Lussier put:

"He doesn’t mean dark things won’t happen in the films. People can die, there can be destruction, tragedy, etc. But the overall tone of the films won’t change. There won’t be some kind of big shift down a more realistic, serious path."

So much to talk about here, as Marvel's detractors often criticize their films for being too jokey or too goofy or not "adult" enough...

Then of course, DC is brought up... But what does Feige mean when he says "dark"?

Does he mean graphic violence and massive amounts of deaths? Does he mean always doom-n-gloomy in tone? Or does he mean serious or bad things happening despite the good?

It can't be the latter, because for all the humor and fun that defines the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is a lot of seriousness. Avengers: Age of Ultron dives into the fears and psyches of the gang, and deals with the ramifications of being superheroes - especially Bruce Banner's issue. There's Banner trying to cope with what he does and what harm he can possibly bring, all tying in wonderfully with Black Widow's dark past (the romance between the two was more than just a romance). Guardians of the Galaxy opens with the main character's mother dying of cancer, and what's worse, he witnesses it when he's a child! It's a big reason why the film has its slick 70s and 80s soundtrack, and the death definitely factors into the film's climax in a very touching way. Yes, in a weird sci-fi movie with gun-toting space raccoons and talking trees, there's palpable danger and there's sadness. It's not like it's all fun and games.

Look at Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Called the best of the MCU films by many, it deals with Cap adjusting to the modern world, realizing who you can trust and not trust, and the whole HYDRA reveal certainly rams the latter theme home with finesse whilst being a commentary on our world today. Steve Rogers is also a guy who has lost it all: His sweetheart from the 1940s is on her deathbed, his best friend has been preserved but brainwashed into a lethal assassin, oh... And in the future he's not going to get along with the son of Howard Stark. He already has something of a rocky relationship with Tony, ever since The Avengers!

It's not like Marvel's films are sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. They still carry PG-13 ratings, they still have death and destruction, they still have emotional moments...

They even handle the big fx action sequences well...

In fact, I'd say The Avengers subverts the big blockbuster despite being one of the biggest blockbusters. During the third act climax, so much emphasis is put on saving as much civilians as possible during the Chitauri invasion. So the fun of the fight is balanced with this, and it adds so much to the battle, and it makes the heroes even more likable. You see that despite their differences, they are humble and will do whatever it takes to do the right thing. Not like the brainless destruction and disregard for people in Man of Steel's overlong, overcooked third act. Avengers: Age of Ultron continues this theme when the Sokovian city and its people are in grave danger, also during the Hulk out in Johannesburg, and the Seoul train scene. They put the people first, more so in this film than the last one...

I think Feige means that they won't take an overly dark path and stay on that path... No super-depressing storylines, no gratuitous violence, no "dark for dark's sake" stuff. The last couple of Marvel films more than make me confident in the future of the series. Like the Redditor said, there will be death, there will be tragedy, it's just the tone that won't radically change for good.

What is Marvel's overall tone?

I think it's a combination of fun and that sense of wonder you would want from a fantasy or sci-fi film...

Some people, I notice, seem to misinterpret the word "fun". Fun means enjoyable, if you go to see a film that you had a blast watching, you were having "fun", regardless of how light or dark the movie is. I've had loads of fun watching all kinds of movies from different genres, and that fun comes from being engaged in the story, the characters, and caring about what's going on. What's wrong with that again?

However, the way some talk, you would think that fun = goofiness. Adam West Batman-esque antics! Cartoony slapstick! Stupidity!

Richard Donner's Superman films were fun. Tim Buron's Batman films were fun. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy was fun. Christopher Nolan's significantly darker and weighty Dark Knight saga was fun. The list goes on... All dealt with darker ideas and had weight to them. Why were they fun? Because their stories enthralled us! Something like Adam West's Batman is fun because it does something that pleases us in a way that's different from those sets of films I've listed, fun can mean many things: Whether it's a comedy or a drama or something lighthearted or something heavy...

Something that isn't fun is a movie like Batman & Robin, despite the fact that its tone is super-goofy, there's jokes aplenty, and it's over-the-top. But Batman & Robin's corporate BS, forgettable story, lame comedy, and lack of passion can be smelt from a mile away, right from the very beginning of the film. Coming off of the mixed bag that was Batman Forever, it rightfully pissed fans off. Batman Forever was WB's response to the outcry over how supposedly "dark" Batman Returns was (which was still a very fun film, to me), and this was even worse. People disliked it and rightfully so, it had nothing to do with being "fun". It was just bad and thoroughly lazy, it felt like a Batman story written by a group that was only interested in selling toys.

(Funny how WB used to be all about making things less dark, now they fetishize what they think is dark, and super-seriousness.)

So why are we equating "fun"/"enjoyment" with campiness and campiness alone? Don't you have fun when you watch a film you really like? I don't get it...

Marvel Cinematic Universe, I think, strikes a fine balance with their films. No, their films aren't exactly masterpieces, and I don't think they're trying to be. One may argue that this isn't progressive for superheroes or comic book movies, but a lot of fans like what Marvel's doing because above all, they're trying to give the viewers an entertaining experience with a story they'll get into and characters they will like, sympathize with, root for, etc. They want to do what they want to do, but the right way. If something's amazing at what it does, why slant it? Not every film can be the same exact thing or have the same exact goals. What Marvel is doing is hardly "contempt" for the audience, like some thinkpiece or two will whine.

It's not like Marvel keeps itself confined to the "entertaining blockbuster" box. Like I said earlier, Guardians has a real emotional core, Winter Soldier has a story arc that isn't happy-dappy, Tony Stark is haunted by his past in Iron Man 3, we lose Thor's mother in The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron deals with a plethora of different things that gives the characters a lot of depth, especially Black Widow and Iron Man. On second viewing, I was a bit shocked by how complex the story was this time around. On first viewing I just saw "the Avengers team up again", but the next viewing, I saw much more. It's definitely more psychological than the other MCU films, and it's emotional at times too, deals with some strong subject matter, it's intimate even... Hardly just "silly stuff" in my book. I reckon the critics who gave it negative scores need to watch it again, it's not a film that you can absorb in one sitting...

Without a doubt things will go down once we get to Phase 3. I don't think they'll take Captain America: Civil War too lightly, and we'll dive into the supernatural horror of Doctor Strange afterwards and see the Asgardian apocalypse unravel in Thor: Ragnarok. To say nothing of Infinity War.

Again, I think Mr. Feige means that the MCU won't go super-dark and stay that way, like some might want. A specific kind of dark where everything, everything is bad. These stories will remain good-vs-evil stories with some complexities thrown in, enough to satisfy many. The darker side of Marvel will indeed exist, and has been kept for the small screen, the Netflix likes of Daredevil, and that show doesn't mess around. Neither, I presume, will A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist.

Also, a more realistic, serious path... I think that means hyper-realistic, rather than "true to life". Again, there is death and tragedy and negative things happening in the MCU. No "gritty" or "grounded" stuff, it'll be fantastical. After all, we have Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, to say nothing of demigods, aliens, a guy who can turn into a green giant, etc. etc. It's going to continue to embrace that inherent wackiness, but still treat these stories like they are stories.

I think that's what they mean. There can be seriousness and dark elements, but it won't ever be overly serious or overly dark... It certainly won't be like Man of Steel and possibly future DC Cinematic Universe installments, which seem to dislike enjoyment/fun altogether. We're only one film into that series, and that film feels like a bad clone of Christopher Nolan's masterful Dark Knight trilogy. Batman v Superman has an impressively put-together trailer, but the film looks like it could be more of the same. I'm hoping for a film that's dark, mysterious, epic, and enthralling, not something like Man of Steel, which was anything but all of that.

As for humor...

Some say the MCU films overdo the humor aspect and that's understandable. For me they only went too far in Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron, but I think it's good to have a healthy dose of humor that fits. Most of the time, I think they get it down pat. Po-faced super-seriousness with a few jokes that feel like token jokes is the other extreme that I think DC shouldn't go to. I don't want super-jokey a la Adam West Batman, nor do I want super-serious. I want balance. The MCU usually does it, The Dark Knight trilogy did it too.

I think the MCU will continue balancing the light and dark quite well, but will continue to tell really good stories that are uniquely their own. As for what those think pieces are saying, that's another story for another day. I think many of them seem to want the MCU films to be something to their liking, or they just are upset that the MCU has gotten this far. Either that, or they don't pay attention to these films and all they see is spectacle. I see more than that, and so do many critics, writers, and fans... But again, that's another story for another day.

1 comment:

  1. We all know gloomy, dull, colorless, and nonsense philosophy means better (sarcasm).

    ReplyDelete