As this week’s cover story lays out, Marvel movies aren’t bad. But with 11 Marvel movies already out, the formula’s grown a bit stale. Here are a few things Marvel can do to shake things up:
GIVE YOUR HEROES DISTINCT THEMES
No other genre deserves hummable, iconic themes like the superhero genre. But I can think of nothing – other than AC/DC and Quill’s “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” – particularly iconic about the Marvel movies. They could have gone the route Howard Shore went with Lord of the Rings, where characters and worlds come with their own themes. And then, when they meet up, the themes converge. Picture Wagnerian style opera for Thor, USO-show trumpets for Captain America, electric guitar squealing for Iron Man and, of course, 80’s synthesizer for Peter Quill. Instead, Marvel movies have generic mush playing in the background, worse than most TV soundtracks. This essay by Emily Asher-Perrin dives into this problem and possible solution, in greater detail.
INTRODUCE BECHDEL GIRL
Alison Bechdel’s “Bechdel Test” famously assesses gender equality in movies by asking, does the movie have at least two female characters who talk with each other about something other than a man? It’s one test that could improve Marvel movies a lot by passing.
Despite all the controversy, I actually thought that Age of Ultron was better than any other Marvel movie in how it wrote its female characters. Strong female characters, after all, aren’t about karate moves. And right now, the world of Marvel would be mightily improved by simply adding female superheroes period. Diversity doesn’t automatically make a movie better, but after 11 samey movies, it certainly couldn’t hurt. Have hope for Captain Marvel.
GIVE YOUR VILLAINS PERSONALITY
Loki aside, most Marvel villains have been dull corporate schemers or generic cacklers unrecognizable below makeup. Ultron was underexplored and underdeveloped. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Look at the Joker. Heck, look at Daredevil, the Netflix show that, oddly, had the opposite strengths and weaknesses of the Marvel movies. There, Wilson Fisk was terrifying, but sympathetic and deep and fascinating. Everything a villain should be.
DROP THE MULTI-MOVIE RUNNERS
Fine, tease the next movie in the credits. Have a cameo by Doctor Strange or Squirrel Girl to promote a future film. Or go full hog and have a Star Wars-style trilogy against a single villain. But stop killing a movie's momentum to let Thanos monologue uselessly, or for Thor to have a useless side-quest in a cave, or S.H.I.E.L.D obsess about a magic box, just to tease future films. Your films will sell themselves. Make them cohesive wholes.
PLAY WITH OTHER GENRES
Really, it’s ridiculous that we refer to “The Superhero Genre.” Superhero is a type of character. It shouldn’t tell us anything about the plot, the tone, or the general mechanics of the story. A superhero movie doesn’t have to end with a story.
Marvel could do any type of movie with its super-powered characters. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg has pushed for a romantic comedy with She-Hulk. Why not a Jonah Hill slacker comedy as a regular guy stuck in a superhero world? Or a musical in the vein of Batman Brave and the Bold’s The Music Meister? Or a horror movie with The Abomination? Or a low-key indie flick with Iron Man and Captain America on a road trip to try to find … themselves? Early word is that one of the Star Wars spinoffs will be a heist movie. That’s a good start.
Hopefully Marvel can follow suit.