Why Marvel Movies Are Bad
Good movies take risks—Marvel’s do not
By: Sebastian Alfonzo
Films should challenge us. They should encourage us to think and see differently. Yet the only thing Marvel movies challenge is my ability to stay awake.
The visual designin Marvel movies is a mixed bag. The cinematography in these films is usually excellent. Their panoramic landscapes are breathtaking, and action shots are heart racing. Moments like Killmonger’s rotating throne walk-up in “Black Panther” (2018) strike me as uniquely innovate for the franchise. Although Marvel seems to have figured out how to color grade since “Doctor Strange” (2016), theirprior films butcher these vibrant comic book properties by portraying them in hyper realistic shades of beige.
Beautiful shots are wasted by Marvel’s corporate loyalty to continuity editing. These films’ inability to do anything even mildly risqué editing-wise result in a numbing shot syntax, which softly lulls viewers into a sedated viewing state. For example, when Piper and Tony have a conversation about Tony’s workaholism in “Iron Man 3” (2013), we don’t need constant switches between the two to be reminded of the fact that they’re having a conversation. A simple two-shot or even an over the shoulder from one of their perspectives could instead be used to break up the monotony of their cuts. Whether Marvel believes it or not, viewers are capable of reading into scene’s absences and are dually less likely to fall asleep if allowed to think through a scene in a way that leaves something to be analyzed.
Musically, Marvel movies are offensively generic. Blockbuster music should leave a resounding impression on viewers. Big budget Hollywood movies like “Jaws” (1975)and “Mission: Impossible” (1996)often have more memorable musical moments than characters or sequences. But when it comes to Marvel, I’d be hard-pressed to hum you a single melody. The only memorable music Marvel ever employs is the occasional pop-rock hit over an action sequence (e.g., “Guardians,” “Iron Man,” “Thor: Ragnarok,”etc.), which never break the wheel.
When Marvel announced that they had contracted Nobel Laureate Kendrick Lamar to curate the soundtrack for “Black Panther” (2018),I was hopeful they would be remedying this issue. After listening to Lamar’s excellent soundtrack, my excitement grew tenfold. I found myself trying to picture the many ways songs like “The Ways” and “Big Shot” could be used to produce engaging and challenging scenes. However, when I watched the movie, I was beyond disappointed to discover that Lamar’s soundtrack had been only sparsely deployed. Songs from Lamar’s soundtrack can only be heard at three occasions during the film, including the credits, being used more as Easter eggs than dynamic parts of the scenes themselves. With performances from some of the most talented musicians around at your disposal, why fill your movie with the same orchestral white noise? Instead, challenge viewers and cinema at large by designing a sequence around “Paramedic!” or “X.”
Although Marvel is scared to put moving music into its movies, the studio never shies away from incorporating a quick quip or viral meme. Marvel movies love to throw in cheesy one-liners at the most inappropriate occasions, completely disrupting the scene’s tone. While sometimes these can be funny (i.e., Tony Stark's sardonic wit and Peter Parker's goofy charm are fundamental parts of their characters), these jokes often fall flat and bring the whole scene down. The most offensive example of one of these bits can be found in “Black Panther” when one of Wakanda’s leading scientists points at King T’Challa’s sandal and exclaims, “What are thoooose!” These popular media references work when culturally-obsessed characters like Star-Lord or Spider-Man do it because it is a part of their personalities. But when the citizens of Wakanda, who are culturally superior to Western society and thus have no reason to care about Vine, or the empath alien from “Guardians” makes a Hollywood reference, it comes off incredibly forced.
Marvel’s gags have the same effect on me as those awful attempts businesses make to use memes to market their products to younger demographics. In many ways, Marvel movies seem to suffer from intense corporate construction. Watching these movies feels more like watching a long commercial than anything, which will stick with you. Unless a character in the movie will sell as a toy or is played by a major star, chances are that nobody watching will remember their name. Additionally, their cookie-cutter story structures through which the “good guys” always win limits my ability to get fully invested in the story since the point would be lost; I already know how it’s going to end before it starts.
Marvel had Joss Whedon, one of the most celebrated character and dialogue writers of our time, spearheading their franchise, and what did they do? They demanded for him to write the same crummy jokes, forced romances, and employed boring plot arcs that all movies seem to be filled with. They pushed him so far over the edge that he went from making “Cabin in the Woods” (2011), one of the most inventive additions to the horror genre in recent years, to making the infamously mediocre “Avengers 2: Age of Ultron” (2015).
Marvel makes the same inoffensive movie every year with a different pastiche. My favorite movies are those that take risks by challenging popular ideologies and film structure itself. Marvel’s idea of taking risks is employing the youngest music laureate of all time to curate a soundtrack and then not using the songs in the film itself. Though their heroes may be world-shattering and their movies bank-breaking, their dedication to making the same formulaic dribble every year continues to break my heart.