Dear 100 Hour Board,
Can you help me understand why people like Marvel movies so much? I’ve seen them all, and after Black Panther (which was groundbreaking for many reasons, obviously, and without the Marvel sauce to draw in ordinary viewers it couldn’t have been what it is, so go Marvel for making it happen) I just feel done with them. The plot is always the same. Plodding second act. Cool special effects. Fight scenes. Beautiful actors. Unrealistic character development. Cheap dialogue. Predictable “wit.” Magic powers.
So what is it? Why do people still, 10 years after Iron Man, love these movies so much?
Perhaps cause it's fun to dip into the well of imagination and envision a world where people have awesome powers, even if each trip into this well follows the same format. And watching people with enhanced physical prowess fight is pretty cool.
I can't help you understand why people like them. However, I can tell you that you’re not alone. l don't think they are entertaining either for the same reasons: they are incredibly formulaic and their character development sucks.
Dear squirrel girl,
Because I am lazy, I posed your question to Facebook and got the following opinions as to why they think Marvel is popular, preceded by people who agree with you and are also a Bit Tuckered Out.
PEAPLE WHU AGREY:
- "I couldn't agree more! They've lost all creativity and depth! They're just copy paste sequels with different faces!"
- "I completely agree. Except for Black Panther which was a really important movie for many reasons."
- "I found them boring 10 years ago and I'm totally at a loss as to why they've continued to get more ridiculous AND more popular. Wonderwoman, even though it was fine at the beginning, had a bizarre and really disrespectful plot. Sorry, but I think putting some superhero blowing things up in the middle of WWI trenches is in bad taste no matter how you slice it. It's also really weird to me that the plot holes and poor narrative development are standard and nobody seems to care. How can contemporary audiences not want to sit through Shakespeare, but can find movies like the Avengers so fascinating? Plus, people will attack you for finding fault with them."
- The Man With a Mustache: "I happen to agree with the questioner. Every time I hear 'this one's different. They really did something new,' I shell out and end up feeling like I've seen it before. Just a little board (pun!) with the whole format of mix-and-match super heroes punching bad guys to win. I catch them on red box so I can get some thoughtless entertainment without paying $20/ticket or whatever."
- "Another two cents here, from a more personal perspective, and less about 'why do people continue to watch these?' and more about 'why I don't go out of my way to watch these any more'.
Avengers 2 was the last one I saw in theatres, and that was the point that I started getting off the bandwagon. Every one I've seen since then I saw on Netflix, with Guardians 2 being the most recent one I've seen. I'll watch the newer ones eventually, I just won't go out of my way to the theatre or redbox to see them.
I don't think these movies are bad. Only one or two of these movies could be considered bad or 'meh'. The vast majority are good, a couple I might even call great movies. The problem is that they're all "safe". They don't take a lot of risks, which I think they should, with all the money they're rolling in now they ought to be able to afford a couple of risky movies in the sense of doing something way different.
They're all pretty much the same genre. Genre is a lot more than just 'setting'. Presence of spaceships =/= sci-fi and presence of magic =/= fantasy. Genre also about the message being communicated, what is the point? And for the vast majority of these movies the point is basically "protagonist(s) over comes some personal challenge and simultaneously preserves the status quo from the antagonist by lots of punching and/or super powers"
And that's basically what the super hero genre is, preserving the status quo. And that's precisely why I'm kind of bored of these. When the day is saved 20 times in a row without any serious consequences it gets a bit dull. This why, in some sense, I kind of like some of the DCEU movies. Despite the fact that Man of Steel and BvS were objectively worse movies than anything Marvel has put out in a while, I kind of like them because they take more risks and make more of an effort to overturning the status quo. They're less about escapism and more about "okay, if this was a real thing, what would that be like?" hence all of the grim tones and social commentary. I kind of like it. It had a kind of 9/11 feel to it, which (while obviously 9/11 was a terrible event) turns the status quo on its head a little bit, it wakes you up and makes you think a bit harder about how the world is.
Marvel sort of tried to do this with Avengers 2 and Civil War, but in my estimation they just flirted with the idea, they didn't fully commit to the idea of the status quo being affected by any of the events. They don't go a lot farther than expositional dialog. This is why it was kind of nice in Man of Steel that it showed innocent bystanders being crushed by buildings and then developing the collective social trauma of the surviving populace in BvS with all of the controversy and distrust in Superman.
Marvel sort of tried with Avengers 2 and Civil War, the problem is that they don't really show any of it. All innocent on screen are saved, and we're only told after the fact that some kid died and that's why the one lady in Civil War hates Tony Stark. It's a case of show vs. tell. Marvel shies away from having thousands of innocent people die on screen because they play it safe. It's all about the escapism and merchandise.
This actually brings up another point. It's obvious who the creators of Man of Steel and BvS were, Snyder and Nolan's styles and ideas come across for the most part, despite being poorly organized and executed movies. For Marvel movies though, it's hard to see any one director's or writer's vision because I suspect Marvel movies are very 'top heavy' in all of the executive oversight they have. That's why they're very cookie cutter and formulaic, it's almost as if they don't even need directors or writers. Case in point is Ant Man, they originally had Edgar Wright as the director, but eventually replaced him citing a difference of 'vision'. Personally I would've probably really liked Edgar Wright's version, like Nolan and Snyder he has a unique style (I freaking love Hot Fuzz) that would have been obvious in the film had they let him do it. Instead they got someone else who more easily bowed down to the will of the boardroom and gave them exactly what they wanted a safe and samey movie.
So this is a pretty long comment now, but basically I'm just bored of these now because of samey-ness, lack of risk taking, and the shove-in-your-face corporate and merchandise driven 'geek' culture."
- "Haven’t seen one of them."
Well you know what, Janet? You can LEAVE. Let's get on to why people like these.
- "Corporate marketing. It's the same reason people keep eating McDonalds or drink Coca-Cola, they build brand loyalty in the consumers until the consumers have internalized the brand as part of their identity. Seeing the movies, buying the merch, etc."
- "Because they're branding our heroes. We get reeled in cause we want to find out how they portrayed the characters we grew up loving. And personally, I'm one of those people who hates not finishing a book trilogy, finishing the whole show even if it stops being as good after the 3rd season, etc. I hate feeling incomplete lol"
THOR IS HOT
- Because Thor. (5 upvotes and several drooling gif comments)
- "They're popular because they're designed to be. Marvel already had a huge fan base before the movies, but now that the Marvel Universe has been condensed into a quick format, it's easier for more people to enjoy. The large collection of heroes guarantees that everyone will have someone to relate to and the style and motifs mean that you know what you're getting. They also all follow the Hero's Tale story pattern.
Then there's the fact that good movies have been in short supply since the MCU started. Around the time Iron Man came out, we were looking at the end of Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, Star Wars, and a couple of other small series. Without any exciting series coming, Marvel had the spotlight. Even with Star Wars back, we still haven't had any other big movie franchises catch on.
Lately, Hollywood has been struggling a bit partly because nothing new really gets released. Every new movie is a remake, reboot, or too similar to something else. Occasionally a big hit makes it to theaters, but it's mostly been a stream of passable movies."
- "^ Also these big franchises steal the show from smaller movies."
- "Easy, pure entertainment. The cinematography/special effects, the actors, etc. It's rare for someone to go into a marvel movie and leave thinking 'this was boring. I wasted my money because I received no entertainment whatsoever.' Storyline and character development is always the same, but it's always enjoyable to watch. Plus this infinity war is gonna be different from the rest of the marvel movies. So the hype right now is pretty valid.
- "Ay, some strong opinions here.
With the budgets they have, they can make some entertaining movies that are bound to draw in masses, regardless of the content. Good marketing and build up.
There is a certain feel to their movies that is the right balance between action drama and comedy that people want to see and like to see. If you have a winning formula, I don’t see a reason why you would change it. But certainly, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnorok are not the same movie with different faces. They switch it up just enough to have different movies with similar themes.
I think a lot of them are fun, although certainly not for everyone. Not much other than simple entertainment."
- "I disagree with the underlying assumption that they are all the same. People, usually those trying to be “different,” love to talk about how they are all the same. There really is a wide variety. Captain American is political, Thor is all about the family dynamic. Antman was a kind of heist movie. Dr strange was a fantasy movie. Guardians was sci fi. While they all involve heroes and have some similarities, they are not the same. That’s why people keep seeing them."
- "As I sit and watch Spiderman: Homecoming, my only response to your question is: 'BECAUSE THEY'RE AWESOME.' "
- Portia: There aren't many movies that family members and friends of different tastes can agree on. My European arthouse fare and a low budget Christian inspo film and a raunchy comedy and an overstuffed animated film might have very different target audiences. If my dad buys us all tickets to a superhero film I'll probably go.
I think Pixar is better at the execution of this strategy, however.
- Ardilla Mom: I haven’t ever read a comic book. And I am old. I think the movies are popular because the good guys band together and beat the bad guys. Yep, it is an age old formula, but add the special effects and the world we live in, and it is a way to escape reality and come out winning after the two hours. Then back to reality. And when we want to escape again another movie comes out or we just watch an old one. It is two hours of action and justice prevails at the end
- "Its BECAUSE the Marvel movies all have the same formula that people keep going back to see them. They are a constant for the average American moviegoer in terms of quality and entertainment and are dependable to at least feel like they are worth the price of a movie ticket. Its the same reason why there are 5 Transformer movies. And any movie featuring Dwayne Johnson.
Also, Black Panther wasn't as groundbreaking as people think it was. Unless you count the rhino/human kissing scene as some kind of cross-species propaganda."
- "For me personally, the novelty of seeing a superhero on screen has worn off, so I'm extra picky when it comes to these movies now. Quite honestly I think Marvel has figured out a great balance between giving us what we enjoy - good characters, fun action sequences, well-timed humor - while occasionally mixing things up to keep the genre fresh. Movies like Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and Thor Ragnorok did a great job of mixing things up as Doctor Strange had a lot of trippy magic, Ant-Man was a heist while Thor Ragnarok was a very colorful, high paced space adventure that felt like Gladiator meets Guardians of the Galaxy. Heck, Spider-Man Homecoming was a straight up high school drama. So people claiming they're all the same movie are sorely mistaken. Plus, comic books have been around a long time in various media forms, so it's a genre people enjoy."
- "Its the comics that many people love coming to life. They still read the comics too."
- "I think it's because we've grown to love the characters and enjoy seeing them in other stories. But... yeah... there a lot of the same-ol same-ol. I would really like some legit plot development and maybe something that's not a 'formula film.'"
- "I think because they’re a bit familiar. We all know the big superhero names, we probably had them on a backpack or something as a kid. So they have a nostalgic feeling and simultaneously something we haven’t seen before? Honestly though I’m kind of burned out with the shiny superhero stuff for a while."
- "Same reason people still love superhero comic books after 70 years, I guess."
- "For a lot of fans it’s seeing the characters come off the page and become almost real. If we had infinite time to make the book stories into movies you might see more in plot development etc"
- "I for one remember the days when major budget sci-fi and fantasy was few and far between. Having grown up on comics and been lucky enough to experience them hit the mainstream I'm enjoying the current glut of options even if they start to feel formulaic. Formulas exist for a reason after all."
- "I grew up as a closet nerd because it wasn't popular to be a geek, but since its more mainstream now it's great.
It reminds me of a simpler time when I didn't have to stress about this or that, ya know childhood memories and such."
- "Now if only that popularity extended to the shelves... go out and support your local brick and mortar comics retailer today!"
SOME BOARD ALUMNI OPINIONS
Humble Master: I don’t want this to come off as snarky, but in a way this question reads as, “Marvel has mastered a really entertaining and popular narrative formula that they do really well. Why is it popular?” I think the above comments are all pretty spot on, and it’s also worth noting that while a lot of the broad strokes of a Marvel movie are identifiable in everything they’ve done, they have begun doing genre-blends that keep things feeling different enough that we keep coming back, but familiar enough that we’re getting what we expect from a Marvel movie. So it’s not just superhero movie-superhero movie-superhero movie. We get a superhero espionage film (Winter Soldier), a superhero heist film (Ant-Man), a superhero space opera (Guardians of the Galaxy), a superhero buddy comedy (Thor: Ragarok), and so on.
It sounds like the formula may be wearing thin for the one asking the question, and that’s fine, no audience member is obligated to enjoy what others are enjoying. But, it’s worth noting that critical reception and box office numbers are heading up in general for Marvel, despite pretty regular alarms being sounded about audience fatigue.
Katya ^ Indeed, Black Panther just passed The Avengers to become the top grossing Marvel film in domestic box office returns.
Katya: Humble Master, do you think it helps that we haven't seen a lot of the Marvel characters in feature-length films prior to the MCU? (Spider-Man is a notable Marvel exception, but it seems like the DCEU is suffering from a little fatigue in terms of how to present characters like Batman and Superman.)
Humble Master: Yes, definitely. They’re still mostly dancing with the actors that brought them success.
It will be interesting to see how Marvel handles eventually needing to reboot the franchises (I vote scrap everything, wait a year, and restart a new Marvel Cinematic Universe set in the 1960s)
That'd be dope. As for me, the more I learn about the world, the more complex and messy it seems, the less it feels any one person—especially me—has the ability to make an impact on the world before they turn into mud. I like superheroes and their movies because they are the stories of individual people who have the chance to change the world around them... and the power to do so.
Because of things like this.
-guppy of doom