Marvel, destroying the world gets pretty tiresome. You can only sell me on those stakes so many times before I finally start rooting for the world to get destroyed just so something changes. And destroying the universe (I’m looking at you Thor: The Dark World) isn’t really creatively different. World, universe… either way, I’m not making it out.
Marvel’s at their very best when cross-pollinating with other genres. They did this last year with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (70s-style spy film) and Guardians of the Galaxy (Spielbergian orphan adventure). They resoundingly failed to do that in last weekend’s Avengers: Age of Ultron (read my review).
Obviously, Marvel’s got their road map pretty well laid out for the next several years, but if they’re intent on not taking any intriguing detours, this trip is going to get boring pretty quickly. Here are some ideas for how Marvel can give us movies that matter by infusing their superhero DNA with genres they haven’t yet done to death. I’m sure these won’t be controversial at all:
If you read me regularly, you’ll know I love my horror. The notion of a pure, small-scale horror film in this universe is a bit mind-boggling. Keep in mind that horror doesn’t have to be all blood and guts – the original Jurassic Park is more horror than action, and it’s PG-13. Horror is about getting the audience going and on the edge of their seats because individual lives are at risk. It’s the exact opposite of Marvel’s bigger-is-bigger philosophy.
Go to the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. We really don’t care if that planet gets destroyed. I can’t even remember the name of it. We know all of two minor characters on it (John C. Reilly and Glenn Close). Instead, we care what happens to the Guardians. We care most what happens to a tree with one line of dialogue.
Look, nobody cares if the world or universe gets destroyed. Why? They won’t still be around to notice. We care if someone we’re invested in dies, because we’ll have to cope with it. Think about the Star Trek reboot. We’re not bummed because the planet Vulcan buys it; we’re sad because Spock lost his mom. We are as invested in Marvel’s characters as we can be – we’ve watched them for a dozen films. Please, Marvel, exploit that emotional investment more than you are.
This would be best with Captain America at its center. I like seeing Chris Evans overwhelmed and gritting it out. Things are always breaking into or out of Asgard’s prison system. Let Captain America visit Thor at home and get caught up with some sort of stalking creature the Asgardians are helpless against. Only Cap as a puny human and Loki as an untrustworthy Frost Giant are still useful, and they’ve got to tolerate each other long enough to save the day.
Follow through on Iron Man’s vision of his own failure to protect the Avengers. Ideally, Age of Ultron would have incorporated this – as a direct reaction to Tony Stark, the villain Ultron had the potential to be fascinating. Unfortunately, the two only ever share a handful of words together, and they’re mostly centered on jokes. Stark got more face time with Loki.
Now, you don’t have to kill all the Avengers. Knock off one or two Avengers (and girlfriend Pepper, who isn’t present in the franchise at this point anyway) and let’s watch Iron Man lose it and seek vengeance. This also lets Robert Downey Jr. carve out some new territory. We’ve seen him for five movies as Iron Man the smarmy superhero. You can tell Downey’s either getting bored or too comfortable with the role. Shake him up.
Presumably, Captain America and Iron Man lead opposing sides in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, but Marvel has the potential to nerf it out of worry they’ll sell less toys. Don’t. Iron Man is the villain this franchise dearly needs by this point – not someone who will destroy the world, but someone who will go to any lengths and sacrifice any ethical standard to save it. This leads directly into my next suggestion…
Destroy the world already. I can’t eat breakfast without someone threatening to destroy it. CNN tells me Baltimore, Muslims, homosexuality, eating, drinking, watching TV, not watching TV, combing my hair, growing a beard, fracking, and frakking are all going to kill me; so here’s a 99-cent CGI animation of the world blowing up. You think Ultron scares me cause he wants to blow up the earth? He’s just Wolf Blitzer with better fashion sense.
So destroy it already. Give me an Avengers that takes place in a world they’ve failed, where they have to find new purpose as refugees or rebuilders, protectors of some last vestige of humanity or the leaders who bring us back from the brink. That’s interesting, that’s new, and that’s the kind of challenge audiences are more than willing to engage in. Hell, throw time travel in and you can retcon it all away and continue on as if it didn’t happen, but at least let us see what the stakes really are.
I don’t want Marvel to turn into CNN.
We’ll have 19 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before we get the first one centered on a woman in 2018: Captain Marvel. That’s idiotic. There are arguments to be made about why that’s stupid, but if you need someone to tell you that 19-to-1 is lopsided, you’ve got bigger problems. Hell, I’d even argue that Winter Soldier is really a Captain America and Black Widow movie, but 18.5 to 1.5 is still insanely, inexcusably, unforgivably one-sided.
Let’s link this up with the last two ideas for a super-combo of epic proportions. If Iron Man goes bad and Captain America or Thor leads the charge in, that’s a pretty fair fight. Black Widow is the most intriguing Avenger because she has no superpowers, just her wit and her willpower. If she leads the charge in, I’m in the seat, I’ve got my popcorn, and I’m shushing the annoying kid two rows up that won’t stop talking because I do not want to miss a word.
Chris Evans vs. Robert Downey Jr. is okay, I guess, but I’ve already played out half of that fight in my head.
Scarlett Johansson vs. Robert Downey Jr. is an event. You thought Mayweather-Pacquiao was big? These are the only two Avengers actors to have successfully and reliably launched event films outside the Marvel brand. It’s also Marvel’s equivalent of Batman v. Superman. One can fly, fire laser beams, and lift tanks. The other only has her gadgets, creativity, and determination. If Marvel really wants to best DC at every turn, this is your main event. Captain America: Civil War should be Black Widow: Civil War.
They’re going this route with Ant-Man. Despite my trepidation, I do hope it’s a success. All of Marvel’s films have been funny, and you could argue that Thor: The Dark World is really Marvel’s standout comedy up to this point. I wouldn’t disagree, but I think that’s more a result than an intent. The action’s good, but the plot is utterly forgettable – a battle to save the entire universe takes out a handful of city blocks in Greenwich. Oh no, not Greenwich! What would we do without our Mean Time?
The real hero of that film was Kat Dennings, who essentially saved Dark World from itself. Sight gags involving teleportation and the physical properties of Thor’s Hammer helped. That was supposed to be the B-material between all the A-action, however, not the other way around.
Ant-Man is the first movie in the franchise intended as a comedy first, superhero film second – and after giving writer-director Edgar Wright the boot, I’m still not 100% sure of that expectation. Either way, you’re allowed to do more than one intentional comedy in a 20-movie franchise.
It’s worth noting that Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor, is a better comic actor than dramatic. You’ve already got Kat Dennings. Throw whatever money you’ve got (hint: Marvel’s got a lot of money) at Natalie Portman to get her in a scene or two. You can borrow Cobie Smulders, who kills it in limited screen time in Age of Ultron. Boom. You’ve just assembled the best comedians in the Marvel team. Sans Robert Downey Jr., but he’s busy going evil, remember?
Yes, television is overrun with insipid procedurals based around forensic science even the FBI admitted it made up. But what would it be like if Vision had to solve a crime and endure a noir world as the only being of ideals? I always wondered what it would be like if Superman actually had to do his job as an investigative reporter instead of skipping out all the time; this is even better.
There can still be action, lives lost and saved, Avengers consulted. But if Vision is a commentary on the evolution of humanity, let him encounter some humanity. Superheroes don’t count; they’re not like the rest of us. Let Vision get down in the muck where the powers don’t count and where he’s at a disadvantage. Let him shoulder the struggle the rest of us face – maintaining our idealism when the world does everything it can to tear it down. Let a superhero who can do anything encounter the one superheroic thing the rest of us can do, and let him try to keep up.
The most interesting pairing (platonic, for the love of god, Marvel hardly needs more romantic relationships it doesn’t know how to depict) would be with the human who has endured the most – Scarlet Witch. Let them co-lead, and don’t make it some paternal thing either. I like the idea of the most damaged and human superhero partnering up with the most omniscient yet naive one to muddle their way through everyday crowds of normal people they’ll never really comprehend. Marvel’s got a lot of room for mystery and tragedy that it’s actively avoiding.
Don’t forget that you’ve got Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen playing these roles – they’re immediately the best dramatic actors in the ensemble. Don’t waste that.
Here’s the final result of my rewritten Phase Three. Changes are in bold. Enjoy!
2016 – Black Widow: Civil War (just a small shift in focus there)
2016 – Doctor Strange
2017 – Guardians of the Galaxy 2
2017 – Captain America: Beasts of Asgard (replacing a Spider-Man movie no one wants)
2017 – Thor: Kat Dennings
2018 – Avengers: Losing the Infinity War So We Don’t End Up Like Wolf Blitzer
2018 – Black Panther
2018 – Captain Marvel
2019 – Avengers: Post-Apocalypse, Cuz Seriously, if the Next Two Avengers Are Just Endless, Inevitably Victorious Action Scenes vs. CG Aliens, I’m Going to Lose It (title needs work?)
2019 – Scarlet Witch & Vision (replacing Inhumans)
Oh, and now that you’ve got the rights back, get a new Blade movie out, too.