Marvel Studios’ ten-year blockbuster movie run has since been dubbed the Infinity Saga. And at the tail-end of the tale’s end stood crowned with the penultimate, climactic blockbuster presented to us as an illustrious, golden capstone of a far-reaching canon – Avengers: Endgame.
I remember in the lead-up to the film, I found it particularly odd that the trailers we got were recapping old footage from previous solo movies and seemed overly scant of new images. No enthralling vistas. No new baddies to speak off. No teasing of new characters. I took this as a new approach Marvel was undertaking to keep things under wraps and keep people enthralled without revealing too much. This, in a sense, was true. Partly.
The real reason is there really wasn’t much in the way of new footage in Avengers: Endgame that would not give the time-travelling plot away or seem like a recap of Avengers previous movies. And whilst few may seldom want to die on this hill, I feel it needs to be addressed. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is showing its first case of stagnation. What follows this I can only liken to that of a star. The next coming films will likely give us as close an observational distance as we can get to view a heavenly body collapsing in on itself.
Strong words, surely. And this is not me saying this will happen soon. Even if all the indicators point towards imminent self-collapse. Understand, however, it will happen. Inevitability and all that. The first signs of collapse always lay in the foundation, where the sanctity of a cohesive trilogy was left abandoned for the super-interconnectivity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe quilt. Iron Man through to three. Do we even need to speak of the Thor trilogy? And you know Guardians of The Galaxy, save for a (dancing) (baby) Groot is all but a hot mess in the narrative department. This sentiment and GotG Vol 2. effectively dulls all expectations for Vol 3.
Nevertheless, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Infinity Saga was a road that was littered with gem-clustered pavements that encapsulated and enthralled us to dream bigger. Where everything is connected. Much like how string theory envisions the universe. It is a beautiful concept. A concept that would be near perfect if respect and the oversight employed by Kevin Feige and company gave an ounce of respect to the trilogy subset as the did the general, generically-broad narrative arc.
We’re truly in the Endgame now
The first signs of problems did not come with Avengers: Endgame, though it was the culmination of Disney + Marvel’s shortcomings and narrative transgressions. Was it the pure abandonment of the narrative trilogy structure… a structure that satisfied our need for conclusions with a never-ending ball of yarn? Or was it the ‘trilogies’ that we got were weak and lacked any cohesiveness as an arc in its entirety and lacked monolithic qualities when dissected to its relative, individual parts? Or was it that moment where films like Ant-Man and the Wasp felt more like side projects and fillers similar to Star Wars’ troubled ‘A Star Wars Story’ films? Or how about Guardians of the Galaxy… like, all of it?
That’s it. It is everything mentioned here. Or maybe it is symptomatic of the true reason – there are not enough voices. Voices of dissent, of countering, of antithesis. The same thing that made the world of the MCU unique and strong is the same thing that makes it molecularly weak. Creativity and conflict are mutually inclusive states. One sharpens the other. However, when the head at the table is Kevin Feige, and films are being planned years in advance, with little room to manoeuvre in creating unique interpretations of Marvel canon… stagnation is an inevitable byproduct of that much control radiating from a singular point.
One only has to look at 20th Century Fox’s and Sony Pictures’ run of their Marvel film franchises to see the potential for more unique stories is exponentially higher than that of Marvel. This is not to say they did not get a lot wrong. But I assure you, with the current make-up of the Marvel Universe, we would not have gotten X-Men: First Class. Logan. Spider-Verse. Deadpool. A horror film – The New Mutants; that was initially the plan… We would have gotten none of it.
Multiverse = Multiproblems
The MCU, like the Death Star, is never too big to fail. As time progressed and the canon of movies built momentum, the frays of Marvel’s wide-stretching effort begin to manifest. Some were minor infractions, others, well, entire films. Whether you consider the wack juice that is GoTG or the thinly-veiled white feminist vitriol interwoven in (cut) scenes from Captain Marvel. Sorry, breaking a man’s hand because he douchebag-ly asked you to smile does not equate to an acceptable form of reprimand. Let’s not even get into the pop-culture Terminator: Judgement Day reference.
Alas, this is not just a Captain Marvel issue. It’s a Marvel one. And the height of pure disregard for the perplexity of narrative structure reaches an all-time high with Endgame.
It is often said in Soap Operas, or any serial audio-visual narrative, that when once-definitively-dead characters are resurrected, or an entire episode is dedicated to highlighting past events, or time-travel becomes a central focus (especially with little-to-no respect for the theoretical science and the physics involved), then that film series is soon to be pronounced DOA.
The writers have run out of ideas. The stories are fast losing impetus and audiences. A negative correlation with the speed at which the writers and creators can come up with engaging narratives. Wouldn’t you agree these symptoms befall many a narrative? And if you do, then I want you to look at Endgame again. It embodies every one of these Soap Opera flaws that herald the premature end of all serial narrative franchises. To undo Thanos’ 50% annihilation plan, they travel back in time, giving us extensive recaps of the revised timelines of Thor and Avengers and Captain America, to retrieve the Infinity Stones so they can bring their dead homies back from the urns. Time Travel. Episode recaps. Ressurection.
D- Did I just describe Mortal Kombat 11 ?!
And if you think, the time and inter-dimensional hopping was just this one-off facsimile of every pop-culture reference mentioned in Endgame as if in a means to justify their use of it, then you’d be wrong. No offence, Warmachine. I’m a fan of Terminator 2 and Marty McFly like the next guy, but the degree at which time-travel was used by the referenced films paid a great deal of respect to the ‘science’, did not hang all its hats on the fluid premise of dimensional hopping, or if they did, it was done to achieve comedic effect.
Nevertheless, Spider-Man: Far From Home gives us our first glimpse into the MCU with no Iron-Man and post-Endgame. Heroes and villains alike are entering the MCU from alternate dimensions. A rip in cosmic space caused by the use of the Infinity Stones. And as small as that tidbit of information was, it potentially opened a rift in the MCU itself. One that would ultimately hasten the MCU’s undoing.
The unraveling of the Silver Lining thread
One could speak on the fact that the notion of a film only works because of the mind that interprets it. It is the mind of the viewer that makes the connections and dictates the flow of a narrative ultimately. If humans had a greater sense of perception, we would interpret what we call ‘films’ as an amalgamated mess of unconnected images and sounds. Much like a comic would be a series of random drawings in boxes. This is why we observe onscreen colour, shapes and other similarities to make a linear sense of events. It’s a natural thing we do as human beings.
Even with that said, I argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not as connected as one would think. The main, maybe the most solitary thing, connecting most of the films is a line or two or the odd sequence referencing the Infinity Stones. Now with stones having outlived their narrative usefulness, it seems Marvel has already pivoted straight into its inter-connective trope and crutch – the Multiverse.
The Multi-verse. Where time-space is more like intergalactic play-doh than a natural occurrence outside the realm of human understanding, and, more-so, human meddling. Where changes to a nexus on a timeline seemed to have little effect on the course of history. Spider-Man’s upcoming film – Spider-Man: Far From Home – teases the multi-dimensional construct, which, I fear, will be used as the main, connective sinew to build the post-Endgame universe around. The problem with that is, sadly, narrative integrity will certainly face more deterioration.
What power does death have if it can be thwarted with a time jump. What’s to stop someone else from time jumping to undo your undoing? What impetus does our decisions have if it can be undone with relative ease. How could we grow if we had the tools to cleanly erase conflict and failure without repercussions? What is a compelling narrative without these things? I like the metaphysical masturbatory sessions like the next guy, but this is way too much.
Let me further explain. If my theory that time and multi-dimension hopping is going to be the spine of the MCU, a substitute for the narrative function of the Infinity Stones, then this ultimately creates a back door. A way to retrograde characters, worlds and entire constructed narratives with the flick of a wrist. And doing this whilst theoretically keeping connected to the locomotion generated by the 10-year strong Marvel canon.
We are seeing a weird, and potentially dangerous, precedent in the movie biz where fans have a bearing on a film’s direction. Namely the news of Sonic The Hedgehog‘s redesign. Although it was most certainly needed. However, now imagine if a film is made but not liked by fans and then the creators try to blame it on Russian propaganda (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), the fact the film wasn’t released during the Festive Season (Solo: A Star Wars Story), or a film facing reshoots based on how a precursor movie is received in cinemas. That last scenario is Avengers: Endgame. Captain Marvel was written to have a greater presence on screen. Scenes were shot and rendered. An entire fight sequence on planet Vormir. Shelved.
However, Captain Marvel was not being as well received as Disney and Marvel would have hoped. The surfacing tension seemingly displayed by Brie Larson and fellow cast members during public promotional events of Endgame goes some ways in making sense now, in light of this new information. Marvel made an executive and creative choice based on fickle fandom and frail, nauseatingly-obvious PC narrative choices.
So, if the multi-verse is a back door, Marvel will surely be using and abusing it to explain away bad film choices, ushering in do-overs and character retrogrades and expelling constructive critiques. This is dangerous territory. Mama used to say “Take it in your stride”. Like the song says. Own up to the mistakes a do better in the come around. There is a flexibility to what DC Comics and Warner Bros Pictures have that Marvel has ill-afforded themselves. If Marvel makes a bad film, it’s attached to that MCU for good. DC can start anew. Hence why upcoming DC films like the Joker and The New Gods excite me, even in spite of the turmoil DC Films has been in for the past few years.
Aside from that, the ‘backdoor’ device will surely be used as well by Marvel to do cross-over events with their recently acquired film rights of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise. If they so chose to.
Additionally, if I were a betting man, the only surviving member that would make the cut into the current MCU would be Deadpool. The fact his schtick is fourth-wall breaking. His introduction in the current MCU would be damn-near an eighth-wall Kool-Aid guy wall breach. Just with a lot more ‘hecks’ than ‘hells’. Plus, we know Ryan Reynolds is certainly pitching for the safe inclusion of Deadpool and himself over at Disney with the PG-13 edit of Deadpool 2 with Once Upon a Deadpool.
Effectively, the multiverse is a fat dual Ctrl+X and Ctrl+V button. The problem with that, however, lies with the user and the process itself. We’re positive no one in Marvel will have the resolve of Thanos to use these powered gems just twice.
Furthermore, unlike Endgame, any engagement with and use of the multi-verse will have a trajectory-altering effect on where the film is really made – in the mind of the viewer. No amount of on-screen retrograding and explaining away can fix that. Huh, and you thought the X-Men timeline was muddled. You just wait. Kevin Feige has never given the public more explanations of plotholes and precarious film trajectory than when it concerned Endgame. And this will only intensify from here on out.
There was a brief moment that Marvel was chasing the prestigious film award bag with Black Panther. If this is a route Marvel wants to explore, it will have to heavily invest in the narrative that is unique enough to be appreciated as both a solo film and part of the over-arching topology of the MCU. Endgame is not that. Sorry.
However, Disney’s main concern is evidently infrastructure with the likes of Disney+. And being a conglomerate that has effectively monopolised entertainment, the need to craft impactful narratives indubitably comes second thought. Because where else can fans go for their entertainment when we own damn-near their childhood?
At worst, the Multiverse will be implemented throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the foreseeable future. A decade by all accounts. Which will soon prompt many a question about the validity or make-up of the MCU, which will lead to Kevin Feige having to have a press conference or a Reddit AMA for every film Marvel Studios puts out from this point forward, dismissively explaining away the plot holes, loose ends and flaws. At this point, it feels like we can all sit back and watch cartoon physics take on real life; to watch the unravelling of an entire garb by the pulling of a loose, solitary string.
At best, Marvel will reach Dark Knight tour-de-force and get an award or two. Or, their moderate reign will continue with as little fizzle out as possible. These two options, sadly, seem unlikely.
Thanos gave Marvel Studios its most memorable moment… and compacted the resulting ashes to simultaneously make it its own gravestone.