Here’s a quote I haven’t forgotten from Manohla Dargis’s NYTimes review of Spider-Man: Homecoming.
[The Marvel Cinematic Universe] is vast, complicated, lucrative and ever-expanding. It’s also intrinsically uninteresting for viewers (at least one!) who just want a good movie.
Confession: I remember no one saying this about The Return of the King. Nobody wanted to skip the first two films and have the third stand on its own.
And why should they? The Lord of the Rings films were a trilogy, like the books.
I also don’t remember anyone complaining that they should have been able to walk into a screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One, and (to satisfy their desire for “a good movie”) automagically know who’s who and how they relate to each other. Did audience members suddenly blurt out, “Who’s this DumbleDude guy? Sounds like a dick.”
Well, I’m sure someone did, somewhere, but no one paid them to publish those thoughts in the NYTimes.
Sequels! There are so many of them in the MCU, and it all started with that end-credits scene where Nick Fury tells Tony Stark about the Avengers Initiative. Based on that one scene–not to mention the marketing that confirmed a common setting for these films–Thor was a sequel to Iron Man. The Incredible Hulk (which included a Tony Stark cameo) mentioned super-soldier serum in 2008, three years before Captain America: The First Avenger. That means The Incredible Hulk was another sequel and CA:TFA was a prequel.
Don’t like using the word like that? Would you rather think of the Iron Man movies as one film and two sequels, and the three Thor and three Captain America movies as one film and two sequels (each) and then The Avengers as some odd crossover event that won’t be neatly characterized, but that also comes with sequels?
Let’s look at Wikipedia for a sec.
A sequel is a literature, film, theatre, television, music or video game that continues the story of, or expands upon, some earlier work. In the common context of a narrative work of fiction, a sequel portrays events set in the same fictional universe as an earlier work, usually chronologically following the events of that work.
I confess (a second time), I prefer that one to the “continuation of the story” definition that you see in online dictionaries, which is unnecessarily nebulous. The films share a setting, which means they share supporting characters and story elements: SHIELD, the infinity stones, the Kree. Also, the events of previous movies affect current ones. T’Challa becomes king in CA: Civil War and is crowned in his solo film. SHIELD conducts research into Hydra technology because Loki sends The Destroyer to New Mexico to kill Thor.
That’s what the MCU is. They’ve created a long story–22 episodes of the newly christened “Infinity Saga” and I’ll see the “season finale” Friday sometime–and they’ve done it as haphazardly as the creators of traditional network TV series have done it. I suffered through the first season of 24 because the premise sounded amazing, but as that show foundered, it became clear that the creators did not have a plan for the season. They were winging it, episode by episode, and it showed. The folks making the MCU were winging it, too. See my previous blog post.
Except we need better a better term for it. Marvel is working on sequels for Black Panther and Doctor Strange, and when you use the word “sequel” that way, you understand exactly what they mean: another movie with Stephen Strange or T’Challa as the protagonist. What will we call the upcoming Shang-Chi film? An episode? An “installment”?
So I understand why people would complain that these films aren’t films, but I think that’s wrong. I think they’re both films and episodes, and they’re all the more enjoyable for it.
By the way, on Sunday night I plan to watch the next episode of Game of Thrones, even though I’ve skipped every other previous episode. And I’m going to say shit like “Who’s that guy? Who’s she? Jeez, remember back in the day when you could just watch a good TV show? Mid-season, fourth season, it didn’t matter! You had Starsky and you had Hutch and once the opening theme explained the premise, you were set. Now *that* was TV! Wait. Who’s that zombie–looking guy?”
We’ve gotten used to long arcs on TV shows, thanks to so-called prestige TV and the tendency of streaming shows to make each season a miniseries. Maybe we’re looking at a genuine sea change in the film industry, too.