Out this weekend and breaking a ton of box office records is Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of some ten years of Marvel Superhero films. (You can read about the mind-boggling monetary take here. The article is by Julie Muncy and is presented on i09.com).
It is clear that audiences absolutely love the Marvel universe and its movies. Captain Marvel, the previous Marvel film release, earned decent -but not superb- reviews from critics and audiences nonetheless made a mint as well. It stands to reason this latest Avengers film, featuring the big hitters (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, The Black Widow, etc.) was bound to draw even more interest. Indeed, in one single weekend its blown out many a box-office record and critics and audiences appear equally ecstatic with the end product (currently over on rottentomatoes.com, the film has a 96% positive among critics and a nearly as strong 92% positive among audiences).
I will likely not catch it while its in theaters. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ll catch it when it inevitably comes to home video. I have yet to see Black Panther, Ant Man and The Wasp, Captain Marvel, and Avengers: Infinity War. The later film, by the way, I have a digital copy of yet haven’t found the time or desire to see it.
As it turns out, I’m kinda sour on Marvel’s films.
Now, before you get out your pitchforks and come after me, let me quickly say this: I’m incredibly happy about the success of the these films and I absolutely have no desire to put down anyone who enjoys them.
To those who love the hell out of these films, have yourselves an absolute blast!
I sincerely wish I could feel the same levels of joy you guys obviously have with these films.
But… I don’t know if I can. Not anymore.
The last batch of Marvel films I saw were Civil War, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarock. I’ve seen pretty much every Marvel film other than those I mentioned further above and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.
I loved the first Iron Man. Captain America: Winter Soldier is my all second all time favorite superhero film. My favorite? The original Richard Donner directed, Christopher Reeve starring Superman.
So its not like I didn’t like the Marvel films from the beginning. Quite the contrary, there was a time I was very much into Marvel films. But over the past few years I’ve grown weary of them. Their stories are more and more formulaic and, frankly, not all that interesting. Or good.
And then there’s that overbearing, IMHO, snarky humor.
While there was certainly humor present in earlier films, I suspect the original Guardians of the Galaxy started my downward sliding opinion of these latest Marvel works.
That movie was met with incredibly good reviews and ecstatic audience reactions… and I distinctly recall being bummed when, for one reason or another, I couldn’t catch it in theaters during its original run. When the BluRay was released (in those *brrrr* pre-digital copy days), I picked it up and, along with the wife and my eldest daughter, we sat down to watch it and…
…we hated it.
My daughter bailed after some twenty minutes. My wife hung on with me, perhaps hoping, like me, it would get better. It didn’t. Not for us.
Again: I don’t question everyone else’s love for the film. You guys loved it but for us, it was a wiff.
A big wiff.
The story, to me, was a blatant rip off of Star Wars, and the humor I felt was way overdone, to the point where there didn’t feel like there were any stakes.
Dr. Strange, similarly, I really didn’t like. It took the original Iron Man movie’s plot and plopped it on top top of Dr. Strange. Oh, and also added all those snarky bits of humor at the most inappropriate (again IMHO!) times.
Yet I was still willing and hoping for things to get better. I think the next Marvel film I caught (on digital, of course) was Captain America: Civil War. The film was actually more of an Avengers film than “just” a Captain America film, but given it was the follow up by the directing duo of Russo Brothers to Winter Soldier, I was hopeful it would be a great follow up.
Sure, there were some really cool things in the film, but the movie’s plot was a mess. Worse, we once again couldn’t take any menace or threat seriously because of the snarky humor. Indeed, whatever tensions we as an audience should have been feeling were wiped out.
The best example of this in Civil War involved what is arguably the movie’s best sequence: The airport fight. It was big and effects heavy and it was genuinely exciting to see on screen the equivalent of a massive superhero fist-fight. But that sequence was, I felt, supposed to be the point where the heroes painfully decided to take sides. It was, again I felt, supposed to be a very serious point where very good friends had to choose to fight against each other, perhaps to the death…
…yet there was absolutely no seriousness whatsoever to the fight. Each landing fist or flying kick was followed by snarky, “humorous” comments.
Were they actually fighting or what?!
Over at i09.com they have a second article concerning the various heroes in the Marvel cinematic universe and their… beards. It’s a tongue in cheek article, of course (you can read it here if you’re interested) and they presented the below graphic at the header of the article:
This couple of seconds long gif perfectly illustrates this undercutting of tension with silly humor: You have what appears to be a serious scene and in the background we have what looks like people fighting to their bloody deaths…
Yet our two heroes, in the middle of all that bloodshed, take a moment to make this joke.
Imagine something like this presented during the D-Day landing in Saving Private Ryan! (OK, I know that’s an extreme example, but still…)
Again: I know I’m in a very small minority with respect to this. I know many of you will tell me to lighten the hell up and not take these things so seriously.
I get it.
But sometimes, even in a “silly” superhero film, you want there to be action sequences with genuine consequences. I can’t help but think the Marvel films owe a great debt to that Donner/Reeve Superman film. It managed to balance humor and action, suspense and nostalgia, wonderfully.
And, yes, Lex Luthor, the film’s main menace, had daffy assistants who often provided jokes and laughs.
But the laughter stopped when the nukes detonated. Suddenly, everything was very serious. Could you imagine a snarky joke presented the moment Superman finds Lois Lane in the desert?
But enough whining. I will stop raining on your parades. Go out, enjoy the film. If I find the time, I promise I’ll see them with as neutral a mind-set as I can.
POSTSCRIPT: Yesterday various networks were running various Marvel films, including the first Avengers film. I caught the second half of it, the first time I’d seen it in many years, and I was surprised by how serious most of the action was presented. Yes, there were these snarky humorous moments, but I’ll be damned if director Joss Whedon didn’t keep the action sequences grand and tension filled.
The helicarrier attack, in particular, was extremely well staged, and Loki’s presentation in the film may well have been the best of that smooth-tongued villain. I couldn’t help but think that film was so very much better for those reasons than, for example, Civil War.
Which proves that the snarky humor in these films has followed a progression from movie to movie, appearing more and more until its become very much a part of the whole.
I wish they would tone back on it!