Exploring the Flaws and Fatigue Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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A new video studies the studio’s formula and where it fails fans.

When the first films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe arrived a few years back, most of us praised them as being heralds of a bold new era for the superhero movie, one that would eschew the campy or pulpy trappings of the films that came before and that would seek, like Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy had, to humanize the heroes by inflating their flaws, decreasing their larger-than-life personas, and changing the world in which they exist to closer reflect our own. It worked. Whatever lead DC had in this game owing to Batman, Marvel trounced it and quickly became one of the biggest, most surefire studios on the planet. Billions of fans were appeased and billions of dollars were made. But now, a dozen-plus films in, some fans are getting fatigued, and not because of the number of films Marvel puts out per year, but because of the organizational structure under which they put them out, and how that structure dictates narrative.

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See, phase one films in the MCU ‐ Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers ‐ were all origin stories, and all geared towards linking their characters for the team-up flick that closed the phase. This was okay, if repetitive, because it was necessary, no one wants to spend half The Avengers learning who these people are and how they get together. But when you move into phase two ‐ Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: The Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man ‐ when the studio could have gone a couple of different directions, narratively-speaking, they instead kept themselves facing inward and stuck to the same formula: use the individual films to build to a larger story, in this case the story of the Infinity Stones. And yes, there was slight variation to the formula in phase two with GotG being unconnected, character-wise, to the other films, and in Age of Ultron being the second-to-last film in the phase instead of its culmination, but by and large the formula of phase one is the formula of phase two is the formula of phase three, which with Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange now under its belt is once again revealing itself as using the character films as bricks in the path to a bigger story, this time around Infinity War. Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this sort of structure, unless those “brick” films are nothing more than stepping stones, and unless every single film starts dealing with the same basic themes in the same basic ways, which some might say they kinda have.

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So then it isn’t the concept of the formula the MCU employs that could be considered flawed, it’s in how the formula is being executed, which is the focus of the most-recent essay from Mr. Nerdista, who over the course of eight swift minutes examines the tactics and techniques Marvel has used to build their universe, where those tactics and techniques benefit the series, and where they would seem to fail it.

This is more than a look at one specific group of films, but rather an erudite understanding of story structure and world-building, and how to erect both successfully.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist