This is a recurring segment, "Whiny Questions, Simple Answers," where I gather the whiniest question I come across on the internet in a given week, and provide a straightforward answer.
This week's question again concerns the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While we're a few weeks out from the billion dollar success of the last MCU movie in Captain America: Civil War, this question has come again because of another release of the MCU's rival film shared universe: Batman V Superman - Ultimate Cut. We did our analysis of the new cut and it's earned greater praise over its initial release.
With that in mind, people are grinding their teeth at the thought of why the MCU movies are so popular?
The MCU Is Slavishly Committed To Creating Consistent Characters
Because they are crafted with weapons-grade devotion to their established characters' legacies. That's a hard-stop sentence. I'd better take a moment to decide if I even need to go on.
**2 seconds to slug down iced coffee through a too-big straw and watches some clips**
Okay, alright, we can expand on that thought. SA cynic would say superhero movies are built to exercise a brand. The smart folks at Marvel Studios realized a long time ago that notion goes further than making sure the costumes look good. Yes, that's a big part of it, and it's a reason why people shriek with glee about how good Spider-Man's costume looks or how he can run faster than Black Widow (because, OF COURSE) in the face-off in that clip above.
However, comic book movies aren't entirely about visual representations of characters standing on a screen. Marvel knows their characters are decades-old. Their fanbase didn't keep coming back around for all those years to simply look at drawings. I mean, that's a really big PART of it, because cool characters in cool costumes look cool, but there's also a legacy of how the characters behave that draws readers and viewers in. So the movies make sure to honor that.
Spider-Man quips like a teenager, as he should. Vision is a weird android who doesn't get people, as he should. Thor is a meathead who has a strong moral compass, as he should.
They work these characters into the structure of the film medium.
When Captain America shows up at the start of the Winter Soldier film, outrunning Sam Wilson on his morning jog, but being ultra-friendly about it, that's Cap. Two minutes later, he goes hog-bonkers and kicks the life out of some Hydra morons on a boat. That, too, is Cap. His idealism and righteousness at the film's climax is Cap. The audience knows it by the way he acts and speaks, not just by the costume he wears.
And that makes an audience love these movies. Dad has come home! He's brought Spider-Man with him! They move and chat just like you always imagined!
It isn't 100% of the audience, but it is the most VOCAL section of the audience. Don't discount how far bad word of mouth can spread if psychos on the internet all agree it's true. Marvel recognizes how for some movie-goers, this is a the lifetime investment in these characters. The MCU filmmakers know they need to do right by those legacies. How the characters ought to behave, based on history. How the characters act in battle, based on history.
Those are strict, but broad limitations. There is a lot of latitude to play in. There's no doubt everybody is sat down and handed a dossier on the characters, the rules, the world, with do's and don'ts. That's their sandbox. You can build a lot of originality from the materials in there, just so long as you honor thy father and mother.
This goes beyond the movies' serialized format, which I've praised as genius storytelling before. The remarkable thing about the MCU movies is that they haven't completely missed on character points yet. Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor 2 are weak films, but the characters remained accurate. Ultron himself is likely the biggest miss as a character interpretation, so it's an even greater miracles ALL of Avengers 2 didn't derail.
It was because they still got Cap and Iron Man right in Age of Ultron, foreshadowing Civil War just enough. The whole operation is a brilliant machine. Audiences respect the films because the films respect their audiences and their expectations.