When I saw Captain Marvel, I was thrilled. I was entertained, engrossed, and had a very satisfying movie going experience. Still, while sitting back, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling I’d done this before. The characters seemed familiar, the action scenes felt worn, and the plot felt like a road I’d traveled many times already. This was a movie I’d already seen.
Now many of you might be thinking I’m referring to perhaps catching a sneak preview of this film. That’s not what I mean to say. The characters may have different names and faces, but the journeys they go on are identical. The action scenes may happen in different places, but they follow the same beats. Though a different hero with a different face is onscreen, you can practically set your watch by what challenges the writer will hit them with. The formula of the Marvel movies is starting to show, and this is a clear sign of over-saturation.
Over-saturation isn’t anything new in the world of cinema. Many genres have taken their lumps with the problem of too much-too quickly. For a time this was the issue with many westerns, and it got so bad that after a while, people only remembered the cliches rather than the entires that stood out. It happened again with slasher movies in the late 70s and early 80s. After the surprise success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, dozens of cheaply made, highly profitable films were churned out every year, until eventually audiences became immune to the shocks.
Slasher films have a very distinguished formula. Often they’ll open with some act of prior evil that occurs long before the film begins. Your characters are introduced next. Afterwards, the cast is picked off one by one until only one remains, and they’re left to face off against the killer alone. Since so many knife wielding maniac films were made in such a short time, the conventions of the sub-genre became all the more obvious.
Marvel movies now, with a few exceptions, suffer similar problems. The opening usually finds a character in their element. After some unexpected occurrence like an accident or a mission gone awry, the hero is thrust into a new and strange land/situation. What follows is a slow development of their abilities. Often times there will be in investigative nature to the stories with the hero uncovering clues to some past occurrence. There will often be some sort of betrayal or event that challenges the hero’s perception of who they work for and why. Afterwards the movie will conclude with a large action set piece. It’s not at all a bad thing to have this formula, especially if it works. But Marvel shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with it a little.
The slasher formula for instance has been used beyond the realm of knife wielding maniacs. It was used to superb effect in the scripts for Alien, The Terminator and Predator. Where Marvel films succeed the most is when they experiment with their conventions, such as in Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, or Thor: Ragnarok. Many people thought Guardians would be Marvel’s first flop because the characters were comparatively so little known and the formula was so different, but it ended up being one of the studio’s most critically acclaimed hits. The Avengers films are the most unique of the bunch, yet they’ve consistently been the most successful.
One of the reasons I feel the films in between the Avengers movies suffer is the overall reason they have for existing. Often times they feel like extended teasers for the main event rather than films trying to truly stand on their own. Marvel undoubtedly does this better than most studios. Universal’s ill fated attempt at creating a Dark Universe failed after one movie, while Marvel’s films have enjoyed a consistently good reputation in ticket sales and audience reviews. But there’s still the problem. If they come out with too much and too fast, then writers will inevitably have to cut corners. When that happens, there’s little room for innovation.
Consider this. There are currently twenty six James Bond films. It’s an empire that took since 1962 to build. That’s fifty seven years. The films didn’t come out every year, and the series would often go on hiatus, but this allowed new blood to take the reins every so often in order to keep things fresh. Because of this, James Bond is still going strong.
Since 2007, there have been 21 Marvel movies. That’s almost the same amount in only a quarter of the time. Marvel is pushing these films out at an average of two or so a year, and though they’re still making bank, there’s overall less of a sense of wonder or anticipation before the release date. With the exception of the Avengers event movies, other entries in the universe are starting to blend together.
It’s the ones that stand apart from the crowd that people remember more. My favorite Marvel movie in recent times would have to be Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse. Before this film, I’d never even heard of Miles Morales, and the story serves no greater purpose in setting up the next Avengers film. In spite of that, the movie worked. It was unique, and it was that unique style that kept me engaged long after the film ended. Unlike most other films in the MCU, it was not a teaser, but a self contained story. That alone made the movie more enjoyable on its own merits.
Let’s make something clear. I enjoyed Captain Marvel very much, and still consider myself an admirer of this universe and the success it has enjoyed. But fissures are starting to show, and for me, this is cause for concern. If Marvel shies away from innovation or continues to push these films out too quickly without taking risks, it’s only a matter of time before the fate of the slasher film befalls this universe. No matter how good or fun it is, if the audience sees the same thing too many times, boredom becomes less of a risk, and more of an inevitability.
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