The MCU’s Best Storytelling Days Are Still To Come
As part of the relaunch of Murphy’s Multiverse, we invited several friends, old and new, to write some guest features. This was written by our friend and longtime supporter, Joao Pinto.
Avengers: Endgame marked the end of an era. We said goodbye to several characters in more ways than one, as the MCU rode into the sunset at ease with what it had accomplished for over a decade. A couple of months afterward, Spider-Man: Far From Home served as an epilogue to the Infinity Saga, one that showed us that going forward things will have definitively changed and that nothing will be as it once was. As fans look forward to what’s coming next, from Disney+ shows to theatrical releases, from sequels and spin-offs to entirely new IPs, there is no way not to wonder if the connection with the new characters we’ll be welcoming, and with old ones now under a brighter spotlight, will run as deep as the ones many had with the characters that won’t be along for the ride. Will their stories be able to hold their own when compared to a 23-movie-long behemoth of a storyline? Nostalgia will manage to creep in, but there are a couple of hints that make it believe that the MCU’s best storytelling days are still ahead.
Since 2008 the MCU has expanded and gotten bigger with every single chapter. And every few years since the first Avengers movie it was time to bring the team back together, with more members, bringing new franchises into the mix, until we got to the point in Avengers: Endgame where there were 25+ superheroes suiting up for that final battle. So, how do you top that? You don’t. And so there would be little sense in even trying to do so.
Late last year we were hearing that an Avengers-like event movie would have to wait another five years. Considering what 2020 has been like, it’s easy to understand if we now have to wait until at least 2025 to get something like the now-iconic Alan Silvestri theme back in theaters. And what this self-imposed five-year waiting period tells us is that Marvel is very confident about their new strategy, the stories they want to tell, and how they want to tell them. The Avengers movies were always a chance to touch base, to get people to the theaters in droves, to hype up the brand, and continue to make a solid argument for both the commercial and cultural relevance these movies had earned. But nowadays, they seem comfortable enough to take a chance and live off of some “smaller” franchises, some brand new ones and even some tv shows for a while. So what can we expect in terms of their new approach towards storytelling for the next few years?
Strange Alchemy 2.0
If you’re here on Murphy’s Multiverse you probably know what “Strange Alchemy” means in the context of the MCU. It’s basically what Avengers: Infinity War‘s writer’s room called the process of bringing characters together, trying to figure out the most interesting pairings to, as they once did in medieval times, try to turn base metals into (cinematic) gold.
This has always been one of the most interesting aspects of the MCU. The way they manage to flip the status quo through these interactions and keep coming up with something fresh that keeps most characters (some that find little moral adversaries in their solo outings) on their toes. By reshaping pre-established power structures, characters (and therefore storylines) take a step forward, forcing themselves to become a bit more layered in order to keep up with the growing complexity of their surroundings.
With huge team-up movies on standby, Marvel will maybe make up for it by sprinkling even more cameos throughout both the theatrical releases and the Disney+ shows, making it easier to get characters to show up on several projects instead of being mainly allocated to their little corner of the MCU, enriching the interconnected narrative. This connectivity has always been a hallmark of Kevin Feige‘s MCU and getting characters from Thor, Ant-Man, and Captain Marvel to show up on WandaVision might just be a small hint of things to come.
Deeper dives with substance
It’s not that we haven’t had TV shows that reference the movies and their events, but the reality of it is that the opposite has been negligible. But now, Disney+ will finally give the theatrical side of MCU the chance to interlink with made-for-TV content, allowing the story to go back and forth, and maybe expanding the MCU into even bigger and better heights.
This time we’ll get to go deeper, in a more intimate light, into the stories of characters introduced in the movies, both by continuing plot points that were set up in a movie (Falcon and The Winter Soldier; Loki) or by setting up a plot point of its own and then having the big payoff play out in theaters (WandaVision). This will allow for longer, more complex stories to be told, with varying paces and scopes. We’ll also get to see some new characters brought into the mix through Disney+, by giving them the time equivalent of two or three movies to introduce themselves into this universe. Stereotypical origin stories, something that the MCU has been trying to avoid (we haven’t had one of those since Doctor Strange in 2016), will have the chance to be treated in a different light, with perhaps also a greater ability to bring in established characters to help make the show feel like part of something bigger. For the sake of example: If you give Bruce Banner a 30-minute cameo in a She-Hulk movie you might risk him upstaging Jennifer Walters. But if you give Banner and entire She-Hulk episode to be on, she still has at least another 5 episodes to have everything be about her story. This way, if the story could do with the presence of another, more established character, the writers can always choose what’s best for the plot without the concern of deviating too much from the focus of the show.
By deciding to make most shows a single season event, Marvel Studios also shows their intentions of keeping the stories moving forward. By the end of the season, each character might not be where they were at the beginning in such a way that a second season would need to be reframed and relabeled. This doesn’t mean that every character will either die or indefinitely move to the movies at the end of each show, it just means that after Ms. Marvel is done, Kamala Khan could easily move into a Champions limited series or something of the sort. This means that we won’t get stuck into a routine of endless seasons from each show, always with similar foes, similar sidekicks, and now have the change of always leaving on a high note, with characters constantly evolving within the MCU.
One of the most common complaints when it comes to how Marvel Studios decides to adapt the comic stories to the big screen is the number of details they tend to leave out. Sometimes they even decide to get bits and pieces of a couple of storylines in the same movie together, leaving even less screen time for most things readers would have expected to be able to see. This all comes down to time. Not only the available run time for the movie, but also the number of years they have available with the character and the actor that portrays it. We can’t seriously expect Marvel to address every single bit, of every single major storyline of any given character. They’ve been picking and choosing while being concerned with the overarching story, making sure characters are all moving at the exact pace that allows for all the pieces to be in place when the time comes for them to get together in some major event.
Even these events, that are the ones that on the comic side of it tend to have a huge amount of setup, countless side stories that focus on specific characters and their own path through it all, are more often than not streamlined so that the story told is done in a way that is compatible with the blockbuster runtime. And even if they mostly end up getting a similar amount of runtime as a “regular” movie, some of these stories run so deep they could be a trilogy on their own.
But now, with both movies and streaming shows at their disposal, Marvel might finally take their major, and not so major events to another level. Having each medium being able to support the other, while having all the talent contractually on board can allow for an even more immersive experience that mirrors what comics have been doing for decades through tie-ins. Imagine if, when the time comes, when they decide to get an Annihilation movie into production (for real this time), we get a Disney+ limited series with an episode dedicated to each character that’ll play a big part in the main theatrical event. We probably won’t have Ronan available, and Drax really isn’t the same character, but after having them introduced in previous projects, we could get Nova, Super-Skrull and Sil
Interconnected episodic segments, on the big and small screen, telling different sides to the same story, focusing on both the grand scheme of things and the smaller details of some personal struggles. The possibilities are as exciting as they come.
All of this is nothing but an opinion. On paper, it might have everything going for it, but it will still come down to the quality of the scripts, of the performances, of the directing, and so on. But the MCU hasn’t gotten as big as it has because people took to it because of their pretty faces and explosions. They’ve done their job and they’ve done it well. They’ve been competent. Even nowadays, with so many projects being put on hold, release dates shifting all the time, considering the way they’ve handled themselves over the years, there is no reason not to think that the final products might actually be better because of the waiting time. Scripts can be polished, visual effect don’t need to be rushed, plans can be improved. These 10+ years of content can give Marvel a bit of extra tranquility, but surely also remind them of the added responsibility to not just maintain but to raise the bar on what a shared cinematic universe can really aspire to become