I invite Stan Lee to a nice restaurant, where I know he won’t make a scene. I tenderly hold his hand and say, “Listen, Stan. I just don’t think we’re right for each other. We’re too different you and I. I think it’s time we should see other films.” Tears begin to trickle down from behind his glasses, “But, why?” he says.
Why is it that I and Stan Lee’s work, which we all know to be the Marvel universe, have never seen eye-to-eye? I’m a young male, which, if we’re speaking generally here, is what the demographic of this superhero franchise is. But, when I went to see AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (aka THE AVENGERS), sitting with people laughing, cheering, watching in awe at all the effects and action set-pieces, I simply shrugged and thought, it’s the same as every other Marvel film, except it’s all of them, crammed into one. But, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was with which I found so difficult to connect. Do I not enjoy blockbuster films as much those that are fans of Marvel? I named HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 and GRAVITY the films of their year and SKYFALL the second best in 2012 – all clearly blockbusters, two of them from successful and mainstream franchises, so that can’t be it. Am I not a fan of the fantasy-action genre? Well, you’ve just seen my mention of Harry Potter (can’t get any more fantasy-action-packed than that) and my favourite film of all time is SPIRITED AWAY, a film that certainly falls under the fantasy genre (along with a myriad of others). Maybe I’m just not a fan of superheroes in general. Not true, I consider Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT Trilogy to be a fantastic achievement, considering that Batman doesn’t have any ‘superpowers’ so to speak. And he managed to evade the superhero’s greatest hindrance: Robin.
So, what is it about Marvel with which I’ve just never been able to click? What reason can I give to Stan as to why I’m leaving him? And then I saw CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, which seemed to put my utter disinterest in the superhero franchise into perspective. “Look Stan,” I say softly, “it’s just that…you never surprise me with anything. Everything has become so predictable, it’s now stale. You just don’t excite me anymore.”
This second Captain America was just another old trick pulled out of the worn Marvel hat, which we could all recite as to what will happen. It’s not subversive or tries to be different in any way compared to other Marvel films. In years to come, if someone asks me what I thought of this film, I’d be there for quite some time trying to differentiate it from every other superhero film of the franchise. The first Marvel film I saw was SPIDER-MAN (the Tobey Maguire version, not the what-was-the-point-of-that remake with Andrew Garfield), which I thought was a perfectly fine damsel-in-distress saved by a man with the powers of a spider story (you know the one), which satisfied the 8-year-old boy that I was. Bear in mind, I was 8 years old then and it’s now 12 years on. Every other Marvel film that I have seen, and can recollect, have more or less the same formula: male gains superpower, chooses to do good with said power, making a few enemies along the way. Now, that’s a perfectly fine concept that many other films, outside Marvel, use. But Marvel is the franchise that sticks ridiculously close to that concept, barely branching out to anything else that would deem the films an interesting watch, alongside entertaining. To have that formula for every Marvel film for goodness knows how long is one that becomes tedious, no matter how many explosions or effects they throw in 3D.
What was great about Nolan’s trilogy was just how far apart it set itself from these type of films (I know it’s DC, but they’re all part of the superhero world) – it was a blockbuster film, with the same formula of a male gaining power (although the power in this instance was money and perseverance, not through supernatural means), choosing to do good, blah, blah, blah. But, as Nolan has pointed out in interviews, each film is brought back to a central theme assigned to each film, around which the Marvel formula revolves: BATMAN BEGINS focuses on fear, THE DARK KNIGHT on chaos and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES on pain. Nolan explores those themes in each film to such an extent, that it feels as if you’re watching more than a simple blockbuster film – it’s a film with the director asking the audience to think as much watching it as he did making it. But, let me set the record straight, I don’t think Marvel films are bad by any means. The TRANSFORMERS films are bad, TAKEN and TAKEN 2 are bad. Marvel films are there to please the fans. But, by 2028, when they ‘stop’ making their films, I think even the die-hard fans will say, “Yeah, Marvel did get a bit same-y towards the end, didn’t it?” Unless Marvel produce something as subversive as The Dark Knights, I can’t see it winning me round any time soon.
So, is it me or is it Marvel? I’m sure many people will think it’s me. But, I know it’s Marvel. And, while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, mine is the right one. “I’m sorry, Stan. But, that’s just the way I feel.”