“You got heart kid, where you from?”
“Well, not from this universe, for one!”
The most successful movie franchise in history, by far, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed the name of the game when it comes to delivering spectacular box office successes. Shattering records left, right and center, one cannot argue that the guys at the helm don’t know how it’s done. Hell, the latest installment and the culmination of 10 years of groundwork, Avengers: Infinity War has its sights on becoming the highest grossing film of all time (it has already become the fourth highest).
But what one can argue is that no matter how grand the setting is, how great the stakes are (they’ve reached the entire universe in the latest one) or how many characters they pack into a single movie, there’s almost always something sorely missing – made all the more conspicuous with the hype focused only on ‘big’ moments, quippy dialogue and tiresome combat sequences.
That missing ingredient is the connect with the character, the element of awe we’re supposed to feel on witnessing ordinary people like us harness extraordinary abilities, while at the same time retaining their human fragility. But all we ever get from any of the 19 movies is a detached, impersonal spectacle which fails to transcend us into anything more than mere viewers to whatever scenario is being played out on the screen. Barring Steve Rogers’ origin story, Black Panther’s solo outing and Thanos’ dubious but relatable motivations in Infinity War, I’ve never really connected with any of the characters. Don’t get me wrong here. I’ve been a dedicated fan of the franchise from the day I watched 2012’s The Avengers, never missing a single outing after that. I love the idea of enhanced humans and fantastical beings fighting it out in a marvelously concocted saga spanning a decade, peppered with more grounded issues like tackling the legality and ethics of superheroes as a new, unfamiliar force.
But over the years, what I’ve been missing is the pure thrill I used to experience, watching Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy or the brilliant relationship between Professor X and Magneto in X-Men: First Class or Snyder’s masterful take on Superman in Man of Steel (possibly the best thing we’ve got out of the DCEU). Even unconventional superhero flicks like Hancock or Unbreakable deliver such powerful portrayals of extraordinary beings battling ordinary, human dilemmas. Sure, one can argue that the MCU doesn’t want to make movies like that, that it knows what stories it wants to tell and how to tell them. But no matter how removed from reality a story is, it always has to boil down to the viewers empathising with the protagonist (or even the antagonist for that matter – Thanos, anyone?). That is exactly what I felt when Peter Parker lost his powers in Spider-Man 2 and was forced to confront who he was without them and when in James Mangold’s Logan, Logan was dying from a lifetime of suffering and finally found something to live, and later die for! The Amazing Spider-Man 2 saw Peter conflicted between his dual lives and eventually paying a devastating price at the end. In all these instances, I actually felt the weight of the responsibility on my hero and the toll it took on him. The conflict at the center of the movie wasn’t just resolved in a stupid and meaningless face-off at the airport or by convenient deus ex machina moments.
I will absolutely adore Guardians and their spacefaring adventures and Tony and Dr. Strange going at each other in countless Sherlockbowls and am literally dying to watch Avengers 4. But what I will turn to, when in the mood to watch a real, believable story with a memorable conclusion, will not be an MCU movie.
(Nolan’s Batman trilogy doesn’t feature here because it isn’t solely a superhero story. Also I didn’t bother with DCEU because frankly, it’s shit)