Fear Of A Checklist Planet (Or Universe)

The Fan To Pro gang often chats about various issues, and one issue that came up as Serdar and I discussed the Marvel adaptions that sometimes it felt like Marvel was checking off boxes on what to do.

This isn’t to say that Marvel hasn’t done some good stuff.  I consider “Captain America” to be a fine piece of filmmaking with a great central actor, “Iron Man” to have managed to inject old-school charm into high-tech adventure, and “The Avengers” to have done the seemingly impossible with style and heart.  Frankly, the studios and staff are to be commended for making actual, good, movies.
At the same time as I look at the other projects, at Iron Man 3 or Thor 2, the next Avengers, or Guardians of the Galaxy, something feels . . . mechanical.  It feels a bit like a checklist – do this, bring Loki back, introduce Doctor Strange, etc.

I’m not worried about bad films.  I’ll go see them.  I especially hope the rumors are true that Benedict Cumberbatch is considering Doctor Strange because I’m terribly worried the man doesn’t have enough work and is underexposed*.

I’m concerned this is getting mechanical.  I’m concerned this will lead to “OK” and “good” but that’ll be it.  I’m concerned by now that we’ll have Marvel do a lot of pretty good work, but the lasting impression, the chance for innovation, will be ill-realized.

Now perhaps this is me worrying too much because in a way what Marvel is doing is of actual historical import, a film equivalent to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World ambitions.  I can’t recall anything that had this many interlinked films, this much long-term planning, and with this much sheer talent being thrown behind it.  In a way Marvel is in the act of achieving what would probably be thought of as impossible a decade or so ago.  Therefore if it doesn’t reach its potential heights, I’m missing the fact that this is still an amazing achievement.

I think that this is true to a large extent.  If Marvel does pull of good-to-average movies linked together, with your occasional standouts, that’s still a pretty awe-inspiring achievement in film.  If anything, I feel their ambitions are being unfairly minimized.

However, as I am concerned there will be too much “check listing,” too much by-the-numbers, I see two possible (and not exclusive) negative outcomes.

First, that the films eventually get to the point where by-the-numbers won’t make them good and the Marvel Movieverse ends up in a kind of agonizing decline.  This would be bad both for producing poor films, but it would act as a distraction and deterrent to their more ambitious goal of the interlinked, large, Movieverse.

Secondly, I am concerned the films will miss a chance to make a larger impact, but will focus on effective, but not exactly inspiring fill-in-the-numbers.  A great opportunity will be lost to combine audacious filmmaking with truly great filmmaking – and even though it may (and I would argue, has) produced some greatness, it won’t be an integral part of the overall mission.

If either or both of these scenarios come about, and I do see a risk, that means that the incredible experiment in interlinked movies will be obscured by its problems or that it will be unrealized in the light of “well, these films were OK.”  We loose out.

Perhaps that’s just the way it goes.  Perhaps its easier to have the ambition of the Perfect Interlinked Checklist since no one has done anything like this before.  This may just be the way it is.

But I don’t want the lesson to become “see what they tried and how it just kind of degraded or faded.”  The lesson needs to be, one way or another, that doing am ambitious movie verse is possible, and we should explore that and other ideas more.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.

* That’s sarcasm, unless you think by underexposed I mean “needs to do scenes with less clothes,” which in that case I think he wouldn’t do nude/near-nude scenes as the internet would explode in a  fangasm.