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  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe is overrated.

  • That's right, this is happening.

  • OK, so why is this not just a steaming pile of clickbait?

  • Hear me out.

  • So far, there have been twenty of these movies.

  • And uber-producer Kevin Feige says there'll be at least 20 more in the MCUMarvel Cinematic Universewithin the next 10 years.

  • Seriously, half of these people could disappear and it would still be 148 too many characters.

  • When we asked Vox's audience for things they think are overrated, Marvel and DC's movies came up again and again.

  • We love these movies - in the United States alone, they've grossed more than 6.5 billion dollars.

  • And yet there's something missing.

  • When you look at the history of fictional universesand at the MCU in particularit's possible to understand how it could be fixed.

  • Go back to 1939 and you'll find the likely birth of the Marvel Universe.

  • It's in Marvel Mystery Comics #7.

  • These characters aren't that well-known today.

  • But here, Betty tells Namor that The Human Torch existsestablishing continuity and crossover potential.

  • This was the start of a new eraone in which corporations produced fiction.

  • The idea was simpleyou could use the fame of one property to enhance the audience for another.

  • And Marvel wasn't alone in recognizing the financial opportunity of crossovers in the 1930s and 40s.

  • The Green Hornet!

  • Look at that picture on the wall.

  • The man on that horse is one of your ancestors.”

  • In the 1940s, The Green Hornet revealed that the series' central character, Britt Reid, was the grandnephew of The Lone Ranger, another popular radio star at the time.

  • “I hope you do something about those crooksjust as your pioneer ancestor did.”

  • Movie studios were thinking about this toowhen Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein, it joined the Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolfman movie franchises with a goofy comedy.

  • It was basically Universal Studios' Avengers Infinity War, but with more running into walls.

  • By the 60s, even DC comics was catching up, like when Superman entered his fortress of solitude and finally met Batman.

  • “I love you!”

  • They enjoyed some cake.

  • You love me.”

  • By the time Spiderman got his comic in 1963, he was spending time with the Fantastic Four and promoting guest appearances from the Hulk.

  • And this was also when the Marvel Universe's problems started.

  • This snowglobe contains a half-century of television.

  • It's the basis for the Tommy Westphall Universe theory, which some argue might be the biggest fictional universe of all.

  • The snowglobe appeared on the '80s television show St. Elsewhere.

  • That scene possibly showed that the whole series had taken place inside a snowglobe world imagined by a minor character named Tommy Westphall.

  • The theory is that if a show had a crossover with St. Elsewhere, that show must have taken place in Tommy's snowglobe too.

  • And every crossover that show had, no matter how tangential, would be in the snowglobe, and so on and so on, until you get almost 450 television shows in the same universe, in the same snowglobe.

  • It spans from 1952 to... today.

  • It's a dumb theory.

  • But, it's meant to be.

  • That said, the Tommy Westphall universe actually illustrates some of the problems with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

  • Crossovers require a bunch of artistic compromises.

  • No one wants "Cheers" and "I Love Lucy" to be a connected universe.

  • It's because a bunch of business decisions connected them.

  • Sometimes, the network forced crossovers on producers, other times, the producers came up with it.

  • Garry Marshall said that the reason that Mork from Ork knew Fonzie from "Happy Days" and Laverne from "Laverne and Shirley" was because his son said that Fonzie should dream about an alien.

  • These crossovers are always about juicing ratings, not telling a good story.

  • The Tommy Westphall universe is a thought experiment.

  • "Frasier" and "The X-Files" don't mix, even though they do in Tommy Westphall's globe.

  • But even at Marvel, where continuity was planned, it became a hassle to maintain.

  • Marvel editor and writer Len Wein said, “The problem at Marvel was that we suddenly became a business with a bunch of books that Stan, [Lee] don't think, ever in his heart expected to last more than a couple of years.”

  • In 1965, Lee replaced most of the Avengers just because the continuity for the original group had become too confusing to deal with.

  • This continuity clutter happened in the movies, too.

  • "Iron Man" kicked off the MCU in 2008.

  • The universe exposition dump didn't happen until after the credits.

  • Mr. Stark, you've become part of a bigger universe.”

  • "Ant Man" required a weak excuse right in the middle of the movie.

  • “I think our first move should be calling the Avengers."

  • “I spent half my life trying to keep this technology out of the hands of the Stark.

  • I'm sure as hell am not gonna hand deliberately to one now.”

  • These heavy-handed additions are about getting crossover hype, not about telling a good story.

  • But there's a bigger problem than continuity in the MCUand there is a way to do it better.

  • Whoa you're the Avengers!”

  • The rest of this scene is a standard movie fight.

  • Their universe is only as deep as some merchandise and a few Easter Eggs.

  • It's cool when Peter Parker's classroom has a picture of Bruce Banner in the corner.

  • But it's not a transformed universe.

  • It's like Quentin Tarantino including the imaginary brand of Red Apple cigarettes in multiple movies.

  • It's cool.

  • It's not a coherent, intertwined world.

  • The MCU is like our own, except for the crossovers.

  • You can test it with the characters.

  • Add Aquaman to that poster.

  • If you didn't know DC owned him, would anyone notice?

  • The MCU has no rules beyond corporate ownership.

  • It's a superhero hodgepodge.

  • The same goes for DC.

  • If you added Hawkeye here, nobody would care.

  • And not just because it's...Hawkeye.

  • Marvel's own property — X-Men, with a movie universe owned by Fox and likely going to Disneyshows a better way.

  • This universe is not just crossovers.

  • Every character, human and mutant, has taken sides in a generations-long battle, with real stakes, unlike Marvel's Civil War.

  • That leads to creative possibilities, like decade-jumping and even tonal experimentation with deep integration to the X-Men mythology, if not the continuity.

  • When Marvel experiments, like with Jessica Jones, the big tie-in to the MCU is...merch.

  • Do you have any cool toys in your room you want to show me?”

  • Do you know Captain America?”

  • X-Men movies are not all good, but they do have a universal logic that is stronger than Tommy Westphall's snowglobe.

  • Here's another test.

  • If youlittle old youwere in a movie, which universe would change you?

  • In X-Men, you'd have to decide where you fell in a decades-long battle.

  • Do you side with mutants?

  • Or humans?

  • In the MCU, you'd be like this kid in Agents of Shieldyour big decision would be to buy some merch.

  • “I'm OK.”

  • Marvel has flirted with a richer universe, one in which the lives of all people are transformed by a shared history.

  • But right now, would anybody be surprised if Disney forced a Marvel/Star Wars crossover?

  • Marvel and Disney can make the right choice.

  • In the late 80s, the Marvel comic Damage Control toyed with the consequences of superhero life on the world at large.

  • That made its cameo in Spiderman: Homecoming a thrilling indicator of where the MCU could go.

  • It was a world that anybody could imagine themselves in.

  • But until that experimentation transforms the movies, the MCU is just a business strategy.

  • The universe is still in development.

  • If you want just the facts about Marvel, please check out Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

  • It gives you a peek behind the scenes of Marvel and how they shaped a half-century of our culture.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is overrated.

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Why the Marvel Cinematic Universe feels empty | Vox

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    Amy.Lin posted on 2018/10/20
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