Tuesday, October 20, 2015

MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE! YES, I'M ACTUALLY TALKING ABOUT IT, BUT FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. Critique of Lady Jess's claims that the MCU represents the beginning of a new Golden Age of Hollywood.

So, some of you are aware that I do watch a lot of the internet reviewers that are online nowadays; I've brought up my appreciation for many of Channel Awesome and Chez Apocalypse's critics, and I still do. Part of it, is that I do realize that essentially, this is the new form of film criticism that's going to be taking over in the future, and for the most part I like the idea that that's the case. Now, don't get me wrong, like anything else, I don't watch all online critic reviews, and I certainly don't like or respect most online critics, especially some of the lazy ones. (Yeah, just because you have a computer and an ability to download videos onto Youtube, does not make you a critic or commentator worth my time. Get editing software, get sound equipment, get lighting equipment, learn how to use all of them. Seriously, you're competing with people who legitimately know what they're doing now, not just morons who think they have a vlog means they have an audience. [For those wondering, that's part of why I've never switched over this blog to a film version, although don't think I haven't thought about it.]) Anyway, I am impressed with the quality of some of the reviewers out there as they're sculpting this new form of visual criticism and while I am skeptical of some of these specialist reviewers, I must admit I'm glad they're out there. I'm actually learning a lot from many of them, especially about comic books, which I've talked about as being something I severely lack knowledge of, and video games, which I'm begrudgingly learning more about as it's becoming more common to accept the form as a field of study and it is pretty fascinating; I am reconstituting my way of thinking about video games as an art form and as a piece of literature. I still don't buy that they're an equal or higher art form than film or ever will be, (Yes, I'm on Roger Ebert's side on that argument) but I'm starting to understand them better.

One of the critics I've been working on catching up on lately is Lady Jess or Lady Spaz as she's sometimes known, Jessica Kitrick is her real name. She reviews Golden Age Cinema as well as pro wrestling and superheroes. I don't really get her fascination with superheroes but from what I've seen of her so far, I can tell she's generally knowledgeable, smart and funny with her reviews. She's not in the league of some of her contemporaries yet, she can be a little more polished but she will be soon if she keeps it up and she's worked with a few of my favorite reviewers like Rap Critic and Kyle Kallgren of "Brows Held High", and more than held her own, so I've been going through her reviews lately, most of them are good. Even this particular one I'm posting below on Fritz Lang's "Metropolis", which I'm just now realizing I haven't added to my Canon of Film yet. (Hmm, well that'll be fixed soon enough.) Anyway, she brought up the Marvel Cinematic Universe in this review, which is something most of my readers will notice that I've gone way, way, way, way, out of my way to avoid talking about in any way, shape or form. Frankly, I didn't think there was anything worth talking about regarding it. Hell, I still don't really, but then at the end of this review, she made some points that did actually get me thinking about it in different way that every other bloggers or reviewers or fan has until now. So take a look:

Well, first of all, I really hope she's wrong about the importance and influence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the future. That said, she is presenting a somewhat interesting theory about how the MCU is changing the way we view cinema, by connecting multiple stories and characters through numerous films telling one greater larger story than all the films separately, and that a film is no longer a piece of art that's self-contained only upon itself. Basically, since the secret ending of "Iron Man", (And btw, I always stayed at the end of a good movie through the credits, never because I was looking for a secret ending, but because I like credits at the end, finding out who did what, a lot of people work very hard on movies, even the worst ones, you should do that anyway; and I'm not crazy about secret endings either, although "Daredevil"'s was really good.) movies have changed forever. Basically this form of storytelling where the story doesn't end with the ending of the story, and more important than the arc of a main character within that story, is revolutionizing Hollywood, she goes so far as to say that we're now in a new Golden Age of Cinema because of it.

Well, full disclosure, I haven't seen every film in the MCU, I missed "The Hulk", the Edward Norton one, mainly 'cause I heard it was bad and because we already had a really good "Hulk" movie; I didn't get needing another one and I still have to see "...Age of Ultron",  and I'm sure I'm missing something else, that I'll catch later on DVD or something including but not limited to all the TV shows that are apparently also involved in this world. I've liked most of the movies I've seen, "Thor" being the best, but I can't say I'm a particular fan of this set of films. (Frustrated sigh) That said, is there a greater story going on with these films? I know they're all related to each other, but a "Greater Story" being told? Eh, ah.... hmm. I can argue multiple stories are being told, a larger complete one however that includes all these stories? Eh, no. It isn't. What it is, is what it is in the title, Marvel Cinematic "Universe", what they're creating with these series of movies is an entire expanded universe, not a larger story. There's a difference.

I've always knocked certain genres for this, especially sci-fi and especially so for fantasy, but whenever you're creating a piece of fiction, what you're also, or should be doing anyway, is creating the "Rules of the Universe". That's basically just, a stringent set of rules of what can and can't happen in the world that you're creating. I often use the example of Chuck Jones famously writing down the rules of what can and can't happen in Looney Tunes, and those are just seven minute short cartoons, but this goes for all literature. Wile E. Coyote can fall off a cliff a thousand times without getting killed, but then if he suddenly died from autoerotic asphyxiation one day, we'd all cry, "What the Goddamn Fuck!", 'cause it breaks the rules of the universe. We should do this for every piece of art, even if in the piece, the rules of the universe, are indeed the actual rules of the universe and take place in modern time, day and world. Now, that doesn't mean that having multiple longform stories in this universe equals a greater story occurring however.

And actually, let me go back to her theory, is this revolutionary and new, even for film? Hmm. Um, personal story here, most of you know that besides this blog, I'm also a screenwriter; I don't bring it up much here but let me tell you about one of the pieces I wrote recently; it was a webseries that I wrote, I haven't gotten it produced or made or even pitched it or anything, but it was in my mind and I wanted to get it out, and I wrote seven episodes of it, hypothetically a full season, and I was so excited to have finished it, not because it was a masterpiece or anything, it needs work in fact, but because I wanted to move onto something else entirely, find a new project to work on a new world to create, maybe do something outside of my own head for someone else perhaps, maybe a different genre or medium altogether.... No sooner than I finished however, did I suddenly start immediately thinking about what I would write for the next season of this series I created, remind you, other than the fact that it's written down on paper and exists in my head, for all intensive purposes, it doesn't exist yet. But I created this universe and now, the immediate urge is to explore it in more detail, and that is by no means, unusual. For any artist. Comic books are the obvious influence of the MCU but, this isn't new to literature this series writing. One of my favorite novelists, Ed McBain writes stories all about the same police precinct, and he follows multiple characters through different books and even different related book series as well. Hell, arguably the most influential and important piece of American literature, "Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain, is a sequel. In fact, if you ever read "Huckleberry Finn", the first few paragraphs are Huck telling us not to listen to some of the lies and stories that that Tom Sawyer kid told us, and basically other than that and the character of Huck Finn, there's pretty much nothing in common between the two books. Falstaff is in how many different Shakespeare plays, all of which are related and in the same universe? Hell, "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" take place in the same universe, and now I think about it, pretty much everything in Greek mythology and every other mythology takes place in their own universes, and like the MCU that goes over multiple different storytellers; it wasn't just Homer talking about the Gods, and there's dozens of directors telling us the "story" of the MCU, as well as different screenwriters, cinematographers, etc. etc. Actors even differ at times. So, this really isn't new here, it's just done on film, basically.

She might be right about that, although I doubt it; I definitely remember that certain Kevin Smith films all exist in the same universe, but it's not really new with film either; it's basically just, (Shrugs) a miniseries. I mean, "Roots" spread out over a hundred years, and then there was a next generation of that, "Star Trek" did this, soap operas have been doing this, since radio, is this really that unique to film, or is it just because it's superheroes and because superheroes and comic books are popular that we've suddenly noticed, or is it that they're intentionally planning it out and promoting it as such? I would not be shocked if it turned out that multiple movies from some writers or directors that don't seem particularly related from generations ago, we find out happen to be in the same universe, hell, there's that damn whole conspiracy about Disney and Pixar and whoever the hell else it is in the animation world having been doing it secretly for decades now at least. Just because they're related doesn't make them a greater story. Imagine if every Frank Capra film was related and existed in the same universe, does that make the singular movies themselves better? I don't think so.

This is where Lady Jess loses me, she's basically confuses the medium of film and looking at how unique the MCU supposedly is, and confusing the concept of a universe with a new way of storytelling for film, when neither is really true. Or they probably aren't at least. And we haven't even gotten to, is it even that good that we're looking at film this way because of the MCU, and for that matter, why the MCU? No seriously, why this universe? Why not, the 87th Precinct of Ed McBain, or why not, eh, (Looking at book shelf) eh, John Jakes's Civil War trilogy of novels, there's about five or ten movies in "North and South", "Love and War" and "Heaven and Hell" alone (Yes, I know they made those into miniseries already, which is partially my point btw), and that's just one series from him, I mean how many dozens of different series of books are there that use this global universe conceit. I mean, yes, I get it, superheroes are popular and they make money, but actually, they don't work too well with this storytelling structure.

They don't. No seriously, they don't; I don't care how many comic book universes Marvel, DC and however many Avengers or Justice Leagues they create, they don't work. For one thing, if all the superheroes exist in the same universe than why are there separate stories for the characters, shouldn't every disaster plan immediately be, "Get all the damn superheroes together" for everything?! (That's part of why I hated "The Avengers", still do) Since "The Avengers" I haven't taken a single movie in the universe seriously because of that storytelling problem, but even besides that, what's interesting about superheroes, is the singular character and the arc that character goes through. Some are better than others, Batman is absolutely compelling as a character, while Superman and Spider-Man I'd argue, really aren't, but the backstories, the reasons for why they're superheroes and how they react to being superheroes, these things get lost when you're just bringing these characters together for a battle. Basically, all that really does is turn these mythical god-like super beings, into, well,... the Power Rangers. Well, basically, yeah. Nothing against the Power Rangers, but still, get them together, combine powers kill the supervillain until the next supervillain, blah, blah, blah, it's Power Rangers, and it's a downgrade from being Superman or Batman to me, 'cause now all these superheroes are sharing space with whoever the hell else is there. It kinda just defeats the whole purpose. Maybe I'm different, but I never wanted Superman to get into my Batman or vice-versa, I liked that they're separate stories, characters, lives, universes, and I think even the most passionate comic book fan will tell you that it is better to look at them like that. Okay, look at "Watchmen" which is considered by many to be the best comic book/graphic novel of all-time, and that is entirely self-contained, to just the one friggin' book. It's about a bunch of superheroes across many generations in one larger story, in it's own universe, but the whole universe also basically exists within itself. There aren't separate Silk Spectre and Dr. Manhattan comics. (Well, maybe there are now, I'm still learning about comics) but, they weren't there before "Watchmen", they were all created in their own unique universe together and presented as a group from the beginning, which is part of why it is so highly regarded and why it's one of the best comics ever. (And one of the very best comic book movies as well) We got to learn about each of them, see them go through their own arcs, etc. etc. All self-contained. Why is that okay to be singled out as the exception and everything else has to absolutely be connected and exist in the same universe(s)?

That's not to say that, a movie universe like this, wouldn't be interesting, but I've always questioned about it working with this universe, but that's not to say that this can't work, but all this talk about the MCU and film universes, makes me wonder is it that good that film can be looked at this way? Isn't it better that it is self-contained? I don't know, but I do think that you get better stories if you look at a film, as just a film and not as a small part in a greater world, even the MCU films. Besides that, it's a film, it's not a television series, it shouldn't be looked at as an episode. It should hold up singularly as itself before anything else, at least in my mind it should. Maybe she forgives "Thor 2...", "The Avengers" and both "Captain America" films for lacking themselves because they're apart of something bigger, but I don't. It's not a free episode on network television, it's a $10/ticket movie on a big screen, or even a rental on DVD or streaming that costs money, why shouldn't they be held up to a higher standard than even regular self-contained movies?  Just because they're different characters and we're more accepting if say a James Bond movie is bad, then we should be more accepting of the greater story told here; I don't think so. I don't like bad James Bond movies either. I find this premise flawed, just because it's a new way of looking at something doesn't mean that it's a better way, or that it is or should be a revolutionary new way of storytelling in film. I mean, it's like those people who started watching "The Wizard of Oz" while playing Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" and then realized that it sorta strangely matched up; it's an interesting and uniquely new approach of looking at a movie and a piece of music too, and yes, it actually does work, for the length of "Dark Side of the Moon" at least, after that novelty wears off...-, but most realize that looking at film or for that matter music this way is not the proper way to analyzing those pieces of art and the quality of the separate works shouldn't be determined by the pieces of art when they're put together.

The only real distinction is that, The MCU is asking us to judge these pieces of art, as apart of a greater piece of art, as well as judging them as separate features themselves, and, sure, because that's how they're making them; you should judge the art in the form that the creators supposedly intend for them to be judge, but does that make a greater story, a new revolutionary way of storytelling, the new Golden Age of Cinema?! Yeah, sorry Lady Jess, that's not what this is. I don't think the Marvel Universe is as epic a revolution in film as some may think it is. It's a universe, sure, and yes, that's commendable to keep a single one consciously going for decades of films, but it is just a universe, not a story. Essentially, it's a bigger container than movies usually have, other than that, it's not reinventing or revolutionizing anything. Maybe it'll become more influential and people will make all their films in the same universe, (Although like I said, I suspect many have been already doing that anyway) but a bunch of different stories linked together does not make a greater story. All it does is make a bigger universe, or at least proves that this universe is indeed bigger than others, and even then that's only because these films actually get made. For all we know, "White Chicks" has the biggest universe ever created for film, but since they only made the one movie nobody knows how much epic detail and multiple story arcs across dozens of films and multiple characters were actually intended to be made with it. What, prove that it couldn't be?

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