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Avengers: Infinity War's arguably most memorable moment, that even detractors of the MCU agree on, sets the film apart from a very overcrowded market of superhero films with endless origin stories and anticipated cross-overs of big stars taking part in light, crowd-pleasing entertainment for the masses. Now, I’m not someone who particularly loves superhero films, but I don’t hate their existence either. I enjoy them as a nice break when I’m stressed or as an easy way to meet up with friends for an agreeable activity. I even think that regardless of genre Black Panther and Logan are pretty great films and the recently announced popular film category is a painfully patronising invention when big budget blockbusters can provide great cinematic achievements.
However, all this media controversy surrounding James Gunn’s helming of a third Guardians of the Galaxy film when, aside from one character, every member of the leading ensemble for the film is dead. This brings to the light the main criticism of the MCU—there is no change.
Each film pretty much works to a strict and predictable formula where we meet our heroes in their colourful setting and they eventually bond with bantering dialogue until the antagonist appears and they fight them with the use of many master shots to frame the expected comic book action. This isn’t strictly new for Hollywood in general if you are aware of Todorov’s narrative where a character strives for a new equilibrium after a disruption to their original one. Infinity War, like so few superhero films today, contradicted by removing so many pivotal, well-adored characters from its universe and in doing so gave us something different and it’s ultimately disappointing that its unexpected ending definitely seems like it will be reversed in favour for the franchising to continue. Although for some of the film I thought in itself it was bloated with an abundance of character sub-plots that were neither that entertaining or strictly necessary (Peter Dinklage’s appearance, even though I adore his work elsewhere, did make me cringe), I think it’s worthy that the film was certainly ambitious in terms of scope and to bring narrative closure to years of teasing and Easter-egging and think it would be counter productive to reduce this ambition in favour of more spin-offs and sequels especially if they fall into the same genre trappings as Marvel’s blandest efforts.
There’s a quote from Troy McClure of Simpsons fame where he states of the titular family, “who knows what adventures they’ll get up to until their show is no longer profitable,” which is pretty scathing (and disheartening as it is definitely true for a show now in its 29th season for no other apparent reason) in its look at how Hollywood has to continue reaping the benefits of what’s popular until they’re eventually abandoned by an audience who has become tired of them.
The performance of Solo: A Star Wars Story at the box office shows that, too, with an unnecessary origin story given to a character who is supposed to be an enigma. It was an interesting turn of events for the second most popular franchise at the box office in film history, yet maybe not so surprising when you look at how padded and extraneous the franchise is becoming with an increasing number of spin-offs released months after the last film was released.
This is what I fear will happen to Marvel at some point as they continue to provide productions of comic-book heroes with less status than the original Avengers—Guardians of the Galaxy’s massive success was somewhat surprising considering their niche reader audience and the use of Chris Pratt before he was catapulted to stardom. What Marvel have to navigate is line between being risky and being greedy in the choices of what films they choose to make like any other Hollywood Studio and I hope they go with the former.