Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed the first two Avengers movies, once defined the difference between television shows and movies this way: Television shows are a question, and movies are an answer. Where television offers a venue for exploring a subject for years, movies make a definite statement.
The Avengers, which brought the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe project to a close, was a real movie in this Whedonesque sense. With Avengers: Age of Ultron, a creative tug-of-war erupted between Whedon and Marvel Studios (one Whedon later admitted “broke” him) over the studio’s insistence on using the film to set the stage for the next phase, like a TV episode.
The fact is, every MCU movie to date that isn’t an origin story (for a hero or a team) has had a distinct extended second-act feel, like episodes in a series orchestrated by power producer Kevin Feige, the big-screen equivalent of a showrunner.
This includes the more celebrated installments like the Captain America sequels as well as introductory non-origin stories like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther. Even the origin stories aren’t automatically immune: Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange meet Whedon’s standard, but Ant-Man doesn’t.
Fans might ask whether this is necessarily a bad thing. Who says Whedon’s theory is the only way? There have been big-screen cliffhangers before, from The Empire Strikes Back to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Anyway, television is better than movies these days; perhaps movies can or ought to adapt?
I don’t think so, no. Not like this, anyway.
Consider Avengers: Infinity War. Indeed, you must consider it, since it isn’t just the latest installment in the MCU, it is the MCU — as much of it as could possibly be compressed into a sprawling 160 minutes.
Picking up where Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther left off, it mashes up the Guardians with Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and the remnants of the shattered Avengers left in the wake of Civil War.
What pulls all these sprawling properties into the same orbit is the MCU’s ultimate big bad: Thanos, a twisted, godlike being who looks not entirely unlike a lavender-dyed Dwayne Johnson, but with a tree stump where his chin should be.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.