This post will be (largely) spoiler-free.
The scale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is mind-boggling. It is an 11-year epic story, made up of 21 films. Billions of dollars have been spent and tens of thousands of people have been employed in the creation of these films.
It seems big, too big to puzzle out what makes it work.
But, really, it’s just a book. A book with 21 chapters like any normal best-seller. Let’s break it down, shall we?
Iron Man is a perfect protagonist. He’s a scoundrel with a heat of gold. He struggles with the burden of keeping the world safe, but always gets there in the end.
His first movie establishes him as a hero. He defeats a minor villain and we establish his love interest in the process. These are the first three scenes of the book.
Meanwhile, Iron Man’s friend/confidant establishes the story goal of the book in the prequel/prologue to the series. Captain America makes a good secondary character. He’s a perfect person and so will always give our protagonist good advice and even force him to be better than he would otherwise be.
He discovers the first infinity stone and sets up the eventual conflict with the antagonist.
Thor establishes the mythology of the world and defines the limits of power that people can achieve. He and his Brother, Loki also provide comic relief. Thor is often presented as an underdog character trying, but always falling short of saving the world.
Peter Quill and his gang of misfits are there mostly for comedic effect. Gomorra, the Daughter of Thanos, serves to give background to the antagonist who we don’t see much of until the last two chapters/movies.
The Guardians also explain how the universe works to us and just how large and strange it can be. But, crucially, they make us care for them. Whenever the Guardians are in the plot something emotional is happening. Peter’s mother, his relationship with Yondu, or when Thor breaks down talking to Rocket. This all makes us care and root for the good guys.
3. Scene and Sequel
Every act of these movies can be seen as a scene in a book. In good books, we have two action scenes to a reaction sequel.
In this universe, there are 63 scenes. 21 of them must be Sequel Scenes. Movies have three acts and books have three parts: The Beginning, The Middle, and The End.
The Marvel Universe is structured in “phases” and each phase ends in an Avengers Movie. But that does not mean the other movies are only release/sequel scenes. Some build up even more tension.
- The second Guardians movie, the second Ant-Man movie and the third Thor Movie are all cathartic, funny, and deeply emotional. These intervals in the main plot involving Captain America and Iron Man provide us with a rest before diving back into the main story.
- On the other hand, Black Panther builds up tension just before the third and most disastrous Avengers movie. This is the one where the twist in the plot happens. That is to say, the villain wins.
- This is why we get the comic relief Ant-Man movie after the “snappy” plot twist in Infinity War. The buddy-cop Captain Marvel movie was mostly a feel good backstory about two characters – Captain Marvel and Nick Fury.
This build-up of tension and release is what prevented people from giving up on these movies.
By contrast, the DC universe (which includes The Justice League) was almost only build-up and very little release. Thus, people stopped watching out of exhaustion by the fourth movie.
A good book ties up all the loose ends, but leaves a little mystery should the author want the story to continue.
The final Avengers movie does this at length. It deals with the various plot goals it had threaded through-out the story. It removed them, killed them, destroyed them, and gave some of them a happy ending or at least a heroic ending. Except one person…
This kept most people in their seats for the bladder-tightening, three-hour running time.
5. The Author
This story has become the definitive saga for a generation of children. It has become the new Star Wars but on a grander scale. Millions of children throughout the world will remember where they were when Thanos snapped his fingers.
This has been the masterwork of Kevin Feige the head of Marvel Studios and Disney’s favourite son. He is the author of this story. He is the only man who had the power and agency to drive the plot to this satisfactory end.
It’s just like any book before it. It’s a story driven by the mind of one person ultimately towards an end. I don’t know if Mr Feige plotted all this out. But it all makes more sense if he had some idea where he was going.
Now we understand why the second Avengers movie did not feel like a resolution. Because it was just the end of the second act of the bigger movie, or chapter 40 of the great book he was writing. We all asked what the point of The Guardians of the Galaxy was. How could it tie into the story? But seen from where we stand now it is obvious why we needed them and all the smaller movies.
They fill a purpose. Even if you don’t like them individually, they make sense in the structure of a book.
All that is left to say is well done, Marvel! You made the first five billion dollar book. That works.
Christopher writes and facilitates for Writers Write. Follow him on Twitter.
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