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A BLK&WHI think piece

Confession: I’m a serious nerd. I have seen all the Marvel movies, used to hang out in a comic book store, and even went to Comic-Con last year. So after leaving Guardians of the Galaxy (BTW: It’s freaking great!), I was shocked by the answer I received after asking my movie companion how she liked the film. “It was all over the place. What is that stone? Who was that big guy in the chair? I didn’t like it.” She had seen almost every Marvel movie; how was she confused? I explained that the stone was part of six Infinity Stones (three of which we have seen in previous movies), and that Thanos (the guy in the chair) was hoping to collect them all in preparation for the third Avengers movie in 2018. After she replied “Oh, OK,” I then realized Marvel has a potentially huge problem on its hands.

One of Marvel Studio’s trademarks has been its ability to meld individual movies into a larger “Marvel universe.” This has allowed them to bring Iron Man, Captain America and others together into ensemble films like The Avengers, building a broader story arc that spans all of Marvel studio’s creative properties. However, there is risk that such actions could create a serious barrier for entry later on down the line, making it difficult for newcomers to get caught up and causing casual users to lose interest due to overly-connected and complicated plots. What happens if you missed a movie or two? Will you be able to understand what the heck is going on in the series without seeing them?

Marvel is facing a bloated mythology problem and similar examples abound in the realm of television and movies. Shows like Lost and The X-Files were famously complex, with the mythology of those shows eventually becoming burdens as they matured. Current cable-television juggernaut Game of Thrones is on the precipice of a similar fate. The X-Men film series, after seven separate movies, now fits firmly into this category as well, even though they have been playing a little fast and loose with their own mythology. Hell, even J.J. Abrams, after getting his hands on the Start Trek franchise, blew up a planet and created an entirely new timeline so as to avoid the headaches that come with a bloated 48-year-old mythology that spans 10 movies and six different television series.

Marvel’s issue is a classic comic book problem. The characters and plot points not only intersect quite often, but can run for multiple years. Coming late to a comic series is almost impossible without making a serious investment in time and money. Seeking to change the equation, in 2011, DC Comics relaunched all of its superhero titles, erasing a majority of the story arcs that had previously existed. Quoting David DiSalvo of Forbes, “Every new series is starting at #1, giving readers that had not considered DC books before a chance to start at the ground level.” Can Marvel, which has invested a ton of blood and treasurer in making these characters and actors silver screen household names, really be expected to implode the whole thing? Should they?

Marvel has a few options moving forward, but the underlying problem will not correct itself. One saving grace might be the On Demand nature of modern movie delivery. With the casual viewer’s ability to binge watch multiple movies cheaply in the comfort of their own home, companies like Netflix could be a useful vehicle for helping the non-obsessed catch up. Owned by Disney, Marvel also has access to a number of platforms on which their products could play, making the possibility of marathons on ABC and ABC Family a real possibility. However, the obvious must be stated: Marvel might need to reboot the entire film series in a few years. While it would destroy a lot of the work that has gone into the current story arcs, it would not necessarily be a bad thing. Robert Downey Jr. is not getting any younger, and contact disputes in the future will only become more likely as the success of Marvel continues. Furthermore, perhaps giving different filmmakers and actors the opportunity to breathe new life into these iconic characters wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

With the astounding success of Guardians of the Galaxy, many are saying that Marvel is at its peak. I believe that they should use this time to not only meticulously plan the movies already in the pipeline, but to also prepare for a time when the strength of their stories becomes their albatross. Marvel, and the character’s they have been molding for the last 75 years, deserve as much.