Why Being Fun Is Better For Marvel Than Being Great
The MCU is a series without a single Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with all but two movies Certified Fresh. The only other franchises that can claim that and have released their entries in the site's history (older films skew positive) are Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, which are both shorter and based on clear source material. What Feige and co. have done is nothing short of incredible.
This is thus often used as the ultimate stamp of success - seen best with Ragnarok, which was called the best Marvel film sight unseen because it sat on 99% for so long. However, Rotten Tomatoes is hardly a fair barometer of actual quality, more broad opinion; its basic aggregation algorithm only categorizes reviews on a binary positive/negative scale, meaning a 3* shrug weighs the same as a 5* rave. But it doesn't matter - as much as people try to explain this, they still fall into the hype trap - probably because it is an extension of how people discuss movies anyway.
Whether Top Critic or non-contributing audience member, fun is going to hit that 3* threshold more often than not, and likewise is unlikely to cause many to be so incensed they give it a negative appraisal. The mood is shaped as positive. If they tried to do more daring films, they'd risk dividing people and with it souring the consensus, or at the very least have serious criticisms leveled against them - and with that the consistent financial take would be hurt. For a film like Blade Runner 2049 to meets its transcendent reputation for the average punter is nigh on impossible. When that bar is lowered to "you'll have a good time", things are easier. Being fun is safer and thus "better" for a studio.
Formula: Or Where All The Comedy Comes In
You may have noticed that so far we've avoided talking about Marvel comedy, and that's because of the common conflating of the films being fun and being funny. In truth, none of the MCU entries are fun purely because they've got jokes. What the humor is, really, is part of the formula. Now, Marvel formula is a well-covered topic, but the short version is that it's about character above all else. In theory, that's a fair idea: focus on your heroes and you have a strong heart. But that tunnel-vision leads to all the classic weaknesses: underdeveloped villains, basic plots and uniform technical elements (i.e. everything that's holding them back).
Read More: Is Thor: Ragnarok Too Much Of A Comedy?
The humor is ostensibly there to keep people engaged alongside the character obsession. However, it can be at odds; whereas a well-written character is grounding, jokes are often superficial and at worst distracting. It's easier to go for an emotional beat then swerve at the last minute with a gag - those who want to find meaning can, while everyone else gets a yuk - but you don't get anywhere near the connection a fully earnest moment would. Is it really any surprise that the best moments of 2017's films are the ones that dropped the fun facade: Yondu's funeral, the Vulture twist, and the gladiator fight? In practice, humor is a cap, an ensuring of only fun, but it became dominant because of the realization that good beat the gamble of great, not the other way round.
Fun has become Marvel's shortcut to success, and as time's gone by a crux. One the MCU needs to get past.
- Black Panther (2018) release date: Feb 16, 2018
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 05, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019