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Are Cinematic Universes Worth the Trouble?

By July 18, 2017No Comments

By: Beverly Peders

Ever since TV shows began crossover episodes, different “worlds” have become linked in ways that expands them. While cinematic universes have claimed to be around for a long time ago, Marvel is the first to create a trend out of it. Though some may claim that Pixar was the first, the Pixar theory only confirms the use of easter eggs but not an interconnected Cinematic Universe. What’s the difference?

Easter eggs are small shout-outs to other movies by the same company – like Maui in Moana shape-shifiting into Sven from Frozen. A cinematic universe, like crossover episodes, bridges characters from the same world, like the Flash and Batman showing up in Suicide Squad. A cinematic universe can also include characters from other worlds and bridge the gap between, like Thor in The Avengers.

Recently The Mummy movie brought to light that not everyone is cut out for cinematic universes. Universal bit off more than they could chew, announcing that they would be attempting to rival Marvel’s franchise with their own “Dark Universe”.  The Mummy, however, did not pave the way for at least five more movies. Although each might be able to hold their own since they star A-list actors, they have a terrible reputation to beat.

Starting with the first Iron Man movie, Marvel has already completed Phase Three of their plan with the recently released Spider-Man: Homecoming. After sixteen movies, five television shows, and more planned until 2028, we have to wonder whether the interest can survive. Comic books have held a captive audience since the 1930s, but can an audience stay hooked for another eleven years (if they don’t extend even more)?

What Marvel’s Doing Right

Despite DC’s Wonder Woman besting Marvel’s Deadpool box office record, Marvel is sitting pretty as ever with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Everyone with a bad taste in their mouths from The Mummy found relief in watching a Cinematic Universe done right. But what is their secret?

The movies can stand alone. Despite the urge you may have to watch anything and everything Marvel produces to keep up with the characters and the plot line, you don’t need to watch Agent Carter or Ant-Man to understand Captain America: Civil War. With Spider-Man: Homecoming, we saw a separation for the heavy drama of the other movies and character plot lines and entered a very youthful movie.

Why does this work? Every movie and character plot line needs it’s own feeling and flavor. Thor feels more fantasy and elaborates mythology whereas Iron Man is usually deep and dark with emotional and military conflicts intermixing.  With Spider-Man: Homecoming, there’s a breath of fresh air in the Cinematic Universe. A pause on all the world-ending evil plots and focuses more down-to-earth with a plot line that is more Spider-Man than fighting aliens would be.

How to Write a Cinematic Universe

The easy route would be to take several leafs from Marvel’s Universe, but then you’d run into the conflict of looking too similar or not being able to compete when audiences compare. Is writing a Cinematic Universe even worth it if Marvel seems to be the only one really succeeding?

I believe that to write one would give the screenwriter the character and world building opportunities TV writers get and instead of 30-45 minutes for an episode, they get two hour episodes. Each episode gets it’s own unique voice depending on the character it centers around and from each branch, more of the world is discovered. What one should not do, is take several new characters and throw them together in one movie and scramble to tell each of their stories to make them memorable. Those work as separate movies (like The Hateful Eight) or as a crossover movie after all characters are introduced, but not a hodgepodge mess of exposition and forced bonding (we’re looking at you, Suicide Squad). 

The best advice may be to just let it happen. If you write one series and you find that you want to connect it with another, you craft them together. If you do plan for it to happen, take heed of Universal’s mistake and don’t claim a Universe you might not be able to fulfill.

Overall, just have fun. If you’re forcing yourself to write a Cinematic Universe because “it’s all the rage”, remember that Marvel and DC pretty much have their plots written out. Sure they’re outdated, but they have plot lines and crossovers already outlined for them as well as have the huge comic book fanbase already on board. Besides, the more you stand out from the others, the better chances your story has of getting noticed and taking off.