Marvel’s Real Civil War: Profit vs. Art

Fine, I’ll say it. Marvel Studios sucks.

I’m aware of how unpopular this opinion is. The following words are not about to make me any friends, but since no one else will admit it, I’ll be the one. The powerhouse of Marvel filmmaking that has emerged in the past ten years is bad for American society, bad for the world of artistic expression, and, most annoyingly, bad for the company itself.

Reading a sentence like that makes me sound like something of an overly moral, “think-of-the-children” lunatic. If you’ve read my last column, you’ll know that this is not true in the slightest—I have almost no problem with the art of morally bankrupt artists, nor do I have any qualms about consuming “immoral” art itself. My first issue with Marvel Studios—its choking grip on American society—does not stem from the morals of the company itself, but instead from its churning out three full-length movies a year. I’m a major proponent of creating for the sake of creation rather than for financial gain, and Marvel Studios’ cookie-cutter formula for filmmaking stands directly against this principle.

The phrase “cash-grab” is a dangerous buzzword, but this is precisely what is happening with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you don’t believe me, believe the statistics: in between the release of the first Iron Man film in 2008 and the first Captain America film in 2011, only one Marvel Studios movie broke $600,000,000 worldwide: Iron Man 2. Of course, as nearly everyone knows, The Avengers obliterated this record, bringing in almost 1.6 billion dollars and setting in motion the tidal wave of superhero movies to come. Since then, with the exception of Ant-Man, not a single Marvel Studios film has dropped below the $600,000,000 mark. At the same time, Marvel mapped out its “three-films-a-year” plan until 2018. I have no problem whatsoever with a prospering production company, but this data combined with the timeline of Marvel movies to come makes one fact very clear: Marvel Studios is in it for the money.

Perhaps I could swallow this reality if not for the second problem: the Marvel Cinematic Universe severely damages artistic expression. I can’t help but ask a simple question—does the act of pushing out three snappy, action-packed, explosion-riddled movies a year truly come from a love of cinema? Maybe it’s the idealist in me, but I don’t think that it does.

When was the last time a Marvel Studios film brought something innovative or new to the table? Arguably the most interesting plot point ever concocted in the Cinematic Universe was Iron Man 3’s attempt to address Tony Stark’s PTSD and anxiety disorders. Not surprisingly, this idea of a realistically flawed individual has since been entirely forgotten, instead replaced by…well, more explosions. We seem to hate Michael Bay for his vapid, empty productions and his lack of any real substance, so why do we accept it from anyone else?

This leads right into Marvel’s biggest problem of all. By engaging in money-driven, action-packed film production, the company has limited itself for years to come. Marvel Studios thrives off of this cash inflow that they have created, and society now holds the expectation of nothing less than constant entertainment. The societal expectations placed on Marvel Studios will no longer allow it take artistic risks. And even if there was some shred of a movement to change this, Marvel Studios’ cashflow will self-destruct if they even try. The company needs this money to continue producing visually impressive content, but any attempt to branch out into innovation will absolutely cripple them financially. People want the formulaic Marvel Studios that sends adrenaline racing through their bodies, and will pay for nothing less. Maybe this problem with innovative plotlines stems more from the fact that a superhero story is practically limited in scope, but I don’t think Marvel Studios’ pushing out three films a year does anything to make its films more intriguing or substantively daring.

Does it make me a fun-hating grinch to feel this way? Probably. And truthfully, I’m a hypocrite too, because I will still see every Marvel Studios film that drops in the next ten years. If I’m being honest, I absolutely love superhero movies. They’re inspiring, they’re emotional, and they have the ability to make a person truly wonder at the idea of what it means to be a human being. There really is a massive amount of room for innovation and exploration in the superhero genre, and that truly excites me. I only wish that Marvel Studios would take a step back, reevaluate itself, and try a little harder to be excited by the artistic process. Maybe it could take a whole damn year off here and there, too.

Featured Image By Marvel Studios