MovieBob - Intermission
The Accuracy Trap in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Bob Chipman | 2 May 2014 12:00
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The Avengers

Granted, that sort of thing has always come with the job. And sure, there have also always been critics who are more than a little guilty of projection and petty grudges. But there's simply no question that it's become supercharged in the Internet Age, wherein the late-90s emergence of the "Film Geek" journalist contingent has led to a film-commentary landscape dominated by folks whose "fanboy" backgrounds make them easy targets for dismissal both by the old-guard critics who look down on them and the actual fanboys who insist on seeing them only as equally-or-more-fallible contemporaries (a neat trick of self-elevation by way of tearing others down) regardless of their professional stature.

The second development is more interesting to me, though: The competing back and forth assumptions about "accuracy" and what it actually means or doesn't in terms of quality. There's nothing particularly "new" about rhetorical shouting matches between fans of cinematic adaptations and fans of material being adapted. Google up the thousands of essays about whether Kubrick's The Shining was A. a masterpiece of filmmaking, B. a bastardization of the book or C. both to see what I mean. (The answer is "A," incidentally - King hadn't matured into a great writer by that point.) But there is something new about the accuracy issue at this moment in movie history, and that something is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

No matter how you slice it, the filmmaking arm of the Disney corporation's recently-acquired comic book company is running the table in this Golden Age of superhero movies; producing not only the hits every rival studio would kill to have made but the "franchise-universe" business model said rivals are desperate to emulate. And since simply accepting that the basic calculus of Good Script + Good Direction + Good Cast = Good Odds remains proven would put a lot of box-office analysts out of work, everyone has to go looking for "the secret" to their unprecedented success - and some fans are eager to claim their much-ballyhooed "respect for the source material" as The Answer.

It's not hard to see why: Fans are often invested, short-term, in seeing movies based on their favorite characters look and feel as close to the versions that made them fans in the first place. For such fans, the notion that Marvel Studios' success can be attributed to making sure everyone's costume is the right shade of the right color is understandably tempting. And to be sure there's a certain logic in it. It makes sense to assume that a filmmaker who fixates on details like that is motivated by passion that extends, however slightly, beyond just picking up a check.

Problematically, though, this has led to an overly simplified strain of punditry seizing hold of online fandom; the now often-regurgitated notion that all an adaptation needs to do is "follow the Marvel route!" and "stick to the source!" in order to please fans and find box-office success. And while my inner child is as happy as anybody's to have seen The Avengers turn up all looking more-or-less like they're "supposed to" (well, except Hawkeye, but five out of six ain't bad) ...I'm sorry, that wasn't the reason that movie worked. After all, if it was, other page-perfect realizations like Ghost Rider would've been similarly successful, no?

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