MovieBob - Intermission
Avengers: The Down Side Of Up

Bob Chipman | 10 Aug 2012 12:00
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When putting together last week's Escape to The Movies, I became suddenly aware that it had been overall a kind of not terribly great summer in terms of movies. Too many flat-out bad films (Battleship, Amazing Spider-Man, Men In Black 3) too many so-so letdowns (Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises) and too many projects that could've been interesting but ultimately weren't (Dark Shadows, Snow White). Sure, there were some nice surprises - I'm still kind of reeling from the fact that Ted will probably end up being one of the best comedies of the year, for example - but overall? Kind of a bummer summer.

So why did it take so long for me to notice? Easy. Because for most of it, whenever I might otherwise have been jonesing for a good movie fix, I always had one: going to see The Avengers again.

The Avengers is the sort of movie I occasionally wind up putting at or near the top of a Year's Best list almost symbolically, as an "Attaboy!" for the sheer magnitude of its accomplishment. But in this case, symbolism has nothing to do with it - it really is that good. And in a nice change of pace, that goodness has been rewarded with deservedly stratospheric box office and stature as not just a movie geek object of worship but a bona fide pop culture event. It also appears to be the future of its genre (superhero movies) and thus, for the time being, the future of blockbuster filmmaking, period.

So let's talk about why that might not be a good thing.

Okay, I won't even pretend this is anything more than a thought experiment. I'm as convinced that The Avengers' unfolding influence is a big net-positive as I ever was. But there's no such thing as a good idea that can't go bad under the wrong circumstances, particularly given Hollywood's tendency to learn the wrong lessons from success. On that note, here's a few very wrong lessons I hope aren't mis-learned from The Avengers.

Continuity Over Quality

The big shiny new feature of The Avengers was that it cemented Marvel Studios' continuity experiment as having worked, which on the plus side could encourage other studios (looking at you, Warner Bros/DC Comics) to make similar use of it as a storytelling tool. Unfortunately, it could also encourage them to use it as a crutch or let it stifle other projects unnecessarily.

Ideally, continuity in comics is a way of expanding a universe, increasing story possibilities and maintaining a certain level of internal consistency - plus hardcore collectors/fans like it because it rewards their pre-existing tendency to memorize and catalogue. In the wrong hands, though, it can have the opposite effect in all of those areas, making a universe feel too small, forcing too many rules into a story and making inconsistency a bigger flaw than it ought to be. Go through a list of bad comic book arcs over the last few decades and you'll find a lot of stories that only existed for purposes of continuity book keeping.

Much as I enjoy seeing movies in a series bring back favorite characters or bring interesting story points back to the forefront, sometimes it's best for everyone to just let some things go. Heather Langenkamp's character from A Nightmare on Elm Street is said to have died in the sequel, but since everyone hated Freddy's Revenge, she's handwaved back to life in Part 3 and nobody brings it up again. I worry that, today, a "for the best" fix like that would impossible and instead we'd be asked to suffer through a "bridge" film laboriously explaining how and why she came back.

Like anything else, continuity is only useful when it works - when it doesn't, ignore it. A minority of fans will miss the bigger picture and complain, yes, but you will make it up in volume.

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