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Story Arc, Marvel Movies, and Human Wave

So on release day, my kids dragged me to watch Captain Marvel. It wasn’t a hard drag, as overall I’ve enjoyed the Avengers movie arc. I have not seen all of the movies, have definitely not watched all of the TV series spin-off, but I’ve seen enough to be Team Cap all the way, and to appreciate the Human Wave story underlying the series as a whole. My takeaway from Captain Marvel? Human Wave. If you’ve enjoyed the previous movies, you should go see it.

That being said, while my review on my blog was about the movie, the message, and the massive missing the point the actress who tried to torpedo the movie was guilty of, this blog post is about storytelling. There is one more movie before the arc is wrapped up, and I have to admit, looking at the whole structure, it’s pretty impressive. It’s definitely one that could stand up to study if you are plotting a series. Keep in mind that a single movie is more reflective of the content of a novella, say, than a full novel. But otherwise, you could certainly build these smaller arcs into one big bridge that makes a pleasant journey for your readers to consume and be entertained by.

I’m not a big fan of series that are either overly complicated by drifting storylines and characters that meander in and out with insufficient development, so the reader is left confused about who they are, where they are going, and why. I’m also not a big fan of series that move progressively from ‘save the kitten’ to ‘save the universe’ because each book has to be bigger and badder than the book before it. While the Avenger’s chronicle is certainly grandiose, that was signaled almost from the beginning, and that’s fine. It’s a story about superheroes, and as cute as watching them team up to rescue kittens would be, that’s not what most viewers wanted, and it’s not what they got (and the cat in Captain Marvel was a riot. Seriously, almost watching just for the cat).

But that’s something the Avengers did well. They foreshadowed the big plot, while dwelling on the smaller arc in each movie very well. I missed some of the movies, keep in mind, so I’m more looking at the overall arc here. The characters are largely likeable, which would have kept people coming back to see what their favorites were up to in this episode, but it was the big story that pulled through all of them like a thread, keeping fans coming when they knew their favorites might only be in this movie for a cameo, or not at all. Introduction of new characters was handled well by giving them their own arcs. I have to admit, the whole Guardians of the Galaxy arc had me scratching my head as to where it fit, but then it finally clicked and made more sense.

If you are plotting a series, doing this will keep your cast from becoming overwhelming to keep track of. They didn’t cut back and forth trying to keep all the characters on stage frequently. The writers set up whole arcs, completed them, and then moved them offstage secure in knowing viewers would recognize them when they came back. And the chronology of the films was not closely linked. In other words, we don’t know how parallel or historic they are, in most cases. Earth, we do more, because that’s easy. We’re familiar with Earth. In Captain Marvel, they set up the era of the action on earth by having her fall to the planet and land in a Blockbuster. Boom. We the watchers know this is happening in the past, but not the distant past. There’s a pager, a state-of-the-art two way pager, that becomes a central plot point not only to the movie, but the larger arc. It draws the thread back around.

Also, as Captain Marvel shows, you don’t need to start at the beginning. CM is the origin story of not only the eponymous character, but the concept of the Avenger’s themselves, and tucked into the plot arc where it is, right after the gut punch of Thanos’ killing half the team, it ties the beginning into the end neatly with most emotional impact. You watch it, knowing the dude you’re cheering on is dead. You stay after the credits to see the teaser, and the empty desk makes you realize this theater is awfully dusty for a comic book movie with no emotional depth (heh).

Because the Avengers arc is ultimately one of the most Human Wave things I’ve seen in a long time. I didn’t grow up reading comic books, so I don’t have the angst some of my friends do about the death of comics, swallowed up in grimdark message activism. I don’t have a lens to distort my view of these movies: I didn’t read the books they are nominally based on, and I’ve been told not to bother trying to track down those ripped and frayed threads to see if there’s more. I’ve been able to just take the story as the movie writers intended, and enjoy it for what it is. Mostly, fun escapist fiction that makes me cheer on good guys and boo bad guys. Underlying that, though… there’s a line near the climatic battle of CM. The bad guy, who has ripped off their Warrior Hero mask metaphorically to leer at the hero, says ‘you’re only human.’

Battered, broken, lying on the floor, the hero looks up. She remembers, for the first time, not the manipulated memories that she’s been fed of the times she fell, failed, was discouraged, was bloodied. She remembers the times she got up, squared her jaw, took the second chance she was handed, stepped back up to bat, got back in the cockpit of her plane, rocketed beyond the atmosphere, and she stands up and responds to the villain. “You’re right. I’m human.”

And the good guys win.

(housekeeping notes: the header image is from movieweb dot com. I will be traveling and at my Mom’s place this weekend and will have limited or no internet access as her internet is out and my cell data doesn’t really work at her house. So be nice in the comments, please! I’ll check in as I can.)

23 Comments
  1. Thank you for defusing the worry I had that they made Captain Marvel into this SJWhiny movie, and that it still ties in to the overall story arc.

    (In Anime, if Thor: Ragnarok was the Breather Episode of sorts, this one is definitely the flashback…)

    March 9, 2019
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Sonny Bunch was talking about a mid series episode of Dragonball. Generically not specifically. I’m not certain if he was talking about the original version of Dragonball Z, or about Dragonball Z kai.

      March 9, 2019
  2. Draven #

    Hulk say, Marvel make even puny god likeable.

    #teamhulk

    March 9, 2019
  3. Hunting Guy #

    Anyone that that is staff person to a cat will totally recognize the last credit scene.

    March 9, 2019
  4. I am very happy that you posted this review. Given all the uproar and Brie Larson mouthing SJW phrases in the media, I was a bit concerned. I suppose she probably has to do that if she wants to work again in Hollywood, but it was annoying.

    I find your Human Wave take to be spot-on. Every other SciFi flick out there, Humanity is the bad guy in it. Either they redid Frankenstein, or its the Noble Aliens coming to sort out the evil/bad Humans who can’t learn to get along.

    Marvel has Good Guys and Bad Guys. We understand the Good Guys are not perfect, but they keep trying and they never quit. We understand the Bad Guys have “issues,” but they’re still BAD.

    Thanos, just ferinstance, is the ultimate SJW/Greenie, and his evil is that the ends justify the means. Just like every other asshole tyrant ever. That’s so freaking refreshing, I can’t even.

    Therefore, I will now go to see Captain Marvel instead of waiting for Netflix. They give me what I want, I am happy to pay full price.

    And having Captain Marvel crash into a Blockbuster Video was -awesome-. I am super stoked!

    March 9, 2019
  5. That ties in pretty neatly with our impressions, although there was a bit of fridge logic near the end that left us going ‘eh?’ The story was solid, though, so if the overly flip Carol was a result of the actress Not Getting It, that makes sense.

    Also, go Team Cap! 😁

    March 9, 2019
  6. Mary #

    Series structure is always interesting. . .

    I’ve noticed that a trilogy can have the elegant structure of first book, learning the scale of the issue; second book, surviving having that knowledge; third book, carrying the battle to the issue and winning the day.

    But longer series often need to be a bit episodic, because — as Aristotle perceived — you want the story to be as long as is feasible, but feasibility stops when the viewer can not perceive it as a whole.

    March 10, 2019
    • Dorothy Grant #

      Mary, I hadn’t heard that before, but that’s brilliant. “When the viewer cannot perceive it as a whole”, indeed! That perfectly captures what went wrong with a couple series I liked – the characters were perceived as having an arc (growth, relationship, learning), and the series failed not because an individual book wasn’t good, but because the character arc flattened out into a straight line with no appreciable forward movement. When that happened, I lost all interest in the series.

      March 10, 2019
    • Bob #

      Sometimes, trilogies are more like duologies, but with a lengthy second part, broken into two halves. Thus why the middle of a trilogy often ends on a cliffhanger.

      March 11, 2019
      • Mary #

        It doesn’t help that they are often written as singletons and then expanded.

        March 12, 2019
  7. ravenshrike #

    Here’s one of the long term problems with the character. What’s her weakness? What is she vulnerable to? And you can’t say Stormbreaker or the Infinity Gauntlet. If your weaknesses are reality rending weapons you don’t really have a weakness.

    March 10, 2019
    • Draven #

      alcohol.

      March 10, 2019
      • Draven #

        Rogue’s touch.

        March 10, 2019
      • ravenshrike #

        Personally I want the Skrulls to come back with Super Skrulls when they bring the F4 in and kill her in their attempt to take over Earth. It would certainly be amusing.

        March 10, 2019
  8. Bob #

    Sorry, but the success of this movie will be spun as a vindication of the actress’ and promoters and bloggers’ toxic politics – indeed they’re already crowing with glee, even if they have to tweak the RT scores to make tepid reviews ‘fresh’ – and future installments will take this as an encouragement to produce worse.

    And finally, do you think for one minute any of them would be as charitable or even give the work a fair shot for someone on the opposite isle? (of course not, look at Orson Scott Card, John C Wright, Larry Correia/the sad puppies)

    I don’t care how good it is: I’d sooner throw my money down a sewer as spend it on anything with Larson in it.

    March 11, 2019
    • Given the presence of Brie, an accompanying whine seems appropriate.

      March 11, 2019
  9. Mike Houst #

    CM was a good movie. I didn’t think it was as good as Black Panther, more about the quality of Thor: Dark World. Good, above average, but not a GREAT movie. It’s a movie you can take your kids to see, and all of you enjoy it.

    Yeah, there’s a whole lot of estrogen characters in it. Big deal. We’ve had over a dozen Marvel movies in the same venue with massive, even godly, amounts of testosterone. But it was done well enough that they weren’t right in your face about it; other than the commentary about women not being allowed to fly combat, at that time in history, and we all knew that was coming.

    Is there a problem with Captain Marvel being a woman? No. MCU has modified several characters from the comics to make a coherent blend for the big screen. At least Carol Danvers was MS Marvel/Captain Marvel in the comics; and the source of her powers from logical developments within the MCU, as well as credit to the comic sources.

    End Game is already finished. Nothing we can say is going to change how it will run. Will it be a screed on feminism? I hope not, and I doubt it will be, even if Larson’s CM turns out to be a Mary Sue Goddess. But I do wonder if she’s going to be the one to pull Tony Stark off that derelict ship before his life support runs out?

    March 11, 2019
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      And if I claimed that my eight year old spat the pacifier in rage, announced that in the nineties the Air Force had not fallen to the point of commissioning that, and walked out? 🙂

      March 12, 2019
      • Synova #

        In the mid-80’s commissioned female pilots did not pilot fighters in the Air Force. I’m not sure when that changed. (All that really mattered to me was that you had to be at least 5’4″ to be a pilot and I was not.)

        March 12, 2019
      • Mike Houst #

        I was still in the AF in the 1990s.

        March 12, 2019
  10. About starting in the middle: I think it was James Gunn who said, “Start with your character in a coal mine, at midnight, om a cloudy day, and then DON’T TELL THEM.”

    March 16, 2019
    • Mary #

      Eh. Can lead to the Eight Deadly Words.

      March 16, 2019

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