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.)