Webs Within Webs

So. Avengers movie web. The last of these very belated and drawn out three posts I intended to do as an aside series.

This kind of ties into everything else, but I did want to devote a little extra space to it, because I didn’t want to defocus either of my other posts to deal with it.

I have this theory about TV shows and the track movies seem to be taking recently. Basically, movies came in before TVs were a common occurrence in the home, and for a long time, while there were great TV shows out there, they weren’t really a patch on the spectacle or the sheer budget potential of a movie. After all, even putting aside time constraints on what sort of TV material you can show when (you can show an R-rated movie during the day because the cost of entry is being old enough to purchase a ticket, or old enough to take responsibility for purchasing the ticket for other viewers, but a TV show can be casually flicked to by just anybody), and the fact that you can only show so many TV shows in X number of 30-45 minute blocks on Y number of days, remembering back to when there were much fewer channels available, you run into the issue that a movie produces 2-odd hours of special effects, lighting, acting, camera work, and so forth, while a TV show requires a repeated investment totalling many times that in a year. For a calculation based on an American TV show, 22 episode series, 45 minute episodes? That’s 16.5 hours. Each episode kind of has to get a much smaller budget than 45 minutes of movie.
And then you have the mythology associated with going to the movies, the dates, the family outings, the ‘special’ feeling of the big screen. Movies, for a long time, were running the show.

Oh, hello there Digital Age. Didn’t see you there.
When you can download movies very easily (on legit sites like Netflix, not just pirated), and movie theatres have become known for being too loud, filled with unpleasant sticky floors and inconsiderate patrons, movies lost a lot of cultural traction.
Then, we suddenly had more channels for TV than we really knew what to do with, TVs were in most homes, so a TV show would access more people, and the Internet made it super simple to access TV show content without worrying about the time the show was playing, for example. And then Netflix happened, again, and fandoms happened online and suddenly TV shows had equal buying power to movies, and were worth spending the extra money on production for.

Quite frankly, I think a lot of the thematic problems I discussed last post are due to movies now scrambling to keep up with TV shows. TV shows have a lot of advantages to movies, when they have the potential for the same quality. They work on multiple pacing levels, so individual plots and subplots can get the length they deserve. They have lots of time to use, so you have time to introduce and resolve more themes, more characters, and so forth, and resolve them effectively, without things feeling tangled or rushed.

You know what else works like a TV show in that respect? Comic books.
Comic books are long-form stories with episodic arcs contributing to a larger overall arc, largely (but not uniformly or universally).
In that way, the fact that the current Marvel movie universe mirrors a comic book series (a series that brings together multiple other series technically set in the same universe) is interesting, as the closest analogy would likely be a TV series, not a set of movies.

I feel like the movies are going to emphasise the episodic nature of the arrangement: a true overarching plot is going to be nearly impossible. Continuity, certainly – we already have elements of that. The Tesseract first shows up in a Thor post-credits scene, then is a plot point in Captain America’s first movie before it becomes a true McGuffin in The Avengers. Age of Ultron uses Stark’s character development that starts in Iron Man 3. The third Avengers movie is almost certainly going to involve a villain who was referenced in the post-credits scenes in both previous Avengers movies (Thanatos). But a true overarching plot arc in a movie will be incredibly hard – and you’d need a lot of movies to do it in. I get the feeling Age of Ultron was trying to have a thematic over-arc, developing the themes of teamwork from the first movie, but the movies still felt quite separate.

The main advantage to having something so episodic is that you can come in anywhere, and things will make sense. Perhaps there will be more depth if one watches all the movies, but it’s not like you won’t understand what the Tesseract is if you don’t watch the Captain America movies, to follow on the previous example. You have more options for people to get sucked into the world, after all, watching one Avengers movie to see if you’d like the movie franchise is way less time-costly than trying an entire TV series to see if you’d like the spinoffs.

All in all, I don’t think anybody really thought about this when they set up to make the movies. But it’s interesting to see how this changes the viewing as the stories develop.
And hey, if how the Batman movie franchise(s) have been going lately is any indication, soon we’ll have as many retcons in movie canon as comic book canon. Arguments for everyone!

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