How Much Continuity Is Too Much Continuity
The Struggles of Marvel's Phase 4
At the time of this writing we're on the even of Marvel's next film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Many reviewers have already gotten a chance to see the film (not anyone from Asteroid G since Marvel doesn't know we exist) and the general consensus is that the film is interesting, with some brilliant moments, but it tends to get lost in its continuity. Complaints are that to understand the film you basically have to watch everything that's come out in the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe., not only in theaters but also on Disney+. It creates a burden, they argue, that the film can't overcome.
Understanding that we at Asteroid G haven't seen the film, so it's hard for us to gauge how the film actually attacks all it's continuity -- everything in Phase IV up until now, including WandaVision and What If? -- it does seem weird that people are complaining about the MCU and its deep continuity considering part of its strength, which people have commented on in the past, is the strength of its continuity. DC keeps rebooting their heroes (see The Batman) but marvel has been running the same tightly-written film continuity for 12 years and counting.
So what could be the problem here? Well, some of it is likely that the film itself handles its continuity in a ham-handed manner. Disney may not have trusted that people have seen the various Disney+ projects and, as such, have to have them explained to the viewers. If that's the case that seems silly. Frankly, Disney either needs to trust the audience has seen everything (and can glide right past it) or they need to not put so much crap on Disney+ that people aren't going to watch. Seems like a simply matter there.
That being said, Marvel (or, really, Sony/Marvel) did already prove that people are not only willing to see all the past continuity but will also revel in seeing all of it referenced on screen. The recent Spider-man: No Way Home became a massive, near $2 Billion movie based on the back of all the past Sony SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002. continuity. It was a sequel to not only the MCU films but also everything Sony had done before and it was fantastic.
I think if the complaint is just how much continuity you have to watch to understand the movie, that's more a problem for the reviewers. Fans of the MCU already know what to expect from the franchise at this point. Did you really go to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame without seeing all the movies that tied into it. And, if you did, were you really bothered by not understanding every single character that was featured in the movie? I doubt it.
Now, sure, the film might have a lot of threads going on in it, and it's entirely possible that the movie isn't that great with all it's characters. Some complaints I've heard about the handling of Scarlet Witch and her story, let alone a returning Dr. Christine Palmer, sound like the film glosses over a lot of character moments to deliver big empty CGI scenes instead. That's a fair criticism, and one we'll see for ourselves soon enough. But considering Marvel can generate a lot of good will from their continuity, and get people excited for seeing the characters they like on screen, I think complaining about continuity expectations is silly.
One moment I can already point to in the trailers for the film has me absolutely stoked. While I don't know how big a part she plays, we so see Captain Carter, shield in hand, will be in the movie. That's pretty awesome, in my opinion, if for no other reason that Captain Carter is the best part of What If? and I absolutely want to see more of her. Is it shameless fan-service? Hell yes, but that's why I go to these movies: I'm invested in them after 12 years and I demand to be pandered to, haha.
I will admit I'm also a sucker for continuity. Hell, I've been following the damn Child's PlayAlthough some might have thought that the idea of a killer doller slasheer flick couldnt' support a multi-decade spanning franchise, Chucky certainly proved them wrong, constantly reinventing his series, Child's Play to stay fresh and interesting three decades later. movies for years, even though arguably half of them have been absolute crap. Every time some past bit of continuity from that franchise is referenced in a later work I get a little thrill. Hell, I enjoyed the most recent season of Chucky all because it pandered to my deep knowledge of that whole series. Most people just tuning it might not have known or cared, but the series knew who its core audience was and it gave us all we wanted.
So yeah, I think having a movie like Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness out there to capitalize on all the past Disney+ continuity is a good thing. It's smart for Marvel to pay off everything they make us watch and give us the thrill of knowing we kept up. They have to make it so we continue to feel invested, otherwise why do we keep watching all these Disney+ exclusive shoes? They want our money, obviously, and that means keeping us invested. Paying off expectations is a great way to do that.
Maybe the new Doctor Strange is crap. When I watch it, if that's the case, I'll say as much. I like the MCU well enough, but I'm not such an over-the-top fanboy that I can't admit when their movies are crap (and they do produce their own fair number of turds). Regardless, though, continuity expectations are not something I'm going to hold against a film. I consider that a feature, not an issue, and I'll revel in the nods to past shows and movies Marvel wants to throw my way. That's the shit I live for.