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Cinematic Universes' Divine Decline and Fall

It is my contention that the lackluster box office performance of Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the boffo reception for Avengers: Infinity War are potentially harbingers of the same future for what is now termed the 'cinematic universe' existence for both the Marvel and Star Wars franchises. That may sound odd, so of course some explanation is in order. Part of what follows necessitate going back a few years.

As is well-publicized, Marvel has different "phases" of its cinematic universe. Everything is planned-out (something which Star Wars could benefit from greatly). It could be (and has been) argued that Marvel's template is very much rote by this point, even with the inclusion of fresh directorial blood with recent films. Nevertheless, the process seems to have done well for them. The movies have almost always done well at the box office, and the average moviegoer seems genuinely invested in what happens with the characters.

A few years ago, Marvel announced its slate of movies going forward, all the way into the early '20s. That rubbed me the wrong way. Whenever I mentioned it to anyone, I was met with either shrugs of indifference, or incredulous responses that came back with cries of how smart and thoughtful Marvel was being. I dunno. It smacked of hubris, of an expectation that of course their forthcoming films were going to do well. Of course all of us lemmings would go and see their movies in droves. The presumption of continued popularity bothered me.

So far, so good for Marvel, but I actually think that the mega-success of Infinity War may have just ended things (its sequel next year excepted).


For one, we watched over half of Marvel's characters die at the end of Infinity War. Fans are going to be eager to find out which deaths are for real, and which will be reversed (you really don't think Spider-Man and Black Panther are dead, do you?). Enter Ant-Man and the Wasp next month. I'm not sure what its box office will be, but it seems unlikely -- after the devastation wrought by Thanos -- that moviegoers are going to shell-out more cash just to see the further adventures of Ant-Man.

If the buzz is correct, then next year's conclusion to Infinity War will see one phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) close, and another begin. We will be treated to a new set of superhero films starring the aforementioned Black Panther and Spider-Man, along with (I guess) more Ant-Man, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, and others. But will people still care? Will folks be as invested with the future of the MCU, seeing as how the stakes can't get much higher than wiping out half of all the people in the universe? Seriously, how do you top that?

And then there's Star Wars, directionless, as it's always been. Whether it's George Lucas or Kathleen Kennedy steering the ship, the franchise has always had a sort of 'on the fly' nature about it. That worked for a long time, but I'm wondering if nowadays it doesn't? Perhaps Star Wars needs an injection of Marvel's long-term strategic planning (though, please, don't tell us about it in advance, ok)? Regardless, it's fairly obvious that, both with the new trilogy and the standalone films, that there isn't much connective tissue. Again, this isn't anything new when it comes to Star Wars.

Going back to A New Hope, it was pretty evident that Luke was the hero and Darth Vader was just some villain. You can tell that it wasn't until The Empire Strikes Back came along that George Lucas decided to make them father and son. Then, with Empire, there wasn't a clue that Luke and Leia were brother and sister (that icky kiss), so Lucas again does a retcon in the next movie. There's also the apparent reality with Return of the Jedi that Star Wars was already bereft of ideas, as it reuses the Death Star battle as its climax.

The prequels, Rogue One, and Solo are just putting prerequisite flesh on very familiar bones. And the current trilogy, well, it's as disjointed as the old one was. The Force Awakens sees JJ Abrams planting some seeds for future plot lines, only to have Rian Johnson step in with The Last Jedi and apparently think those were stupid and blow them off. It isn't unreasonable for fans and film-goers to expect some cohesion when it comes to storytelling. So far, that's been very much lacking with the latest trilogy. And, to be honest, the way Last Jedi leaves things isn't really a true cliffhanger, and doesn't  whet ones appetite for a final chapter.

Don't get me wrong. I love Star Wars, and have enjoyed the MCU very much. But cinemas are becoming increasingly cluttered with blockbusters and franchises (Jurassic World, Godzilla/King Kong, and DC just to name a few), and I'm not sure how much longer audiences are going to shell-out their cold hard cash (or credit) to go see them. Or at least, the same franchises. Star Wars has to find its footing and get some direction, and the MCU, well, it needs to find a way to come back after raising the stakes about as high as they'll go.

Personally, I like things that have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Constantly going, 'But wait, there's more!' can become tiresome after awhile.


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