Last week I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming, a fun film I highly recommend if you haven’t seen it…but that’s not what this article is about. One of the most interesting things about the film is how it is entirely reliant on other movies to have the emotional weight that it does. Marvel decided to skip rolling out yet another Spider-Man origin film and instead tells the tale of a teenager with super powers whose greatest ambition is to join the Avengers.
This only really makes sense because the Avengers have been established, both as individuals and as an organization, over the course of several movies. Similarly, the backstory for the villain — a man who makes weapons out of alien technology salvaged from the invasion of New York — doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without the first Avengers film.
It’s very cool that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has reached this point where a new hero can be brought into an already fully realized world and have dreams and motivations based entirely on events that have happened in other movies.
In fact, it’s so cool that many other studios are trying to do the same thing. Warner Bros has rushed headlong towards making a Justice League film, and in the process only managed to turn out one really good movie set in the DC Universe. Universal announced a Dark Universe setting before it had even released its first film in the series, which ended up being widely panned.
Both of these companies tried to put the cart before the horse in terms of storytelling, trying to slap together a huge world with a deep mythology that could generate film after film. But they skipped the basics, ignoring the foundational elements that make a setting like the MCU work.
Recently I feel like I’ve caught a bit of the MCU fever myself. Of course, I’m not a movie studio, so this has less to do with the siren call of the almighty dollar than it does with creative possibilities.
I’ve had a hard time settling on my next creative endeavor, in part because I find myself often getting distracted by the massive potential of the “franchise setting.” Every world building idea I have seems to shoot off into a setting with a bunch of different titles and main characters, and trying to consider all of it at once is overwhelming.
In a world where settings like this exist all around us, as a writer I find it tough not to consider things like series or spin-off potential, if only because it lets me juggle multiple character and story ideas in my head at once.
But of course Marvel started its whole movie empire by buckling down and making one very good film: Iron Man. It was a story that focused very heavily on Tony Stark as a character and his journey into being a hero. Then came Thor and Captain America. By the time we got around to the Avengers, Marvel had created several strong films that made audiences invested in their characters. From there we’ve come all the way to Civil War and soon the Infinity Wars.
I don’t know if anyone else has had the problem of being distracted by the potential for working in a large setting and thinking of all the cool story ideas that will come down the line, once the world is fully developed. I know it’s been the case for me recently. And I’m trying more and more to focus on the truth that anything like that starts with one good story. If you don’t give your audience something to enjoy from the start, they won’t stick around to see how cool things might become.
Anyway, that’s a bit of a rant and a personal writing update all in one. Does anyone struggle with this same thing when world building and coming up with story ideas? Let me know in the comments.
Until then, catch you next time.