Make it dark. Make it grim. Make it tough. But then for the love of God, tell a joke. – Joss Whedon
This quote from my favorite director and screenwriter is quite situational. And because he was writer and director for both Avengers movie and worked on many early Marvel films, he’s pretty responsible for the tone of Marvel films we experience now. However, I, along with the YouTube channel Just Write’s recent video, think “in their attempts to mimic his quippy dialogue, the Marvel storytelling philosophy has become all jokes, all the time, no matter the cost.” While this post is basically just in response to and agreement with this video, I highly recommend you take a peek at the video.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame Whedon for this whatsoever. Whedon is an incredible writer and director and I’ve been a huge fan of his since Firefly. Whedon knows how to tell a story and how to properly evoke genuine emotion, making a dramatic moment appropriately serious and grim. But there are certain points in a movie in which it’s just poor timing.
I really do love everything Marvel but over the past few years, the films haven’t necessarily gotten worse but they certainly haven’t gotten better, and until I watched this video, I could never place why I felt that way. As of late, their perfectly acclimated to throwing off what should be a serious moment by using a quick joke. I love comedy in superhero movies, and by all means, tell a joke. However, sometimes the act of telling that joke symbolizes a lack of confidence in storytelling.
And jokes are by no means an inherently bad plot device. Comedy is quite good at defusing tension in some places, and that’s actually necessary sometimes. Sometimes. The overuse of comedy distorts the intended drama and leaves the viewer with an unintended emotion. An easy way to determine if a scene is successful is to constantly ask yourself how it’s making you feel, as is suggested in the video. For example, Marvel made a strategic move to make Ant-Man more comedic rather than dramatic, but there was a weird balance between comedy and drama nevertheless. Thus, when I got to the final fight scene that jumps back and forth between serious and trivial more than five times in rapid succession, I had no idea what to feel. Conversely, when Iron Man and Cap have their final bout, I knew exactly what to feel because it had the appropriate level of drama.
The reason I love Marvel is because their characters have real problems and over the course of the story, they make a genuine change that feels real. There are a lot of things at play like cinematography, score, and, of course, the story itself and more often than not Marvel does a superb job. However, Whedon’s departure from the Marvel Cinematic Universe has, in my opinion, left the studio forever trying to continue Whedon’s immense success with the franchise.
I don’t mean for that to sound like they’re not still succeeding because they are. What I mean to say is, I loved the first Avengers. I even loved the second Avengers despite that emotionally confusing airport battle scene. I even loved James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films because comedy was a primary facet of the franchise and was utilized well. But I thought Doctor Strange was just okay. And Ant-Man was really meh in my opinion. Again, this is just my opinion, I’d like to hope Marvel has made a very conscious decision to overly frequent comedy and this is not accidental.