You have no idea what I had to go through to get this. I had to call in a lot of favors from Marvel, meet people in shady parking decks, and I may or may not have Joss Whedon tied up in my basement.
It has been weeks – no, months – I have spent gathering information, watching and rewatching the original Iron Man, and taking essay length notes, but I think I finally have it. I’m not even kidding – my office looks like I’m trying to track a serial killer or something.
Since 2008, almost ten years now, Marvel has had a monopoly on the movie going experience. I can’t go to a normal movie without wondering if there is going to be an after credits scene or ponder when Stan Lee is going to show up. They’ve ruined me and my movie watching experience.
This isn’t just for the common good – it’s personal.
Here, in no-nonsense terms, I give you the formula for why and how Marvel has ruined movies for us, and how you in turn could utilize it for your next project.
The Marvel Formula
So you want to write a Marvel-like series, huh? Okay then, let’s take a look at what all you will need before doing such things.
- A heart of gold
- An internal conflict that has held them back from being a hero in the first place
- Be relatively good looking
- Have a small group of people that they trust
- An external goal that may or may not intertwine with the internal conflict/plot
- Crazy awesome powers, powerful suits, toys, or genetic mutation
This is our hero. We start off with what is just a normal day for them.
In Iron Man, it was Tony Stark going out into the desert to show off his newest weapon, in Ant-Man it was Scott Lang getting kicked around in prison. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Pete Quill in on an alien planet trying to steal something while dancing along to your parent’s walkman. You have to show what life is like for our Hero before they even get started.
But today isn’t just some normal day. Today, in the midst of all of the mundane life that they lead, something happens. Tony is kidnapped by terrorists wanting his weapons. Peter is confronted by a race of aliens trying to get the same thing he is. Scott gets pulled into doing *sigh* one last job.
Our heroes, in a bit of a pickle, get to show what they are truly worth, to show why they are our hero in the first place.
- A shadow of our hero, so similar that given the opportunity the could become the hero, but choose the villainous path.
- A family member or a long-time friend.
- They have to be wronged in some way. Taken advantage of or exploited.
- Have a plan that is actually feasible as well as believable (EX: Of course Ultron wanted to take over the world. He took one look at the front page of Reddit and couldn’t take it anymore!)
- You have to feel for the villain.
One of my favorite villains in the Marvel universe is Loki. It’s not just because he is played by Tom Hiddleston, but because he is a complex character.
Granted, his internal conflict could be summed up by “Daddy Issues”, but it’s more than that. He is acting out, like a teenager really, because he feels alone. Everything he has known, everything that he believed in was a lie, and this is the way he is dealing with it.
Another great villain is Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier.
After his accident fifty years ago, he was taken in by Hydra and brainwashed to do their bidding, which included attacking his best friend/boyfriend Steve Rodgers and (be warned of spoilers for Civil War>>) killing Tony Stark’s parents.
He is fighting against his memory loss and trying to return back to who he thinks he is. One of the cutest scenes, which really wasn’t that cute until the internet got a hold of it, was when in Civil War, Bucky is on the lamb, hiding from everyone who wants him dead. There is a scene in which he is eating some plums, which doesn’t seem that bad, right?
Well, turns out plums are supposed to help restore memory loss. He is trying to get his memory back with help from Pinterest!
You don’t have to have your villain go back and forth between being good and being bad, that will just inferiate your audience. Instead, flirt with the idea that they could be good, but that they are choosing to be evil.
A Sidekick/Love Interest
- Mustn’t be a whiny bitch
- Has to call the hero out of his/her/their crap
- Funny isn’t a requirement, but it helps
- they have to help the hero along with their journey
- if they get kidnapped, help them stand their own (But not get themselves out, because that’s what the hero is supposed to do)
It’s 2016, can we retire the “Holy Nutcracker, Batman!” crap? Please?
The sidekick in the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t supposed to be annoying, they are to be almost cynical and deadpan around the Hero. They are to keep him in line and not let them get too big of a head (Rhodey and Pepper in Iron Man)
They are also supposed to help the Hero along the way, knowing that our hero can’t do this by themselves, not matter how hard they try (Black Widow in Winter Soldier)
And sometimes, they can turn into a romantic love interest (Black Widow and Cap in Winter Soldier), but office-based romances never work, so immediately abandon it and make no mention of it ever again. Can you tell I’m still salty about Age of Ultron?
When you boil down the conflicts of our superhero movies, they tend to take a very simplistic plot and just embellish on it.
Once upon a time, there was a man named Christopher Booker. He was so in love with books and stories that he decided he was going to study them, until one day when he realized that most of the world books, movies, and legends could be boiled down to seven basic conflicts.
Now, Christopher’s book is insanely big, and I couldn’t read it all, but I have found a couple excerpts online.
- Man vs. Man
- Man vs. Self
- Man vs. Nature
- Man vs. Society
- Man vs. God/fate
- Man caught in the Middle
- Male and Female
- Man vs. Machine
Most, if not all of the Marvel movies fit these conflicts.
In Iron Man it’s Man vs. Man (Almost Man vs. Self, since he is going up against Obadiah who is using an Iron Man-like suit against him anyhow)
Incredible Hulk is Man vs. Self. Because of the experiments his father ran on him as a baby, Bruce can’t help turning into a Green Monster every time he gets angry.
Man vs. Machine is quite literally Age of Ultron.
This has to be put in. It just has to.
One of my favorite scenes in Age of Ultron was when Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch are in the abandoned house and are talking. Wanda is scared and doesn’t want to hurt anybody and Hawkeye gives a wonderful, all be it blunt, little speech about the current state of affairs.
The city is flying and we’re fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. Nothing makes sense.
Clint is one of my favorite characters, even though he doesn’t get much screen time, only because he is able to look at what is going on objectively. I doubt we would have been able to get the same speech out of Tony or even Steve for that matter.
Humor helps because, as we’ll see in the next section, these things can get really dark, and to stop your audience from ending it all right there or popping some more lithium, you tell a joke or two to keep it light hearted.
The reason this needs to be said is for some reason or another, DC Movies haven’t quite grasped it yet. They tried with Suicide Squad but failed as they had to practically rewrite the entire movie and it just didn’t feel right. The movies felt as if you were watching two different movies instead of one cohesive movie.
Remember kids: it’s easier to take jokes out than it is to put them in after the fact.
One of the things that we have learned from modern cinema is to take what we fear in our modern state and apply it in a way that we can handle it on the big screen.
You can’t just have a violent protest over Civil Rights and the racial biased in America. But if you have humans of all shapes and colors protesting the rights of mutated humans with weird powers, then you have a story.
Or about whistleblowing and secret Nazi organizations taking over the world’s most influential government for world domination and genocide, no. But have Captain America punching out a whole bunch of Hydra agents, then you have a summer blockbuster.
The important thing to remember is that you have to find something topical, that is going on in the world around us, and squeeze it down until it’s something a majority of us can swallow. We don’t want to be watching the news, but we want something that is relevant to our lives now.
Winter Soldier really took my breath away, given that it was only a couple months after Edward Snowden and even more whistleblowers were coming forward. It gave us an interesting dilemma: should we be kept in the dark and trust that the powers that be are going to protect us, or should there be complete transparency and brace ourselves for what we might here?
I thought that what they tried to do for Batman V. Superman was good, given our revitalized fear of shootings and bombs in the past couple months. They tried to make Superman look like a terrorist, which if you know anything about him then you know it’s bull crap – but they really did try to make a case against Superman when it ultimately blew up and they moved on to the next plot point without ever resolving that one.
I’m not saying exploit fears or coming up with wild and crazy things just to get your paranoid uncle in a tizzy. Make it about us, humanity, and what we struggle through every day.
The MCU really hit gold in 2006 with Iron Man, and since then they’ve been cranking out hit after hit, before finally hitting the big one, the Avengers in 2012. However, they had always planned to do an Avengers movie, since before Iron Man.
Kevin Feige, Marvel Cinematic Master and ruiner of modern movie-goers everywhere, is the puppetmaster behind all of Marvel’s movies. Since the beginning, they’ve wanted to do an Avengers movie, but first, they wanted to introduce the superheroes first, giving the audience and idea of who these guys were before throwing them all together.
In fact, they really wanted to show off some of the not-so-well-known superheroes, which at the time was Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the Hulk, which despite having a TV show in the 1970’s, wasn’t really that popular.
They wanted to give everyone their moment to shine, and while Edward Norton’s Bruce didn’t last very long, everyone else seemed to be on the same page. They (I say they like it’s some large group of people, I really mean Kevin) had a plan since the beginning, working his way up to the Avengers, and by that time, they were unstoppable.
Now, I’m gearing up to watch a large purple dude who is in love with Death put on a gold mitten with magic bling on it and try and take over the world. And I’m excited!
So, in case this article wasn’t long enough, I have a TL;DR for you movie buffs and writers of DC out there.
- Make a likable cast of people, with the Hero having a heart of gold and a questionable hobby/profession.
- Give them an ancient conflict, one that almost anyone who has ever been alive ever knows about.
- Make it funny. No slap sick or vaudeville acts here. Give your story, no matter how dark and depressing, heart.
- Pick a theme which is relatable. “You can make your own destiny”, “The excessive use of technology is rotting our brains”, “Good will always trump evil!”
- Pick a topic that relevant, maybe something that’s been in the news, or something that has just been a long time coming.
- If aiming for a large cast with multiple main characters, make sure that they all hate each other and don’t work well with others. It just don’t feel right if they’re all buddy-buddy in thirty seconds (And lord, please, no mentions of mother’s first names)
- If aiming for a large cast with multiple main characters, make sure to give us enough screen time with all of them to make them all feel like they are important and not just thrown in at the last second (Looking at you Batman Forever and introducing Robin that late in the movie. Tsk tsk.)
- If at all possible, hire Joss Whedon/Jon Favreau. Its worked out thus far.
What do you think? What else do you think I’ve missed in my hours of research in how Marvel makes their movies? Do you have an inside scoop? Are you currently tied up in my basement?
Comment down below with anything questions, concerns, or comments that you have about the Marvel Universe. I’d love to read them