Hey, That's My Cape! Movies: Self-Contained vs. Continuity

SDCC 2010: Marvel Studios: Thor & Cap

I went to see Marvel’s Thor this week. I enjoyed it greatly, and not just for shirtless Chris Hemsworth (although that didn’t hurt). I thought Marvel hit it out of the park again. Like they did with Iron Man, they cast the perfect person for the role and were able to capture the characters essence without banging you over the head. But they did knock my noggin a bit with something else. The Marvel Universe.

In comic books you have your continuity stories and your stand-alone stories. It’s the same with comic book movies. Some, like Batman Begins are self-contained films that aren’t leading into another character’s movie. Others, like Iron Man and Thor make sure you know where you are and it’s sitting smack dab in the middle of the 616 (give or take a few Samuel L. Jacksons). Both have their merits and marketing strategies of course but is one inherently better?

For the most part I prefer my comic book films to connect. I guess you could say that started back in 1984 when Helen Slater’s character in Supergirl mentioned her cousin Superman. I found out later Christopher Reeve was supposed to have a role in the film and was really disappointed it never happened. Success and quality of Supergirl aside (I’ll defend it to my dying breath), it put the thought in my head that it was only natural for characters in comic continuity to also be in movie continuity with each other.

For the last few years, that’s been Marvel’s plan. To tie all their biggest name superheroes together so it truly feels like these films are taking place in the larger Marvel Universe. Nick Fury showing up in Iron Man, Cap appearing (on the DVD at least) in The Incredible Hulk [Newsarama Note: The super-soldier serum, and the name of its inventor, did also appear in the theatrical release], Thor’s hammer at the end of Iron Man 2, the events in the post-credit scene of Thor, etc. These things vary in duration and how easy they are to spot but they’re always there now, especially since many of the characters will actually be in one film together for more than a few minutes in The Avengers.

And as much as I like that, Marvel’s latest efforts with Thor just felt like an extended commercial for the team film. Agent Phil Coulson from S.H.I.E.L.D., who was in both Iron Man films, didn’t just have a cameo in Thor, he played a vital part in it, just as he presumably will in The Avengers. And of course there was that other Avengers member who had a cameo in the movie (not saying who in case you’ve somehow managed to avoid it this long). In my view, Thor didn’t need any of that. Sure the S.H.E.I.L.D part was actually a big part of the plot, but Thor’s story and universe are so good on their own, they really could have done without it.

And how long can the interconnectedness of the Marvel films sustain itself? Sure, most of the actors sign contracts for several films at a time but that doesn’t mean they want to play these characters forever.

On the other hand, you look at something like Batman Begins and can’t even begin to imagine this particular Batman showing up in Green Lantern or The Man of Steel. The films just don’t gel together. Would I love to see a Batman show up in another DC film? Absolutely, but I don’t think it could or should be Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale’s take on the character. And now that a few other DC films have been announced, it doesn’t seem as if they’ll start to connect anytime soon, if at all. If a Justice League movie does happen down the road, will it be easy for viewers to accept what will most likely be all-new actors in the iconic roles without having seen them in their own film first? That’s the one area I can DC painting themselves into a corner with.

Another aspect comes into play in this argument. Fans who want story arcs and characters represented literally in the films. The X-Men movies are something that has stayed outside the Marvel U but that was for legal reasons, not creative ones. Now look at X-Men: First Class for example (or any X-Men film really). Lots of fans find it odd the actual characters from the 2006 comic book series weren’t used for the line-up of the film. While I appreciate that certain characters are being used that we have yet to see on the big screen, I can certainly see their point. (The X-Men films can’t even keep their own continuity straight let alone try and fit in with the overarching Marvel U.) Is recycling an entire story arc from the comics for use on the big screen a bad thing? Most of the time I’d say absolutely yes, that’s a boring idea, but then I think of a story like All-Star Superman and wonder. We could have any number of actors take on the iconic roles and interpret those famous stories every few years.

So, which do fans prefer? I’ve seen a pretty even split. Like I said, personally, I enjoy continuity more but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a stand-alone superhero movie as long as the character is correctly represented and it’s a good story. Regardless, I don’t know about anyone else but I’m ready to see The Avengers right now. Hey...wait a minute...DAMN YOU MARVEL YOU DID IT AGAIN!

Tell us which you prefer, self-contained superhero movies or continuity connected ones. Hit us up on FACEBOOK and TWITTER @Newsarama And check out the Hey, That’s My Cape! archives for more of Jill’s columns.

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