|Beast seriously looks like he's photobombing here.|
Warning: This post will contain spoilers for the end of Days of Future Past.
The Avengers should never have worked. By conventional logic, a major summer tentpole movie that requires audiences to have seen at least three other movies is insane. Centering a good chunk of the movie on characters who hadn't been in a film in years (Hulk) or were only bit players in films before (Black Widow) is just as insane. Audiences just aren't that smart, conventional wisdom says. You have to hold their hands at every stage of the game and just hope they can follow even the least convoluted plot line. Movies must be simple.
You know what isn't simple? Comic books. I realized this walking out of a showing of Days of Future Past. Someone asked me a relatively simple question, like, "So who was Bishop?" That lead to my mouth running off the hook for at least fifteen minutes to explain that Bishop was a time traveler from the future who came back to save Professor X's life and sort of succeeded except that the threat was actually Professor X who had turned evil because Magneto had somehow possessed him around the same time that Magneto had ripped the adamantium from Wolverine's body and Charles had reacted by shutting down Magneto's mind and...phew. As I saw my friend's eyes gloss over, I realized two things. One, I have way too much X-men trivia in my head. And two, Comic Book storytelling is damned complicated. It expects a lot from its audience.
This is why, for years and years, filmmakers came to comic books only to tear them apart and put them back together. Doctor Doom is not a dictator of a foreign country, he's just another scientist. The Joker is also the guy who killed Batman's parents. Every one of the changes was to streamline the story, in their own minds. To make things simpler, so that a regular audience, one who hadn't grown up on a daily diet of beautiful art filled with word bubbles, could understand it all. It was only sensible. And then, this happened.
We all cheered our hearts out, not just because Samuel L. Jackson proved, in one scene, that he could play Fury with all the swagger he deserved. We cheered because he said the word "Avengers", with all of its promise. For years after, we would watch each of Marvel's new movies for the little hints, the crossovers, the touches of continuity that were all leading to that big moment, where a team of heroes from separate movie franchises all stood in a circle and roared at an alien menace. That's not movie storytelling, and it sure as hell isn't simple. That's comic books, through and through.
The ripples, since that moment, have been felt everywhere. The latest James Bond movie threw in heavy continuity nods to a movie from thirty years ago, for god's sake. This style of storytelling has crept, moment by moment, into the mainstream, and it just allowed a movie series that had been rebooted completely to not only retain its own continuity, but clean it up considerably.
You see, in the past, in the days of simple movie storytelling, when something went wrong you were stuck with it. Spider-man 3 sucked? Better reboot the whole series, there's nowhere else to go. And the X-men series had crashed and burned so hard with The Last Stand, that a reboot was the only way to go for them, too. First Class seemingly rebooted the entire series, despite being called a "prequel." And in the world of simple storytelling, that's where it would have ended.
But it didn't end there. Instead, the original director, Bryan Singer, returned, and made a time-travel movie that wiped The Last Stand, X-men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine completely out of existence. He even, possibly, removed his own first two movies from the timeline. Everything that the fans took issue with, even Rogue losing her powers and Iceman dumping her, was seemingly obliterated. In one fell swoop, one ten minute end sequence to a movie, everything that simple storytelling would have stuck us with is erased, and the only way you would know that is to have followed the previous decade and a half of X-men films. It's insane.
And yet, it made more money than any other film ever has this weekend.
Because, you see, audiences aren't as stupid as we think. As storytellers, as long as the story is interesting, they'll eat up whatever you can give them. Look at the amount of characters they're keeping track of on Game of Thrones. The only limitation to stories is your imagination and your budget, and the only thing holding back a storyteller is his own skill at the craft.
Which, until a few years ago, used to be the realm of Comic Books.
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