Writers Steve McFeely and Chris Markus are set to take on the dreaded narrative nightmare of Infinity War in a two-part film next, so there’s a lot of questions being lobbed their way about how to handle storylines that spread out in ten different directions and how they plan to keep them focused on a singular goal. Superhero flicks have had a nightmare of a time with this (see also Batman v Superman), but even Marvel has experienced some recent missteps in this area; we still don’t understand the magic bathtub Thor had in Avengers 2 for example.
But when pushed on the issue, the writers pointed towards Star Wars as an example of a film series that always gets it right. McFeely told THR, “We learned with ‘Civil War’ that you can have different stories that rotate around a central question. So when we have people all of the universe, relating to one central thing, it is going to cohere more than having five separate strands that you are hoping will bang into each other by accident. This is nothing new. In ‘Star Wars’ there are a lot of different things happening on a lot of different planets but it all comes together.”
With that comparison in mind, what major universe and story management pointers should Marvel be borrowing from Star Wars in the next couple years? We’ve got some ideas.
If you were making a Batman movie right now, who in the audience would want you to show the Waynes getting murdered yet again? That would just be ridiculous, right? Long pause, look to camera.
That said, Star Wars has always been the ultimate at glossing over repetitive backstory depiction, because the fandom knows how to look into who each character is. Most of the Big Bads in the The Force Awakens were merely introduced with their presence, and most of us instantly understood who they were. Captain Phasma wasn’t the film’s strongest character, but we all understood her place in the film’s world, and the same was true of Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux — you knew he outranked Kylo Ren and was a generally Bad Dude, right from his first line of dialogue. No annoying explication necessary.
If there’s anything the X-Men franchise taught us, it is that the easiest way to introduce a character is to just have them straight-up use their superpower in their first moment on screen.
How And When To Bring Characters Back
Less is more, and unfortunately these upcoming Marvel tentpole films do not have that cinematic luxury. Infinity War is going to include everyone, including characters we’ve never met before, in a gigantic narrative sandbox, but there’s something to be said about leaving a few people behind.
Looking again to The Force Awakens, it probably wasn’t necessary to bring back everyone from the original franchise. C3PO didn’t add much besides a weird red arm and a quick joke. But at least we kept Luke out of play throughout the entirety of the first new film, saving something exciting for next time and letting some of the new characters find their footing. But imagine how much harder it would have been to connect with TFA is we also had Lando in there, running around in his own storyline on top of everything else. That’s likely going to be Ant-Man in Infinity War. You hear that, Paul Rudd? You’re the Lando now.
Big Bads & MacGuffins
Avengers 2 got so crazy with bad guys and misdirection that we had to spend an entire act regrouping in the woods and chopping at trees, while the main antagonist returned to the scene of the opening battle’s bad guy defeat, and theoretically something big happened at the “home of the internet” in Europe. The line between setting up other storylines and deliberately confusing your audience is getting harder to discern.
TFA skipped a lot of this by using the shorthand of the series — just throw in another goddamned Death Star, but bigger. It wasn’t the most engaging move, but it allowed all of the new characters in a rebooted universe to establish themselves without sucking an hour of plot away to explain what this new threat to the galaxy was and how it worked. More Death Stars and fewer magic bath-times for Thor, please.
Lots Of Plots But A Central Theme
It becomes increasingly important that each character have their own plot-line, especially at this point in the Marvel phases where each star needs to have their own film, and each star probably has demands related to their character in each iteration. Sure, Tony and Cap are going to have strong, complicated growth in Civil War but how do we carve out an important line of action for Star Lord in Infinity War?
From Star Wars we take the idea that a central theme overrides anything — so as long as we’re still building on the idea of “family” or “good trumps evil” in whatever form that takes, the subplots can be thinner and we’ll still understand where all the pieces are moving. The most narratively complex Star Wars film is probably Empire because of how divided the cast is across world. Will Infinity War be able to grasp the same kind of magic across dimensions and space, or will the first movie be a lot of plots while the second movie is a bunch of explosions? We can only hope for the best.