What Marvel Taught Me About Writing, Part Two

Attention readers!

If you have not read Part One of this series, do so by clicking here. This post will make very little sense until you do.

If you have read aforementioned post… good work. I’ll shut up and let you read this one now. 

If the intended audience would want it bleeped out, don’t write it.

And all the movie reviewers immediately subtracted five points. (image credit)

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I wince every time I hear a profanity and squirm every time an… er, steamy scene comes on. That sort of content is expected in films made for adults, and I can accept that fact. But do those elements have a place in family adventure movies? Come, now.

Of course, this problem isn’t specific to Marvel movies, but Marvel certainly does a fine job of  squeezing non-family-friendly stuff into allegedly family-friendly films. I can recall my dad muting at least one whole scene with Nick Fury in The Avengers thanks to swearing. I winced multiple times at the violence in even the mildest of the series, Thor. From what I’ve read, certain you-know-what scenes in Iron Man would have made it unacceptable even for adults sixty years ago. Deadpool was the culmination of this pattern, earning the first R-rating ever for a Marvel cinematic film. So much for family-friendly, Disney.

The result is that a lot of kids don’t get to watch these films. I know that most of my siblings don’t, and I can point to many other families who hold to the same standards as us. Let me tell you, Marvel loses a good percentage of its intended audience every time it chooses to write in a swear word, and so will you. Know your audience, fellow writers, and respect their values.

Don’t stress over the outline; go where the story takes you. 

Honestly, this would be a great ending shot for any movie. (image credit)

Marvel is so dedicated to the Big Outline that it’s not even funny. By sticking to that outline, they have deprived fans of some really great movies. Including a certain movie called “God of Mischief”…. but again, that’s for another time.

Take the example of Captain America: The First Avenger. That was a credible, enjoyable story with round characters and a clear message- even for me. I could get over the fact that Steve was using steroids (come on, he’s Steve), and I could even tune out for the four minutes of USO girls and annoying parade music. In fact, when Steve crashed that plane into the ice, my cold INTJ’s heart felt the tiniest twinge of grief. You know that shot near the end of the movie with the little boy holding Captain America’s shield? That would have been such a perfect way to end the story.

And then they blew it with that last scene. Steve wakes up in a hospital in modern-day New York. He didn’t die after all- but the movie did. The message’s power rested in the fact that Steve died protecting the people he cared about. To turn around and say “Oh, but Steve didn’t actually die” is to take away that power. Sure, he gave his all for his country, but he turned out to be just another invincible superhero who did another superhero thing. His story no longer makes a difference in the real world.

The writer would never have ended the movie in such an awkward, crushing way if Captain America had been a standalone movie, but he had to keep with Marvel’s all-powerful outline. Lesson learned: don’t be a slave to your outline. Branch out and take a few risks with writing. As Pixar says, “Story is testing, not refining.”

So perhaps Marvel’s escapist films earn a lot more money at the box office than slower, more thoughtful films like Les Miserables. As my dad says, Marvel offers “leave-your-brain-at-the-door humor,” and sometimes people just want to laugh and give their brains a break. But that doesn’t mean the storytelling is of higher quality. In fact, the underlying problems in the movies can be downright frustrating.

By all means, go and watch a Marvel movie- preferably a PG-13 one. The acting is usually excellent, some of the jokes are downright funny, and I won’t deny that a few of the movies teach good lessons. However, when you watch these or any other movies, try to learn something. Think about what is going into your head! Otherwise, you become content with leaving your brain at the door, and none of us should do that. Very dangerous.

What’s your take on Marvel movies? Whether you love them or hate them or couldn’t care less, I want to hear what you have learned from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


3 thoughts on “What Marvel Taught Me About Writing, Part Two

  1. Great points! I’m with you on the yucky stuff. I always wince when I hear/see something…icky.
    “Don’t stress over the outline; go where the story takes you.” I tend to stress over the outline. Thanks for the reminder to just write. 😉 After all, writing’s supposed to be fun, and it is; I tend to make it not-so-fun, though, when I stress out about it.


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