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A Grumpy Old Man Surprisingly Falls in Love With the Marvel Films

by Paul Combs about a month ago in movie

I Was Late to the Party, But Now I’m Hooked

Image: Marvel Studioa

Avengers Assemble.” I’d heard this two-word phrase my whole life, literally; it was apparently first spoken in the comics by Thor in 1964’s The Avengers #10, and I wasn’t born until 1966. But it meant nothing to me until a little over a year ago.

You see, unlike many of my friends, I never read comics growing up. I’ve always been into books, and since I used my own meager allowance to buy them I wanted something substantial; a 250-page novel seemed more of a value than a 30-page comic. Plus, as a budding writer from a young age, I wanted more words.

So when 2008’s Iron Man exploded onto the scene, my reaction was not that of a comics fan but simply of someone happy that Robert Downey, Jr. had hopefully gotten his life back on track. Besides, I didn’t watch “comic book movies.” I had seen the Christopher Reeve Superman movies and the first Michael Keaton Batman, and that was about it.

As I got older, my attitude about these films hardened into a dogma: kids were rotting their brains with this mindless crap (ignoring the fact that I love all of Bill Murray’s early films). I was totally on board with Martin Scorsese and his assertion that “they [Marvel films] seem to me to be closer to theme parks than they are to movies as I’ve known and loved them throughout my life, and that in the end, I don’t think they’re cinema.”

Then my daughter got married to a serious Marvel fan. And then the lockdown came.

Furloughed from my job and stuck inside for two solid months, my son-in-law convinced me to give Iron Man a chance (I think in exchange for him finally watching The Godfather). I reluctantly agreed, and at the end I was angry. Angry at myself for not having seen it on the big screen in the theater as it deserved.

What both Scorsese and I had clearly forgotten is that movies (or film or cinema or whatever the hell you want to call them) are not always 1960s French noir. Movies are an escape, and while it’s great when they speak to the human condition, it’s also ok for them to be fun. Marvel does both.

I’m not going to go into some long analysis of the films; countless others have done that far better than I could. I will just say that Scorsese’s further assertion that “in superhero movies nothing is at risk” proves he’s never seen one. Yet I imagine he has no problem with the Western serials he watched as a kid where one white-hatted cowboy with a six-shooter killed 100 Indians without ever reloading.

Lockdown sucked in a lot of ways, but it did allow me to watch all 23 Marvel films over about a 2-week span (and all the way through again since then). Some I loved (Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and of course Infinity War and Endgame) and some I just liked (Ant-Man, Guardians 2, except for baby Groot dancing at the start). But I was hooked.

I was impressed with the world-building throughout the films, something easy to screw up with blockbuster movies but that Marvel excels at. I marveled (pun intended) at how far in advance they had clearly thought out the plotlines. And the way they seamlessly integrated so many characters over more than a decade is something that Scorsese (who loves having lots of characters) should at least respect.

The one thing I did not expect was how invested I would become in these characters. These are action-fantasy films to be sure, but they are as character-driven as some of Scorsese’s finest work. The hero’s journey arc for both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers is handled expertly, something rare in films with so many special effects. The studio has taken that character development to a whole new level with the recent WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki (my favorite character) on Disney+.

I have avoided spoilers here because I know there are grumpy old bastards like me who haven’t seen any of the movies yet, and I want them to experience them like I did (watch them in order, seriously). I will admit this, though, in a way that spoils nothing: when I finally heard “Avengers Assemble,” this grumpy old man got chills…and then cheered.

Originally published on Medium.com.

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Paul Combs

I’m a writer, podcaster, and bookseller whose ultimate goal (besides being a roadie for the E Street Band) is to make reading, writing, and books in general as popular in Texas as high school football. It may take a while.

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