The Marvel franchises are one of the most joyful cinematic experiences in existence and only joyless curmudgeons would think otherwise, says Bobby Palmer
My colleagues like to discuss Frank Ocean. They talk at length about art galleries and restaurant openings, and they chuckle about what happened on last week’s episode of Master of None. Yet when I try and predict who’ll be first to fall at the gold-clad hand of the mad titan Thanos, they look at me in stony, embarrassed silence. Or worse, they say: “Bobby, those films are for children.”
It’s the ultimate insult, really, to be likened to a child – yet those adult babies like me who love the Marvel films tend to hear it quite a lot. It implies stupidity and a lack of taste, like enjoying the exploits of space-faring raccoons and vengeful red-skinned Nazi warlords is a classless act.
But to be childlike is also to be filled with wonder, so I can’t deny it in that respect. When Thor flings his mighty hammer Mjolnir at his enemies, I whoop. When Spider-Man leaps from building to building, I bellow. And when a goateed Benedict Cumberbatch whips fizzing lasers from his hands, I turn to whoever is sitting next to me in the cinema and ask if we’re living through the greatest cinematic era of all time.
Pure wonder is an underrated emotion, the kind that makes you gawp with an open mouth as Ant-Man suddenly propels himself to be 100 feet tall on an almost-as-towering IMAX screen. You don’t get that kind of thing in Three Billboards, trust me.
What a joyless existence it must be, to reach adulthood and suddenly cast to the wayside your love of space battles and bird costumes and enormous robots beating each other to a pulp. Pure spectacle and shameless crowd-pleasing wonder is now too often equated with a lack of quality, so much so that we’ll eventually reach a point where thinking types will decry everything as shIte unless it’s directed by Noah Baumbach and filmed in black and white.
What Marvel have done is unprecedented: 19 films. 76 main characters. Each one with their own backstory, their own humour, and their own unique way of beating up blue-skinned bad guys. What Marvel have done is unparalleled. You try and cram 76 latex-wearing superheroes into one coherent plot without it ending up sounding like the garblings of a 7-year-old who’s had too much Ribena.
Yet not only does it work, but the films are unanimously accepted as pretty damn good. I’m 24, and to still have me rushing to the cinema like an overeager pre-teen for every new Marvel release is frankly an astounding feat.
What’s the argument for hating on Marvel? The films are obviously good; the cast are obviously amazing; the action scenes obviously kick ass, obviously, but there’s also fantastic scriptwriting and virtuoso filmmakers like Ryan Coogler and Taika Waititi being given the tools to make these characters their own on a ridiculously grand scale.
And as for the emotional depth, the supposed ‘lack of stakes’ that everyone bangs on about? Well, I’ve seen Infinity War. I’m not going to give it away. But yes, there are deaths and yes, there are tears. Some of them on screen, most of them in the audience.
It’s not the first time Marvel have tugged on the heartstrings - I’m not even ashamed to admit that the deep-space death of Chris Pratt’s blue-skinned alien dad still makes me tearful. Even Frank Ocean can’t do that.