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  • Writer's pictureLorenzo Colombani

Marvel's Unprecedented Storytelling Challenge

Marvel Fanfare - ©Marvel 2022

Today I'm going to watch Marvel's latest movie, Ant-man And The Wasp: Quantumania.

Marvel has been accused of being stuck creatively after and since its latest Avengers movie, called Endgame. The word "endgame" also refers to the customer retention strategy for games and content developers. So far, evidence has shown that the content Marvel produced after Endgame was true "endgame" content: shows and movies that tend to niche targets have proliferated on Disney+. In terms of storyline, most of the shows try to pick up where the latest avengers movie stopped. In that sense, they continue the content created before them, making them a true endgame/customer retention phase. This has also allowed Disney and Marvel to sample different contents to identify which one they should focus on for their next stage of cinematic content development. But that's beside the point.

Suppose the Marvel movies were a product or a video game. In that case, everything up to Avengers: Endgame could be called "Marvel, Episode 1,". Or, as Marvel calls it, “The Infinity Saga." I believe their current challenge is to come up with "Marvel, Episode 2". Their challenge is not merely to make new compelling stories but to create a new form of storytelling.

The latest Black Panther movie has tried to deviate from usual storytelling, pushed by the passing of actor Bose Chadwick, who played the title character. His passing forced Marvel to break the continuity with previous movies while still paying homage to them. The film also dealt with the issue of death and grief. Just as well, Marvel is grieving the success of its previous business model -the one that brought the Inifity Saga.

As a result, Black Panther: Wakanda forever upped the stakes for Antman. It must prove that Marvel is committed to designing a different product in addition to simply being a good movie.

I advise anyone watching new MCU content to watch it as something other than mere entertainment or, if you're a fan, as a continuation of your beloved franchise.

If you want to understand the creative choices of marvel fully, you need to look at them from a business point of view. Marvel is trying to get out of the customer retention phase that followed Endgame. Only there isn't a blueprint for it. To my knowledge, no one has successfully created so much successful content and sold it under one recognizable brand (the "MCU"). Not even Star Wars.

This is not to say that such an attempt is new. Besides Star Wars, Universal's Classic Monsters brand was an early attempt in cinematic history, even though the brand was created after the movies were released. Similarly, literature and oral storytelling traditions have been doing this for ages. After all, Greek storyteller Homer's work as we know it today is a written re-creation of orally transmitted tales with its own set of recurring characters (the Pantheon and the mortals that crossed their path). But the version we know is but one of many versions of those tales.

Our judgment on the quality of new Marvel content as entertainment is our own. But as business people or critical thinkers, we should acknowledge the difficulty of Marvel's task. It would be a tragic oversight not to watch and learn from Marvel. From globally successful movies to direct-to-home streaming shows to video games and comic books: Marvel is figuring out for the rest of us in the storytelling business how to design perennial, globally-successful multi-media content -with media that are less than a century old.

And if you're still not convinced that this is what is happening, do take good note of the following: in the Roman and Greek civilizations, as well as in pre-historic cultures, myths were likely oral stories retold by different persons in different ways but with a common baseline (on that topic, I highly recommend Prof. Charles Delattre's work on myths). Every storyteller was free (and had) to tell her own version of the myth. And if you're an avid Marvel consumer like me, you surely know that this is exactly what the TV show "What if...?" did: offer alternate versions of the same stories.

Article by Lorenzo Colombani ©2023

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