The Myth of Marvels “House Style”

Art is subjective. That’s a stone cold fact, with various opinions existing on all kinds of pieces of art in all sorts of mediums (literature, cinema, television, video games, etc.). The inherent subjectivity of criticism allows for numerous viewpoints to bubble to the surface, but there’s one specific viewpoint I would like to look at and counter. It’s a peculiar criticism of films existing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (movies in this franchise include the Avengers saga, as well as Guardians of The Galaxy and the upcoming Ant-Man) that says they’re all the same and share a “house style”.

I find remarks centering on the MCU House Style to be more than a bit odd, mainly because this shared universe of films has managed to excel by making each movie different from the last. Just look at how the political thriller Captain America: The Winter Soldier contrasts with the end-of-days existential nature of Avengers: Age of Ultron in terms of themes alone. Even when looking at elements the films share, differences between the duo crop up instantaneously; action figures prominently in both endeavors, but The Winter Soldier is driven by more grounded fight sequences, while Age of Ultron goes for a heightened approach in its action driven spectacle.

Another common criticism cropping up in claims of the MCU having a House Style is that the films over rely on humor, to the point where it undermines the emotional arcs of the characters. It’s true, humor is a prominent player in the MCU, but it’s amount of presence varies from film to film. The Winter Soldiers dials down humor in order to make the tension stemming from the movies political thriller atmosphere feel authentic, while Iron Man 3 thankfully allows Shane Black to go wild in delivering his unique brand of humor in a Tony Stark adventure.

Weirdly, the best evidence for the idea of the best MCU movies taking a “case-by-case” approach to humor can be found in Thor: The Dark World. Here’s a movie that’s more fun than its reputation exists (especially in scenes where Thor and Loki bounce off each other), but one of its most glaring flaws is moments when humor seems shoehorned in rather than existing as a natural part of the story. Did we really need to see the bare buttocks of Stellan Skarsgard not once, but twice? That film, as one of the numerous messy aspects of its script, feels like it has jokes thrown in there simple because audiences responded to the humor of the previous years Avengers. By contrast, most of the other MCU movies are more responsible when it comes to doling out levity, knowing just when its the right moment to drop a memorable one-liner or visual gag.

The fact that broad characteristics like humor and action can vary from film to film seems, to me at least, like concrete evidence that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is certainly not suffering from a house style that tempers filmmaking creativity. There are certainly quibbles to be found in the MCU (Why haven’t we gotten a Black Widow movie yet? Could the Iron Man 3 ending have been less rushed? Is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever gonna be consistent in its quality?),but I’d honestly say that a majority of the wonder that comes with this universe stems from the variety of stories and genres that can be told with these well-written characters. If there’s any sort of style driving Marvel Studios these days, it’s the style of embracing unique and bold storytelling.