I remember the first problem I ever had with Comic Book movie continuity. It was black Nick Fury. I raged. I vented. I couldn’t believe they would do that. And, then, I found out they were following along the ULTIMATE MARVEL universe and calmed down. You see, I had not been a fan of the whole Ultimate line. I’ve never been a big fan of rehashing the same old stories and putting groovy new spins on them (sorry about the GROOVY; I’m from the 70s). I often wondered why. Why would I get so messed up about a comic book story, right? I mean, it’s just a story…right?
But I’m not alone. If there’s one thing you can count on when a new superhero movie is announced, it is that there will be fan boy rage and scrutiny. They (and by they I me WE) will nit-pick every little detail till it bleeds. And they’re almost guaranteed to find fault in and never be happy with any of the movie franchises completely. So, why all the rage? Why the emotion. I mean, there was more rage over the new Fantastic Four reboot than the rewrite Aronofsky did on the story of Noah. Really? Once again, why? What drives us so?
What is continuity anyway?
1. the unbroken and consistent existence or operation of something over a period of time.
synonyms: continuousness, uninterruptedness, flow, progression More
2.the maintenance of continuous action and self-consistent detail in the various scenes of a movie or broadcast.
“that movie had a continuity error”
Continuity is that thing that thing that connects the story from beginning to end. I like the word ‘uninterruptedness’ and ‘progression’. I’ve always said, as a writer, that there is an inert natural progression of the story in any format you step into. I’m a sequel guy. I can walk out of a movie or put down a book or comic and say, “Here’s what happens next…” Once you understand the consistency (I like that word too) of a character and the world of which they live, you will almost always KNOW what should come next. And, I believe that this sense of expectance is what drives us to the comic book stand and, now, to the theaters. We know when we walk into an Amazing Spider-Man movie, that we will be greeted at the door by awkwardly brilliant and yet tragic life of Peter Parker. We will feel even the villains very familiar; like old friends, if you will. Sure we like a few surprises; plot twists. But we came for the familiar.
Go to a Batman movie and you get brooding, Dark Knight of Gotham. A Harry Potter movie; you expect magic and wonder and heroic Harry. You go see Romeo and Juliet and you expect it to end in tragedy (Hint. Hint.)
This FAMILIARITY is the first point of continuity. But just how important is continuity in this new age of instant gratification?
I’ve already discussed about the myriad of fans the comic book and movie companies have to deal with today. From old schoolers like me who lost track of the stories back in the late 90s and REFUSED to touch a rehash like ULTIMATE ( I mean, a fan-boy has to have standards) to the new fans who know nothing but what comes out in the movies and the basic mythology they can get on Wikipedia (God save them!) and everything in between, I pity those who sit in the boardrooms and try and make these superhero characters a reality. It can’t be an easy job. But some, to me, have nailed it better than some.
I’ll start with pentacle of Comic Book movies, to me; the Marvel/Disney braintrust.
Kevin Feige and the minds over at Marvel and Disney are proving with every movie that they actually GET IT. Everybody who reads this blog knows I’m a big Marvel fan from way back, so I’m bias to a point. But the MCU has opened class on how to translate ‘silly’ comic book stories into the epics of our times. If you follow along with what the whole ‘AVENGERS INIATIVE’ did and, in turn, know anything about the early days of Marvel, you would understand that their success has ridden on the shoulders of their dedication to the original source material, ie. Marvel comics of the 60s into the 70s.
Does that mean they never veer off the path from time to time? Of course not! The fact that they left out two of the original Avengers in the opening installment, Antman and the Wasp, was a blaring hole in their march through continuity. Announcing that Ultron will be Stark’s baby and not Antman’s was a bit of a blow too. Also bringing in the Black Widow and Hawkeye so soon could have also been viewed as a misstep. The sudden introduction of the Winter Soldier into the story was also a bit rushed. But it really wasn’t. Feige has become a master at melding stories and characters both old and new and making them work in a believable way. I don’t think any of these things can be held against Marvel. What they have done has been the nature of the beast. They have to move along faster and movie production actually dictates some of these moves. Like Antman that is coming out next year will fix some of this apparent rifts in continuity.
But, as I said before, it’s almost obvious where Marvel is going. All you have to do is read the original comics from the 60s and understand what Phase 3 is all about. Now, am I talking about Thanos and what he is up to? No, not really. I’m talking mainly about the make up the Avengers and how it changed over time. Go, at least, wiki it. Educate yourselves.
Next we see Sony following in Marvel’s footsteps. And, who can blame them? Marvel is successful. And they do this by building a continuity that people can follow and that reminds them of those old friends they started reading comics for in the first place. Marvel also built their success on their ability to create successful spinoffs. They used THE AVENGERS as the main spine of their story and spurred three different stand-alone successes in Captain America, Thor and Iron Man! Now, Sony plans to mimic that. Smart. Pulling only from the Spidey Universe, they are going to franchise their own stand-alones in VENOM and THE SINISTER SIX. Watching what Sony is doing with Spider-Man leads me to believe that they are not only standing on long term plans, but may be learning to follow the old school continuity much like Marvel.
Now, Fox…oh, Fox.
I hear a collective groan from the fan-boys out there. I know. If one of the companies seems to NEVER get it, it’s Fox. From Deadpool in X-Men Origins to the Dark Phoenix debacle of Last Stand to the confusion that was brought on by First Class, the X-men franchise has more holes in its continuity than Swiss cheese. But with DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, Fox seems to be at least in position to fix all of that. Using a time travel movie about saving the continuity to actually save the continuity…genius. But, needless to say, there are many who are still a bit worried. And with good reason. Past track record shows that Fox not only doesn’t get it; most of the time, they just don’t care that they don’t get it.
Point in case, the Fantastic Four franchise.
To me, the first two movies weren’t that bad. They could always use improvement, but they hit the basic themes. Doom is the only thing I would have changed in the whole series. But, now, they seem intent on finding some cool new spin to make the FF fresh and new. And that something is the ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR. Believe it or not, I’m actually fine with this line of story building. If they don’t start adlibbing like they have in the past, they will be fine. The only problem I have is their choice in cast and not so much who they picked as much as why. The cast was chosen from the coolest of the cool in the young movie scene today. That cast, it’s so HOT right now…
But they did this without any thought to the overall story and what their decisions would mean to continuity that people know and love. Now, I will still give this movie a chance, mind you. Of course, as a comic fan-boy, I’m easy. But, with every announcement, my confidence in Fox dies a little.
Now, DC comics/Warner Brothers may be in the best position to make something happen fast. DC has made a career at crushing continuity and building another only to crush that one for something else. Just this year, DC launched the NEW 52 and basically said everything before is scrapped and the only reality rests in these 52 titles and what happens from now on! What? No, wonder DC movies are usually more Character driven than story driven. That will be to their advantage. All they have to do is bring the right characters in and make us believe they are who we think they are and the story can be anything. You won’t see epic stories like DAYS OF FUTURE PAST or THE SINISTER SIX as much in DC. Although seeing the Flash go up against his Rogue’s gallery would be awesome!
So where does that leave us? Oh, yeah, continuity equals familiarity! I liken it to a father and son (sorry, I’m a dude, a father and a son) whose main mode of comradery is their knowledge of baseball or sports knowledge. They may not get into deep talks but they can talk for hours about who’s the best quarterback or about a eras or pitching stats. It’s what they connect with. Same with friends. There’s always a reason you hang around that person in the first place. You see, I’m weird. My connection to one of my sons IS comics. I can talk Marvel story lines till I pass out. As friends, you get together and you pride yourselves on your knowledge of the Marvel Universe. Much like the days of old and sons, dads and friends who kept up with sports stats. It’s a connection. You go to the movies together. You talk about the possibilities of the movie’s outcome. And you can do that because there’s a natural progression to the story and you can depend on certain factors to be true.
I think people get so upset because that story they had a connection to has been scrapped for something new and cool. They go to the movies because they related with the character or remember reading the comics as kids or, as with TMNT, watched the Turtles cartoons religiously.
One more point in case: STAR WARS and DISNEY.
DISNEY just announced that the Expanded Universe would NOT factor into the new movies. That basically tells the fans that everything they hoped to see has been thrown into question. The familiarity has been gutted for something new and cool. It leaves a lot of fans out in the cold, rocking in a fetal position and sucking their fan-boy thumbs. Was this a great idea, not sure. Probably the only one they could make under the circumstances, but, hopefully, they will still pull a great deal from STAR WARS CANON.
This has repercussions with everything from Transformers to Turtles to JEM and Holograms. No really. That last one is someones childhood familiarity. There are more to come as long as the movie companies continue to pull out our childhood and try and make a buck off of it! Am I saying they shouldn’t? BY NO MEANS! Please make a bunch of Turtle’s movies and Power Rangers and every comic book character that ever walked the pages of comicdom. I beseech you! So, again, where does that leave us?
We learn to pick out battles. Some continuity points are not worth the fuss. Pinning Ultron on Tony Stark and not Pym from the comics? I can deal. Black Johnny Storm? Might take a while. It’s something changes the very fabric of the story. And, if it isn’t, cool your jets, fan-boys. I mean, if the old man here can deal with it, surely you can…