A few months ago, before we saw Mad Max: Fury Road, my wife told me she had only seen bits of Road Warrior, and asked if there was there anything she needed to know before we saw the film. Nope, I said, just that Max lives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by marauding tribes who love cars. She said, cool. And we had a great time at the movies. The same thing happened when we watched Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Skyfall. Even though there are previous films in the series (and fifty years of James Bond history) the lack of continuity meant that my wife could stroll in, watch the movie, and have a great time without needing to know, chapter and verse, the entire history of the IMF.
On the flip side of that, I recently saw Ant-Man by myself (My wife: “Ant-Man? No thanks. That sounds dumb and shit.”), and I enjoyed it. However, I did notice that within two minutes of the movie there is a scene with Howard Stark and Peggy Carter (John Slattery and Hayley Atwell) that would make zero sense to someone who hadn’t seen, at the very least, Iron Man 2 and Captain America. In Ant-Man, it is assumed that the viewer has watched the preceding 11 MCU movies (and two TV shows) and no care is taken to keep new viewers up to speed.
Now I know it might be silly to think that Ant-Man might be someone’s first MCU movie, but on the other hand, why is it silly? Even though it was sometimes weighed down by continuity, it made sense for Age of Ultron to be full of cameos and callbacks considering that it is a sequel to the Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America franchises. The problem lies when the studio releases a jumping-on point movie like Ant-Man, which is an origin story giving viewers the perfect chance for people to catch-up with the franchise, and then packs the movie full-of cameos, callbacks, and running gags. As much as I enjoy the MCU, it is a bit much for them to ask that in order to watch a Paul Rudd comedy in which he can shrink down to the size of an insect the casual viewer must watch, at the most, 11 prior films (and perhaps two TV shows). The joy of casting continuity to the wind means that a movie can get down to brass tacks and hit the ground running without being tied in dangling plot points or the need to bait future sequels.
Consider The Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The filmmakers were so eager to have their own Star Wars trilogy that they bogged down the movie in back-story, callbacks, mythology, and exposition. If they had instead cast that aside and made several subsequent standalone adventures with some of the same characters, wouldn’t that have been more entertaining? Maybe, maybe not (On Stranger Tides makes me lean more towards not), but at the least I could have taken my wife to see the third movie without needing to spend a week catching her up on the plot.
Featured Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures