Marvel’s realistic and formative tendencies

Kracauer notes that “everything depends on the ‘right’ balance between the realistic tendency and the formative tendency; and the two tendencies are well balanced if the latter does not try to overwhelm the former but eventually follows its lead” (298).  It is with this notion that I can understand the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it blends the realistic with the formative, but does so that the fantasy aspects never overtake the realistic aspects and keeps the universe it is building confined to the measurement of reality: science.

Every Marvel movie explains the uncanny in terms of science, which is a familiar concept to the layman which attempts to maintain a level of verisimilitude that can keep an audience grounded.  It is only after the scientific world is established that the audience can find themselves prepared to face the formative tendencies of creative control.  It’s at this point where Marvel introduces the fantastic powers that define the superhero genre, but only in small doses.  The first of the Marvel movies, Iron Man (2009), centered around an industrialist who found himself in a real-world captive situation.  The world has established that it is mostly like our own reality, maintaining the realistic tendencies of film, and then introduces the formative aspect of the Iron Man armor, which begins to uneven the scales of the balance of the cinematic approach.  It is through the slightest of fantastic teases that keeps the real and unreal balanced, and the audience entranced.

Marvel introduces that fantastic aspects of their films in a way that doesn’t sway the viewer to realize how improbable the events actually are.  Only when there have been broad introductions of magic has Marvel struggled due to the unfamiliarity of what a reality that included such things would be like, making it hard to believe the science of those worlds and thus brings it to the forefront of consciousness that they may be plausible but ultimately, they are conspicuous manifestations of the creator’s imagination.


One thought on “Marvel’s realistic and formative tendencies”

  1. I was just thinking about the balance between realism and formalism this weekend while I was watching James Cameron’s “Avatar”, 2009. While many of the Marvel movies are grounded in realistic worlds, Avatar is situated in an entirely invented one- Pandora. Taking Kracauer’s argument into consideration, Avatar’s fictional world is believable because it is largely based on a non-fiction one (the formalism follows the lead of the realism). The realism imbedded in the film- whether it be the facial expressions of the actors, achieved with motion-censor technology, or the plant and animal life, influenced by the earth’s flora and fauna, allows the audience to digest a fictitious world. This ability for audiences to understand Pandora and the characters within it are also due to Deren’s concept of the “controlled accident”. All of the nuances of the film- the way the actors smile, the movement of the wind and its effects on the trees, etc. is reflective of real life. Because these aspects of the film mirror the daily experiences of the audience, we accept them as true. If water were to flow backwards on Pandora, or the wind blew but did not affect the movement of the leaves on the trees around it, the audience would have a much more difficult time comprehending the images presented to them. Because Kracauer’s (and Deren’s) argument preceded the abilities of technology to invent an entirely fictional world, it would be interesting to know what his opinion would be now on the balance between realism and formalism.

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